Martin: Eve of Masters is life like it should be

Peter Hanson chips a pitch shot during a practice round for the Masters.

Peter Hanson chips a pitch shot during a practice round for the Masters.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – On the eve of what many, on this side of the Atlantic at least, would call the year’s biggest tournament, Peter Hanson was headed out for an afternoon nine with his 5-year-old daughter, Stella, on the bag. He was playing the Par-3 Contest, unusual preparation for a major, undoubtedly, but a large part of the Masters’ charm.

The last day to prepare for the year’s first major is surprisingly low-key, feeling more like a lawn party than arguably golf’s greatest event. Or maybe that’s part of why it this week is so special. The eve of the Masters harkens back to an earlier place, when life was lived at a slower pace.

Many players limit their practice to just nine holes, followed by the Par-3 Contest. In between, they mingle under the large tree in front of Augusta National’s clubhouse, a scene unique to this event. Players usually try to quickly escape the hustle and bustle of a major for the quiet of a hotel or rented house.

“There’s a massive difference,” Hanson said, when comparing the day before the Masters to the eve of other majors. “You have that bit of tension building up, that bit of adrenaline, but it’s still only Wednesday. You can’t wait to get going tomorrow.”

Everyone from veterans to rookies, Hall of Famers to amateurs, eagerly await Augusta’s unique challenges. This is the only major that returns to the same site every year, allowing history and tradition to build with each turn of the calendar. The Masters has more buildup than any other event. To some, it’s the unofficial start of the golf season. From this point forward, the calendar fills quickly with important events. The Players is next month. The next three majors are all a month apart, followed by the FedEx Cup playoffs. The Masters, by contrast, is the first major since August.

This year’s production of “Four Days In Augusta” is supposed to receive rave reviews when it opens Thursday. The lineup is star-studded. The leading men are in good form for opening night. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald have all won on the PGA Tour this year. Hunter Mahan, now the leading American, has won twice and is twice a top-10 finisher here.

“It’s whipped up a bit of a frenzy, I suppose,” said Lee Westwood, still seeking his first major.

Hanson, the world’s 25th-ranked player, will be right in the middle of it. He’s teeing it up Thursday with Mickelson and Mahan. “With Phil, you might need some earbuds as you walk around here,” Hanson said.

The roars could come early, and for good reason. We’ve all been waiting for this week.

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