Luke Donald prepared for his first Masters with a guided tour of Augusta National from Bernhard Langer. The two-time champion showed the young Englishman where to press and where to plod on a layout that often takes just as quickly as it gives.
For all the knowledge Langer imparted during the duo’s Tuesday practice round, however, it’s not likely either anticipated Donald’s eventful finish to his maiden Masters.
Mired in the middle of the pack through 10 holes of the final round, Donald scorched Augusta National’s closing nine with an impressive set of eagles at Nos. 13 and 15 and a combo of birdies at Nos. 11 and 16.
“It didn’t look good on (No.) 10 (where he made double-bogey 6), but I’m real happy with the way I finished,” said Donald, who shot a final-round 69 to tie for third and top this year’s rookie class.
Donald made the most of his practice round with Langer, a tradition that’s as much a part of Masters week as azaleas and pimento cheese sandwiches.
At Augusta National, experience is almost as valuable as a powerful hip turn and a steady putter.
“You learn a lot from (veterans) because until you’ve played it a couple of times you’re lost,” said Joe Ogilvie, who played a practice round with former champions Ben Crenshaw and Raymond Floyd.
In 1975, Jerry Pate prepared for his first Masters by playing a practice round with former Augusta National pro Dave Spencer. It was a learning experience and a rite of passage.
On April 5 – 30 years after his educational introduction to the Masters – Pate was the one doing the teaching.
This time the pupil was Ted Purdy, one of 16 Masters first-timers. Throughout the Tuesday practice round, Pate and Craig Stadler schooled Purdy on the finer points of negotiating Augusta National.
“We all know the golf course and know there are little do’s and don’ts about managing our way around the course,” Pate said.
Lessons vary depending on who’s dispersing the information, but the basic concept is universal. To survive Augusta National, newcomers need what only comes with time – experience.
“I talked to David (Toms) a lot about it – this is his sixth Masters and he had a lot of information about what I should do,” said Ryan Palmer, one of nine first-timers who made the 36-hole cut and the first Palmer to make the cut since Arnold in 1983.
Palmer’s Augusta education began two years ago while he still was playing the Nationwide Tour. He walked the grounds during the 2002 Masters with his family and swing coach.
After winning the 2004 Funai Classic and qualifying for this year’s Masters, Palmer became something of an Augusta scholar.
He played practice rounds with Chad Campbell (Monday), Fred Couples and Floyd (Tuesday), and Toms and Stewart Cink (Wednesday).
“I just spent the rounds picking their brains about the golf course. They were so helpful,” said Palmer, who tied for 39th at 7-over-par 295.
Some advice, at first brush, borders on the sadistic.
“On 13, (Couples) said, ‘Get up there and hit left, into the bunker,’” Palmer said. “Just so I could see that. He wanted me to see the ball going left there. It was hard.”
This collective coaching is nothing new to pro golf, but at Augusta National these Cliffs Notes crash courses are part of the culture.
Not even a lifetime watching the Masters on television could have prepared Bo Van Pelt for his first trip down Magnolia Lane. Thankfully, he received an 18-hole lesson from Couples and Augusta native Charles Howell III.
“One thing Charles told me was on No. 2, when the pin is left, you don’t want to miss it in the left bunker. It’s a lot harder shot than what you’d think,” Van Pelt said.
However, Van Pelt said he also was careful not to overprepare.
“You want to try to treat it like a normal week as much as possible,” said Van Pelt, who also visited Augusta National in March for an early warm-up.
There was little chance of Zach Johnson overpreparing. Because of a combination of scheduling and delays at the BellSouth Classic, Johnson was unable to play his first round at Augusta National until Wednesday. The result was rounds of 81-71, and Johnson’s first missed cut of the season.
“It’s one of those courses the more you play it, the better you feel,” Johnson said. “Getting here earlier definitely would have helped.”
There’s little doubt it helped Donald, who turned out to be the class of 2005’s fastest learner.