AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rickie Fowler discovered that rules carry some weight at Augusta National.
As the youngster sat down for his interview in the media center, he was vintage Fowler – meaning he turned his hat around backwards. When he was asked by Augusta National member Ron Townsend to turn it around, Fowler explained that he does it that way so that people can see his face, an explanation that earned him zero credit points with Townsend.
A second request to turn it around was granted by Fowler.
Patrons were treated to plenty of laughs because Bill Murray was in the house. He walked most of the course to watch D.A. Points, his triumphant partner at this year’s AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Later, Murray hung around the putting green while Davis Love III, among others, practiced into the early evening.
When Points, who had made his way toward the clubhouse, remembered something that he had to relay to Murray, he began to run toward the putting green. That prompted a security official to signal to “slow down,” because as everyone who has been inside the vaunted gates knows, there is no running inside Augusta National.
Reportedly, Murray had hoped to caddie for Points in Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, but the player has given that honor to his mother.
It’s always a favorite pastime to tour Augusta National and check out the changes. They’re rarely announced, but always done with incredible precision.
This year’s leader in the clubhouse: The permanent grandstands behind the practice area.
That’s right: For what amounts to seven days of use, club officials have put up a permanent structure so patrons can watch players hit balls.
Of course, they’re not just hitting balls. They’re hitting balls on arguably the world’s greatest practice range, to a series of greens that mimic those that players will encounter on Augusta National.
Ah, leave it Fowler to remind us one and all just how the young have surely moved in and taken firm control of the sport. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you, but when he was asked about his favorite Masters, Fowler first mentioned 1986 and Jack Nicklaus’ incomparable sixth green jacket, at the age of 46.
Sitting in the interview room, dozens of writers could nod their heads and probably each of them started to recall how they covered the tournament that day.
Only thing is, Fowler was born in 1988, so his memory of that tournament comes from the highlight reels.
By the way, Fowler confirmed that he played two practice rounds at Augusta National last week with Phil Mickelson and “he beat up on me.”
Another young star, Ryo Ishikawa, was in front of the media explaining a decision that has earned him widespread praise. He is going to donate his 2011 tournament earnings to the disaster-relief causes in wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in his native Japan.
“I consulted with my family, as well as my team,” said Ishikawa, 19. “By doing so, I would really like to encourage those people, especially those who are going through the hardship in Japan.”
Ishikawa was at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral, Fla., when the disaster occurred, and he’s yet to return to Japan. He said his family has come to America to be with him, “but I have some friends (and) acquaintances in the disaster zone.”
The weeks of publicity have been painful to watch. “But I am very proud to be Japanese,” Ishikawa said.
Another countryman, Hideki Matsuyama, 19, is in the field as the Asian Amateur champion, and he, too, said it was a difficult decision to put the disaster behind him and come to Augusta.
“I have decided to play because so many people have pushed me,” he said. “The people at my university who have suffered, my teammates, and my parents who (helped) me start to play the sport of golf. Everyone has been supportive.
“Golf is such a wonderful game, and through my play I will express my pleasure for playing at the Masters.”
Davis Love III will be making his 19th Masters appearance, but first since 2007. He got in by virtue of finishing top eight at last summer’s U.S. Open. Three other players – Brandt Snedeker, Alex Cejka, and Gregory Havret – also made it in via that criterium. . . . Much is made of the fact that the winner of the Par 3 Contest has never turned around and won the Masters, and that’s true. But last year’s winner, Louis Oosthuizen went on to capture the British Open, and the 2009 winner, Tim Clark, was triumphant at the 2010 Players Championship, so it’s not a total jinx. . . . Matsuyama is one of six amateurs in the field. . . . Twenty players are making their Masters debuts. . . . Neither Tiger Woods nor Mickelson played practice rounds Monday; each is penciled in to play Tuesday. . . . If you’re hungry, there’s a tremendous meal being served Tuesday evening inside Augusta National’s clubhouse – a salad of mesculan greens with sherry vinaigrette and olives, prime beef tendeloin, seafood paella, asparagus torilla espanola, all capped by Spanish apple pie, vanilla ice cream and cinnamon ganache. There’s just one catch: You must be a Masters champion to attend. This year’s dinner, of course, will be served in honor of the defending champ, Mickelson.