It’s time to enjoy the sight and sounds

A look inside the Masters gift shop. (File photo)

A look inside the Masters gift shop. (File photo)

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – When at approximately 2:45 p.m. Monday the doors to the press building opened up and all you saw was the back of a certain golfer melting into the sultry Southern air, one thought was front and center for consumption.

Time to exhale.

It was over. The press conference that some mistook as an interrogation. The questions. The answers. The rhetoric. The sense that we had arrived at some sort of judgment day. Good riddance to all of that.

Instead, the blast of stifling, hot air that came rushing through those opened doors provided a relief that we could now get on with the golf at a place where it is handled with the greatest care. The game at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week is a series of sights, sounds and scenes that are unlike anywhere else, so why not reap gratitude and enjoyment?

For instance:

Todd Hamilton doing some shopping inside the pro shop. It was late Monday and he had finished his golf for the day, so he grabbed a basket for convenience and started dropping in some items.

What guided him was not a shopping list, however. No, sir. This is 2010, so your 2004 Open Champion – that would be the British flavor, as in the Claret Jug – merely looked at his cell phone.

“A friend sent me a text to tell me what he wanted,” Hamilton said.

You might think that he was annoyed, that this shopping trip was a huge pain, but you’d be wrong. This is the Masters; everyone shops, even the competitors. It’s one of the many “traditions like no other,” so to speak.

So there was Hamilton dropping in some pins, a couple of knickknacks, but the decision on which hat to buy? Tough one. In fact, he was accepting input from a pro shop assistant, who helped steer Hamilton toward a nice, black hat.

“I think he’ll like that,” Hamilton said.

And just how many PGA Tour tournaments has Hamilton shopped at? He smiled, then laughed. “This is the only one.”

• • •

photo

Tiger Woods practices on the driving range at Augusta National on Sunday.

On so many April visits, the challenge is to unlock the mystery as to what has been changed at Augusta National. A bunker moved, a green raised, a tree cut down, a Georgia Pine planted. The more subtle, the better.

But that’s not the case this year. For once, the club cannot hide the big change, which is a testament to how magnificent it is.

It’s the new practice area.

“It is as good a range as you could have,” Padraig Harrington said. And yes, he took note of the most intriguing aspect to it: “It supposedly has all of the shots that you (will face) on the golf course.”

Go no further than the first green you see as you stand in the hitting area. It was built as a replica of the green at the par-5 second hole, complete with sweeping bunkers left and right and a small runway onto the green in between.

The trees that are out there in the distance? They give you a target in which you can work on your fades and draws, which are crucial at No. 10 (draw), No. 11 (fade), No. 13 (draw) and No. 18 (fade).

In addition to the full range, there are two chipping areas and a short-game spot where players can spend hours and hours.

“There are a lot of interesting chip shots and bunker shots that will keep your mind occupied,” Harrington said.

• • •

As for perhaps the change that club members will embrace the most? It has to be the removal of the huge, unsightly net that used to be at the Washington Road end of the regular practice range.

Club officials had to put it up years ago to stop massive practice drives from heading into traffic jams.

But with the new range opened, the old range is back to use by members only (no, they can’t use the new range; it’s for use one week a year), which means shorter drives, which means less concern for far-flying balls, which means the place doesn’t resemble Dave’s Driving Range.

The big net is down.

• • •

Masters rookies often are a big disadvantage, because Augusta National requires immense experience. The approach shots are that precise, the misses that extreme.

But consider Bill Haas a little less inexperienced than some first-year competitors. After all, he has a father who played in 22 Masters, a great-uncle (Bob Goalby) who earned the green jacket in 1968, an uncle (Jerry Haas) who coached him at Wake Forest and played in the 1985 Masters, and a longtime family friend (Billy Harmon) who caddied in this tournament many times and is the son of the 1948 Masters champion.

That’s a lot to lean on, eh?

photo

Bill Haas, left, is hugged by is dad, Jay Haas, after winning the 2010 Bob Hope Classic.

Bill Haas laughed, because the guy he will often turn to is DIllard Pruitt, his mother’s brother, current PGA Tour rules officials, and one-time PGA Tour player.

“I can turn in a lot of directions,” Haas said. “There’s a good trickle-down effect.”

Then again, sometimes you just have to figure things out for yourself. Take, for example, the young man’s practice round at Augusta National last week. “My dad walked around with me. He kept telling me, ‘In the old days, we hit it here; in the old days, we hit it there.’ ”

It made the 27-year-old laugh.

“I had to tell him, ‘Dad, you’re talking like the old days were a long time ago. You played in this tournament just five years ago.’ ”

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