Masters vets: First-timers must learn on fly
Friday, April 4, 2014
Plenty of big names in golf have failed to bring their "A" game along on their inaugural trip to Augusta National. This year's crop of Masters rookies ranges from PGA Tour winners Jordan Spieth and Kevin Stadler to foreign amateur-title winners Garrick Porteous and Chang-Woo Lee.
With that in mind, three former major-championship winners now well acquainted with the ESPN broadcast booth discussed their first trip to Augusta.
"The reason it was hard for me, because they paired me with Jack Nicklaus and I couldn't breathe for about four and a half hours, so that was my excuse," Curtis Strange quipped.
The 1988-89 U.S. Open champion, whose best finish at Augusta was T-2 in 1985 but who missed the Masters cut in his Tour rookie season of 1975, also offered some more serious memories of what made his first Masters tough.
"There's not a level lie out there, maybe one or two," he said. "That, as you know on TV, TV doesn't do that justice and it's so tough. It is really a hard golf course now, and you're off balance the entire day I think."
1993 PGA Championship winner Paul Azinger offered a little more detail.
"Probably the most sophisticated and most complicated set of greens in 18 holes ever put together," said Azinger, who finished T-17 in his first Masters in 1987. "I mean, every hole right out of the gate, starting with No. 1, and it takes a long time to understand the greens.
"There is this invisible pull or whatever towards Rae's Creek and then you have a lot of uphill shots and downhill shots there which also complicate matters at Augusta National and then you factor in the history and the – there's nobody going there naive.
Azinger's best finish was fifth in 1998.
"Everybody who has qualified, if you're referring to a Jordan Spieth‑type, he's probably watched the Masters a dozen times or more. So they all know and feel the pressure but the golf course is just plain hard."
1978 and 1985 U.S. Open champion Andy North had a Jekyll and Hyde opening to his first tournament at Augusta.
". . . This is going to sound really stupid saying this, but I didn't play much differently either day. The first day, I had it below the hole every single hole. You couldn't have drawn it up any better," North said of finishing T-37 in 1976. "And then you've got to see Augusta from the wrong side every hole the next day, and that's pretty much what happened. Balls that – at a five‑par stayed on the green trickled off the green on 15 into the water, that kind of stuff which Augusta can do to you so quickly."
North's best finish was a T-12 in 1979.
"Yeah, you watch it on television but it's a whole different animal when you get there and it's a totally different golf course than you imagine in your head because of the elevation changes."