Every year once the calendar turns, Augusta National is in the back of my mind. When I won the 1987 Masters, I had no idea how much it would mean to me later in life.
I don’t know how anyone could have known. I did understand how special it was to receive the green jacket from Jack Nicklaus, the defending champion. He was my favorite player growing up, and I could not have scripted it any better Growing up in Augusta, simply playing in the Masters had been a dream of mine as long as I could remember.
Tickets were not as hard to come by in the 1960s, and I have wonderful memories of going to watch the tournament with my dad. Once I turned 13, I was fortunate enough to be able to work the scoreboard at No. 3 for a few years.
It was a fun time for a young teenager from Augusta. One of the perks of winning is the champion stays and dines with the members after the final round.
My wife, Bonnie, went to the house and returned with a dress shirt. Once she came back, I put on my green jacket and we had dinner with the members. It was a wonderful night and a great end to an unbelievable week.
We didn’t leave the grounds until 11 p.m. Looking back to my amateur days, I was a good player but nothing really special at that time. I played in a few junior tournaments here and there.
At Georgia Tech I was an OK player but never an All-American, never won a tournament. After I turned pro and went to Q-School for the first time, I realized I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
That summer is when my work ethic changed. I turned a corner, and in the fall of 1981 I earned my PGA Tour card. Since those first years on Tour, many areas of the game have evolved. The equipment has really changed.
We were playing wooden drivers with steel shafts and a soft-covered ball. We had to approach the course differently.
Young players today have a different mentality on the course.
Growing up with the big-headed drivers with a larger sweet spot and a ball that goes farther, but still spins, allows them to swing much more aggressively and hit the ball a long way. It has changed the game. The introduction of the hybrid clubs has been wonderful, too. They are great clubs and much easier to hit when compared to hitting a 2- or 3-iron. At the same time, advances in physical fitness have changed the game.
These young players are stronger and more flexible. They’re hitting it farther not just because of equipment, but also because of the hard work they put in to increase their strength and flexibility.
TrackMan also has had a big influence. Before, we never knew exactly how much we were spinning the ball. We were just trying to visualize the shot and trust our eyes. When you work with a coach or by yourself nowadays, TrackMan really helps you get everything just right.
It tells you if the spin or launch angle is just a little off. You can also make sure you’re playing the correct driver and irons based on the numbers. I still think you need to trust your eyes, but having the TrackMan as a backup to make sure everything is exactly where you want it is part of the reason we’ve been seeing such low scores.
Augusta National is a hard course for me now, but it is a fun challenge.
I was 28 years old when I won the Masters, and at that time it was hard to understand the magnitude of it and how it would affect my career. I didn’t understand how special it was going to be now, at age 59. I love going back every year. It’s a very special place, and I appreciate it now more than ever. Having a hybrid or two in the bag these days doesn’t hurt, either. Gwk
(Note: This story appears in the Jan. 29, 2018 issue of Golfweek.)