Is This The Year?
Continued (page 2 of 2)
You mean guys like brash Billy Horschel? Ranked 49th in the world, Horschel has never played Augusta National and didn't intend to scout it out until the weekend prior. Cramming for an exam? No problem. "I feel like I'm a quick learner. And my course management is pretty good," he says. "I'll get some veteran guys and pick their brains. I feel like if I'm hitting the ball well and controlling my ball flight, I have a good chance. No one intimidates me."
Or even the quieter Walker, who was just shy of three months old when Zoeller danced on the 11th green. "I've always dreamt about it. I've been watching it since I was a kid," says Walker, who played a casual round with his father at Augusta National about five years ago, one of his most cherished experiences in golf. "It's been a long time coming, so I want to go there with a mindset that if I play my game, that should give me a chance."
Perhaps at the top of the list (or at least the top five?) is Reed, who is on a roll with his victory last month at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at difficult Trump National Doral. He has confidence and chutzpah and even a bit of local knowledge. He, like University of Georgia products and fellow Masters first-timers Harris English and Chris Kirk, got a taste of Augusta National during college.
"In my eyes, whoever shows up at an event nowadays has a chance to win," says Reed, 23, who currently is the hottest player in the world whose Sunday uniform is a red shirt and black slacks. "I don't put it past myself ... I'm definitely not going to say that I don't have a chance of winning. I feel like I do. But at the same time I'm going to have to put four really good rounds together."
English, No. 36 in the world, is similarly positive. "I guess every golf tournament you want to go into it thinking you can win," he says. "There's no real reason preparing and doing all the things you do to get ready for a golf tournament if you don't think you can win. It's another golf tournament. Yes, Augusta is going to be tough, and almost no one has won the first time, but it is another golf tournament. Experience matters, but who knows? This could be the year. I think if you prepare efficiently, you always have a chance."
If the idiosyncrasies of Augusta aren't enough of an impediment for the uninitiated, the aura and wonder of the former tree nursery also can be overwhelming, a walk so pure that even Mark Twain might have found it unspoiled. Jack Nicklaus admits that he still gets chills when he drives down Magnolia Lane toward the stately white clubhouse.
So what chance does a rookie have of holding it together? Well . . .
"The whole place is so amazing that you need time to adjust to how incredible it is," says Davis Love III, who competed in 19 Masters. "But the golf course itself might not be the issue it once was. It used to be that you got to Augusta and those were the fastest greens you putted on all year. And then Memorial had greens nearly as fast. Now we have [Bay Hill] and a lot of other weeks where they're really close. There are a lot of things that help guys get used to playing big events, like the WGCs. They have experience, and they've got the game. I think the new guys have a better chance than maybe 10 years ago."
"But," he cautions, "it is still the Masters."