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Rookie nerves

Masters 2024: Past champion says he didn't dare take a divot in first trip to Augusta

April 09, 2024

Jose Maria Olazabal hits a shot during the 2019 Masters.

Andrew Redington

AUGUSTA, Ga. — There are 20 rookies in the field for this week’s 88th Masters Tournament, and if they’re feeling more than the usual amount of nervousness, it might help them to hear how shaky two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal was during his debut in 1985.

Olazabal, who earned an invitation by winning the ’84 British Amateur, recalls stepping onto the Augusta National driving range and immediately being overcome with sense of unease. He felt intimidated by, get this, the grass.

“Walked on to the driving range, which was the old driving range, and I had never seen grass so perfect before in my life,” said Olazabal, 58, who is making his 35th Masters start this week. “So, I started to warm up, hit some wedges, and you know what? I thinned them all. I couldn't hit a divot. I was so scared of spoiling such perfect turf.”

OK, so that’s some ultimate respect for one of the cathedrals of golf.

More jitters accompanied the Spaniard for the first round; he was paired with four-time champion Arnold Palmer.

“That was a treat. You know, we didn't play good golf. Actually we played poorly, but I was really impressed on how the patrons showed their love and appreciation to Arnold,” said Olazabal, who opened with an 81, which remains his highest round of his Masters career. “Every time we got on to a green everybody stood up and clap, and this is something that sticks to my mind.”

Obviously, Olazabal eventually got acclimated to the course and the atmosphere at Augusta, winning in 1994 and ’99, meaning that this year he is celebrating the 30th and 25th anniversaries, respectively, of his two green jackets.