MY AUGUSTA NATIONAL EXPERIENCE
APRIL 2, 2017
Several months ago I was with Zach Johnson at a PGA tournament and walking down one of the fairways he tells me that I have the nod this year. I said the nod for what? He responds by telling me that I get to join him on Sunday, the day before the MASTERS tournament starts, to play Augusta National with him. It is one of the perks that all MASTERS champions have in that they are allowed to bring one guest on the Sunday before the tournament to play with them without having a member in the group. When I heard this news of course I was filled with excitement but it reminded me back in my playing days that I said I would never play Augusta unless I qualified for the event. Funny how things change over time once you know that dream will never happen.
Knowing how difficult a golf course Augusta is and how little golf I now play, I decided I better start to practice when time permitted. I must say that over the few months leading up to our round I did get some practice in which helped both my swing and my confidence. My goal was to break 80 from the back tees which I thought would be a very good round considering the difficulty of the course and my lack of experience playing it. As many of you know who are reading this I decided to have a contest on what I would shoot with the tie breaker being the number of birdies I would make. We had a few hundred guesses ranging from 69 with 5 birdies ( if that happened I would think about coming out of retirement and playing the champions tour. I loved the optimisim in my abilities however) to the 80’s. My hope is that the weather would be good because that time of year in Georgia the temperature and winds can be very cold making the course even more difficult. The stage was set and the plan was for me to drive to Sea Island on Friday to work with Zach on his game and then have some practice time for myself at Fredrica golf club on Saturday morning. Saturday afternoon Zach and I caravanned up to Augusta in time to watch the final 4 basketball games, which we did. Every year most all players rent homes to stay in during the tournament. Since Zach’s family was coming up later in the week I was able to stay with him Saturday night at the house that he had rented for the week which made it easy to be organized for Sunday’s round.
THE BIG DAY
Sunday morning we got up and headed to the course. The weather was like a dream with no clouds, 5 to 7 mph winds and temperature in the high 70’s to low 80’s. Damon Green (Zach’s caddy) and I rode to the course with Zach for a couple of reasons. Number one it is the only way to get onto the grounds before the tournament and number two we get the privileage of driving down Magnolia Lane. I had been able to do that before but knowing that you are going to play the golf course that day made it extra special. There is a special parking lot for the champions which is right next to the clubhouse which makes taking your staff bag out of the car a lot of fun. We were greeted by and Augusta staff member who took our clubs to the range while Zach and I went to the Champions locker room to change our shoes and have breakfast. In the Champions locker room Richard the attendant has been there for years and loves to raz the players. Over the years he has gotten to know me from being in there for breakfasts and lunches. Adam Scott and Mark O’meara were having breakfast with their guests for the day. There was a big display on the wall filled with Arnold Palmer memorabilia and one of his Green Jackets in honor of his passing this year (see pictures). You can just feel the greatness and talent when you are sitting in there.
After breakfast we went to the range to warm up and I was assigned an Augusta National regular caddy. Just hitting new titliest pro V-1 balls at Augusta makes you swing better so my warm up went well and I hit the ball great. We then went to the putting green which I had been on many times with Zach but never with my own putter in hand. To my surprise there were hundreds of spectators around the green and first tee due to the Drive Chip and Putt event going on. I also learned that they let some spectators (patrons as they are called at Augusta) in to watch that day. The greens were as fast as any I ever remember putting where all you had to do is get the ball rolling and it would go 20 feet. The one advantage I had was that on Saturday at Fredrica they had their greens rolling at 13 to 14 in order to help the pros prepare for Augusta. I practiced for several hours that day chipping and putting around the practice greens so I had a decent feel for how easy I had to hit the putts and chips.
Now it was time to tee off and as I mentioned before there were roughly a thousand people around the first tee to watch the players tee off. We were joined by Tour Pro Billy Hurley who is a really nice person with a very good swing. Zach teed off first and hit it perfect up the middle then Billy teed off and did the same with his ball slightly ahead of Zach’s. Since there were so many people watching they had a set of tee markers moved forward to the front of the back tee because of safety with some of the higher handicapped guests and not wanting them to hit someone. I walked forward and teed my ball up. I had not felt that much pressure in a long time. I stuck with my swing key and hit a perfect draw right down the middle that landed past both the tour pros. I could hear some spectators saying “who is that guy” which made me laugh but it was a great feeling to hit a great drive off the first tee in that situation.
Every year that I go to the Masters to help Zach, coaches are never allowed to walk inside the ropes. So only one time before this day had I ever walked down the fairways and walked on the greens. You get such a better feel for all the contours and how firm the ground is. Being able to play the course this close to the tournament with the ropes and stands up brought back memories of when I played on the PGA Tour. It felt like I was one of the players preparing for the event ( my imagination running away from me ). It was such a perfect day weather wise and walking the course you could smell the pine trees like a fresh cut Christmas tree. It felt like the fastest 9 holes I had ever played but we finished around 12:30 and the plan was to break for lunch. Zach was scheduled to give the awards away to the Drive, Chip and Putt contestant winners at 1:10pm and then we would resume the back 9 at 1:30 or so. As I have been able to do in the past, we ate lunch in the Champions locker room. This area is reserved for only former winners of the tournament and occasionally a guest or two. Tom Watson, Bob Goalby, Tommy Arron and Gary Player were in there having lunch so it is pretty neat to hear some of the stories and conversation.
After lunch I went back out to the range to hit some more balls while Zach did the awards presentation. I was hitting the ball well and Ben Crenshaw came up and said that it looked pretty good. I told him the swing is the easy part it’s the chipping and putting that gets harder with age. He laughed and agreed. Went back to the practice putting green which is by the 10th tee to wait for Zach. There were still quite a large gallery around that green watching the players putt. We noticed that a few groups were backing up on the tee so we got in line. Some members are also allowed to play on this Sunday before the event and Lou Holtz and 3 other members were on the tee waiting as well. Since we had taken a break at the turn we were messing up the flow by trying to squeeze back onto the course. We finally got to tee off of number 10 with Vijay Singh and several other tour pros watching us and making comments. It was pretty entertaining listening to all the static they were giving us. To me the back 9 at Augusta is probably the most famous 9 holes of golf in the world. We have all watched and heard the announcers talk about all the pit falls and danger spots off the tee and on the greens so you almost feel like you have played it hundreds of times before. Number 11 you cannot miss your second shot left or it goes in the water. Number 12 you have to hit the right club with the wind swirling in the trees it makes it hard to judge the distance. All of the things that you have heard are true and playing it, you have the chance to see how well you can negotiate the mine fields.
It was so much fun to play that 9 ( see the hole by hole summary ) and by birding the 15th and 16th holes I was able to beat both the Tour pros on that 9 shooting 38. After the round Zach has a tradition with all of the guests he takes to Augusta, we go to the pro shop and he buys the guest an Augusta Tie. These are really cool ties (even though I rarely wear a tie ) and are not available to buy any other place. I am going to make a shadow box with my score card, the tie and some pictures of the day to hang in the academy. The Augusta National Pro Shop is very quaint and offers several things that you cannot find at the merchandise area during the tournament. I bought an Augusta National dress shirt, belt and embroidered pillow as my gifts to take back home.
The whole experience was one of my life’s highlights and I have been very blessed to work with a world class human being and player like Zach.
Mike's Hole By Hole Summary
Score 5 bogey
- Tea Olive- Par 4 Hit Driver straight up the middle. Hit 8 iron which carried onto the front of green and then backed down off the green. Had a delicate chip over a big mound in front of green to pin that was cut 6 feet from right edge of green. Chipped it 10 feet away and lipped out putt.
Score 5 par
- Pink Dogwood- Par 5 Hit driver down middle of fairway. Had 265 yards to green and hit a good 3 wood. Ball ended up just short of left bunker and pin cut front right. Had to hit a flop shot over bunker and aim 30 feet left of pin to play the slope. Hit a great shot that curled around and ended up 8 feet above the hole. Lipped out the putt.
Score 6 double bogey
- Flowering Peach- Par 4 Zach talked me into hitting driver instead of hybrid and I hit into second left fairway bunker. Had 105 yards to the hole and hit a slightly fat gap wedge that landed on front of green and back up all the way down the hill 15 yards from the green. Chunked my first chip which stopped half way up the hill. Next chip ran 15 feet past the pin which was cut on upper right side of green. Putt broke about 4 feet and just missed.
Score 4 bogey
- Flowering Crab Apple- Par 3 Played the very back tee and had 235 yards to the pin. Slightly downwind hit hybrid that landed in the middle of the green and rolled over the green left. Pin was cut over the big bunker on the front right side of green. Had to chip parrellel to the green sideways and let it trickle on to green and run 20 to 30 feet down to the hole. Chipped it 10 feet which was a great chip. Lipped out the putt again.
Score 4 par
- Magnolia- Par 4 Hit a great drive up the right side of fairway away from the big traps left. Second shot hit a hard 4 iron that landed on front edge and ran up the big slope in the green about 15 feet from the pin. Had a big breaking putt downhill and left it just short.
Score 3 par
- Juniper- Par 3 Pin was cut only a few feet from right edge of green up on the top shelf (Sunday pin placement). Playing the very back tee I hit a hard 7 iron that hit up on top of the hill by edge of green and the ball rolled back down in front of green. Had to hit a perfect high chip landing it on the fringe in order for it to stop by pin. Hit it to 3 feet and made the putt.
Score 5 bogey
- Pampas- Par 4 Hit my drive a little right into the pine trees. Had to hit a punch slicing 5 iron in order to keep the ball under the trees. Got into the front right bunker and had a terrible lie in the trap. The front bunkers on that hole are very deep and the pin was cut just over them in the front so had a very difficult shot. Hit my bunker shot to the back of the green and had a straight downhill putt that was extremely fast. Left it 2 feet short and made it from there.
Score 5 par
- Yellow Jasmine- Par 5 Hit my drive into the right fairway bunker which is not good. Had a bad lie but was able to hit a good 7 iron out to the top of the hill. Had 140 yards left and hit a good 9 iron that landed on right edge of green and funneled down to the pin on the left side of the green. Had a 18 foot birdie putt and missed it.
Score 6 double bogey
- Carolina Cherry- Par 4 Hit a bad drive left into the trees and pine straw. Had to hit a low slicing 5 iron up the first hole in order to have a chip to the green. Pin was cut on the second level on the right side of the green so being left was ok. Had approximately 60 yards for my 3rd shot over the bunkers. Did not hit it hard enough and it went into the greenside bunker. Blasted it out playing up to the top level of the green so that it could roll down to the second level. Hit it properly and the ball rolled some 30 feet down to 4 feet from the hole. Missed the putt.
Front 9 score 43
Score 5 bogey
- Camellia- par 4 Hit a hooking drive around the corner into the right rough at the bottom of the hill. Hit a 5 iron to front right of green but short. Hit very good pitch to a left pin placement that rolled 10 feet passed. Lipped out the putt.
Score 5 bogey
- White Dogwood- par 4 Hit a good drive down the right side and ended up 6 inches in the rough. Had one branch in my way so had to hit a fade around it. Did not quite fade enough landing short of the green and bounced left rolling into the water. Made a drop and chipped the ball 10 feet. Made the putt.
Score 4 bogey
- Golden Bell- Par 3 Pin was cut on far left side of green which is perfect for my draw shot. Hit a 9 iron and caught it just a little fat. The ball plugged into the bank but above the hazard line. Took a drop and had to a hit a Fred Couples flop shot over the trap. Hit a good one but still rolled 12 feet past the hole. Missed the par putt.
Score 5 par
- Azalea- Par 5 Hit a drive straight out into the fairway but not far enough to reach green on second shot. Laid up with a 6 iron to center of the fairway. Had about 75 yards to a back right pin position that was up on a self. Hit a good low sand wedge that skipped up on top and stopped 12 feet from the hole. Hit a perfect putt that lipped out again.
Score 5 bogey
- Chinese Fir- Par 4 Hit another bad drive into the left trees and pine straw. Had to hit a rope hooking 5 iron under the trees and executed it perfectly with the ball ending up on the green pin high but on the far right side of the green. Pin was on the far left side of the green so I had about an 80 foot putt up the hill. Zach told me it was the slowest putt on the course so I tried to hit it harder. Ended up leaving it 8 feet short. Missed the par putt for my only 3 putt of the day.
Score 4 birdie
- Firethorn- Par 5 Hit a perfect drive up the left center of fairway. Had 225 to front edge of green with a little helping wind. Hit a hybrid that landed on front edge and rolled up to 15 feet for eagle. Billy Hurley had a 30 footer below the hole for birdie that he missed on the low side of the hole and the ball rolled all the way off the green into the lake. I played about 6 feet of break and just barely touched it and it rolled down about one foot short.
Score 2 birdie
- Redbud- Par 3 Pin was cut in the front left part of the green. I hit a good 8 iron from the back tee that landed on the front edge and rolled right over the hole nearly going in. Had about 10 feet left for birdie which I made.
Score 4 par
- Nandina- Par 4 Hit a good drive up the left side of fairway but did not reach the top of hill. The pin was in the back left of the green and I had 180 yards off an uphill lie. Decided to hit 6 iron which I ended up hitting very well but it landed right next to the flag and went over the green. The good news was is that I was chipping uphill towards the flag but off of a downhill lie. I had to land the chip short of the green and hopefully bounce it on as I could not hit it high. I executed it perfectly and chipped it to 3 feet where I made the putt.
Score 4 par
- Holly- Par 4 As you can see by the pictures and television it is a very narrow driving hole. I hit a good drive up the left side of the fairway short of the first big fairway bunker. I had 215 yards to the pin. With the uphill lie and slightly into the wind I hit a hybrid with a nice high draw that landed right at the pin but on the front of the green. I had approximately a 20 foot putt which I two putted.
Back 9 score 38
" I would like to thank all of you who entered the contest. I tried my best on every shot and the course definetly lives up to its reputation" - Mike Bender
SOME PICTURES OF MIKE'S EXPERIENCE AT THE 2017 MASTER'S
|Mike's Experience at the 2017 Master's. |
|» Play Slide Show|
Driving down Magnolia lane
Arnold Palmer display in champions locker room
Breakfast in champions locker room
Number 3 tee
Number 4 the long par 3
Number 6 green. The par 3. This is how close the pins were cut to the edges of the green on Sunday when Mike played.
Fairway bunker on par 5 number 8
Number 11 tee box. The long par 4
Zach teeing off on number 11
Mike on 11 and yes it was a good one.
Back of 11 green looking towards par 3 12th
12 tee box
Zach and Mike on the Hogan Bridge
12th green. It is so narrow!
12th green looking towards the Hogan Bridge
Billy Hurley, Zach and the caddies waiting on 13 tee
13 fairway second shot
15th fairway second shot
Sarazen Bridge at 15
Sarazen commemorative plaque denoting his double eagle in route to winning the Masters
15th green looking back up the fairway
Pin location on Sunday where Mike had a 15 footer for eagle
Famous 16 tee - par 3
Back of 17 green
18 tee box. How narrow is that!!
Damon Green, Zach's caddy, approaching 18th tee