Once you’ve been to the Masters Tournament, even the practice rounds, you have memories for a lifetime. Here’s one that I vividly remember.
A couple of years ago I was at a Masters practice round and had the opportunity to follow around a very interesting grouping, Rory McIlory and Tom Watson. It was fun to watch the interaction between the two. Watson was helping McIlory out with tips on the golf course, and likely on life. He’s just that way.
Since it was a practice round, the players would often hit a few shots or several putts from one location. Most players know most of the pin placements so on their approaches they might hit a couple of shots to where they imagine the pins will be. On the greens they’ll putt to those same imaginary places, like lower right on the par-5 2nd (can you say Louis Oosthuizen?).
On the par-4 9th I got a fantastic vantage point to watch Tom and Rory approach the green. See the picture in this post of Rory. For those who have not been to Augusta in person, you have no idea how much elevation change there is. The 9th green is incredibly slanted from back to front. So much so, I think I’d fall down if I tried to walk down it. Watch the players during the tournament hit their approaches. The second they hit it they might get mad because they know they put it in the wrong place and the slope of the green will cause the ball to go to a very bad position.
One such bad position would be a shot which goes long. Chipping from the back of the 9th green would be a nightmare. I’d bet wads of cash that an amateur golfer could not chip a ball onto the 9th from above the green, and keep his chip on the green. It’s THAT steep.
During their practice round McIlroy walked right up in front of me and dropped about 8-10 golf balls off the back of the green. I watched in absolute amazement as he clipped those balls so crisply that they would land on the back fringe and actually check, before slowly moving to a tightly dispersed spacing. Imagine chipping from a downslope onto a downslope on greens that are probably running a 14+ on the stimpmeter. I could have sat there with 50 balls and never hit one that perfectly. I’d probably be hitting gap wedge back up to the surface for my next shot.
Tom Watson took notice too. He stopped his chipping practice and just watched. Rory didn’t know Tom was watching.
When Rory moved to another place to practice some chips or putts, Tom grabbed his caddie and pointed him to the back of the 9th green, right where Rory had been hitting those little crisp chips. He threw down about 8-10 balls. Tom Watson is one of the best around the greens in the history of the game. He wanted to see if he could replicate what Rory had been doing.
I watched Tom hit ball after ball. Some ended up in the middle of the green and some off the front and down the hill. The dispersion was massive. None of the balls ended up at the top of the green like Rory’s. Tom looked at the green, the balls, Rory… he then shrugged his shoulders and moved on.