The day I played Augusta

The day I played Augusta


Golf can be a bitter-sweet mistress.

Bitterness has come many times: the 18-month spell when I shanked two of every three iron shots; or the time I played the wrong ball out of the rough to lose a Ryder Cup-style knock-out tournament on behalf of myself and five team-mates.

And then there was the day when, after a year or two hacking round local municipals with borrowed 60s blades, it dawned on me that I would never, ever be good enough to become a tour pro and play Augusta.

The sweetness, though far less common, is obviously always better: the time I holed a wedge for an eagle; the day I broke 80 for the first time; and, top of the list, the day I got to play Augusta, after all.

It all came about while I was covering the Masters for a golf magazine and was picked from the media draw to play the course on the Monday after the event.

And so, the morning after Tiger Woods had defeated Chris DiMarco in a play-off, I became, officially, the jammiest of jammy b*****ds.

So what was it like? I won't bore (and infuriate) you even further with a blow-by-blow account, but here's a flavour of it.

The grass truly is that perfect, the rough is like a shagpile carpet, the fairways are like Fuzzy Felt (if you remember that), and the greens are so smooth they might as well be painted wood.

Everyone always talks about the place being hillier than you think, but that doesn't quite capture it; it's still hillier than you think even though you have gone there fully expecting it to be hillier than you think.

You could, quite literally, hold a ski-jump competition down the 10th fairway, given enough fake snow.

And the greens? Well, they're quick - but not unfeasibly quick. What you don't realise is that the greens are as crazily undulating as the fairways, and once the ball gets on a downhill roll there is nothing to stop it except running out of hill.

I feathered a putt - on caddie's advice - from the top of the slope at the back of the second green, and watched in amazement as it rolled 90ft down towards the hole.

The TV-friendly holes - Amen Corner, 15 and 16 in particular - are fantastic, but other holes are just as good. The seventh is a gorgeous par-four, the fifth breathtakingly tough, the 14th green alone is unforgettably bonkers and the 10th is far and away the best on the course.

For the record, on Amen Corner I three-putted 11 for a bogey from the front edge; pushed a six iron into the drink on the 12th and ended up with six; and hit a (hastily borrowed) wedge stiff on 13 - my second-best shot of the day - for a glorious par after topping my drive.

My best shot of the day? The only other perfect strike, a six iron on the sixth to 10ft; the birdie lipped out, ran six foot past and I was lucky to make par. I shot 96 in total, off a 14 handicap, and played well to do so.

There were down sides, and although grumbling about them is like bedding Angelina Jolie and then complaining that she didn't make you breakfast, here they are: I teed off on the 10th rather than the first; I was forced to use a half-set of borrowed clubs which included a miniature child's putter, a 30-year-old persimmon driver (my only wood) and no wedges whatsoever; and, er, well, that's it actually.

It was amazing, the fulfilment of an ambition that I never had any right to expect to fulfil.

I've never cursed my luck since, and probably never will.

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