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April 6, 2022

Augusta National, Masters special to players

By Tommy Hicks, AGN Contributor
Augusta National Clubhouse, The Masters

Augusta National: A place like no other

Tommy Hicks
Alabama Golf News contributor Tommy Hicks

The phrase “A tradition unlike any other” is an accurate statement regarding The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

But it isn’t just the patrons, the fans watching on TV or media members covering the event who feel that way. Players share those sentiments as well.

To paraphrase what many have said in the past and heading into this week’s tournament, “There’s just something about The Masters, something about Augusta National.”

At Sunday’s final round of the PGA Champions Tour’s Rapiscan Systems Classic at Biloxi’s Grand Bear Golf Club, some of the players who have played in golf’s first major championship of the season shared their thoughts on why the course and the tournament holds such a special place with them.

Bernhard Langer knows the tournament and course as well as anyone. He will begin play in The Masters on Thursday for the 39th time in his career. He said he enjoys being there every year.

“Everything about the Masters is exciting — the golf course, the atmosphere, everything; the practice facilities. It’s really an amazing place,” Langer, who at age 64 will be the oldest player in the field this year, said.

“They have invested so much money over the years and it’s a benefit to them having it at the same place, the same venue every year, year after year. So it’s a great investment.

“There are so many things to get excited about — the past champions dinner, the champions’ locker room and just playing a golf course that is pristine and having those practice facilities as well,” Langer added.

For Langer: The Masters is about the stories

Langer won The Masters in 1985 and 1993. When the tournament was played in November of 2020 because of COVID issues, Langer became the oldest player to make the cut in the event at age 63. He has made the cut 27 times and has nine Top 10 finishes.

“It’s a very special place for me, personally,” he said. “My first Masters was in ’82 and the only other time I wasn’t invited was ’83, so I’ve been there all the other years, close to 40 years now. It’s an amazing time of year.

“I’ve had some great success there,” he continued. “You know, two wins, lots of made putts. I just love the place. I fell in love with it and I enjoy going back year after year. Everything about the tournament is phenomenal. Just seeing a lot of the same people, hanging out at the champions’ dinner is great fun. That’s certainly a highlight. … It’s always a great dinner and a good time of fellowship and fun.”

For Langer, there are too many memories to count from his time in the tournament.

“I’ve played so many rounds in so many years,” he said. “Obviously my two victories would stand out to me, but just sitting with guys in the locker room, whether it was Sam Snead or Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, any of them, and listen to some of the stories from before I came around. It’s fascinating and it’s fun and everybody gives their attention and we’re just all ears and all smiles. It’s great for them to still come, even though they don’t play anymore. It’s great for them to still come and share some of the stories.”

Golf in one of golf’s most beautiful places

Chris DiMarco has a few stories. For one, he challenged Tiger Woods in 2005, the two going back and forth in the final round, sharing the lead at the end of regulation, with Woods winning with a birdie at 18 in the first playoff hole.

It was the same tournament where Woods made the improbable chip shot for birdie at No. 16 that had CBS announcer Vern Lundquist exclaim, “Wow. In your life have you seen anything like that?”

“I got to play some pretty good rounds there,” DiMarco said. “My very first year of getting to play there, I started out with a 65 and was leading the tournament, which was pretty special. Obviously, playing that last round with Tiger in ’05 was pretty awesome. Being there in ’04 to see Phil (Mickelson) win his first major was pretty awesome, and being in the last group with him was pretty cool, too. It’s hard to not think back there and not have some great memories because it’s such a special place.”

It is a place, DiMarco said, that has to be experienced in person to truly understand the aura and the beauty and difficulty of the course.

“If you truly want to get what it’s about, then you have to go to Augusta,” he said. “You have to go and see what it’s about, because TV doesn’t do it justice. Even today, with all the technology and the high definition, it doesn’t do justice to what you can see (when you’re there) with the elevation and some of the green complexes.”

DiMarco describes Augusta National as amazing.

“When you are there in person you say, ‘Wow, this is pretty amazing,’” he said. “I would say if you haven’t been there — even if you can get there on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday practice round — it’s worth going, because it’s a truly remarkable place.”

He added, “And just the grounds itself. It’s such a special place. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere. Everything there is so amazing. You know, you just feel it emanating from the roots of the ground, you just feel the aura all around. It’s just amazing.”

The Masters: Often imitated, never replicated

Jim Furyk has had a few special moments at Augusta National as well. He’s been in contention for a Green Jacket and felt the pressure of navigating Amen Corner and all the traditions and emotions that are part of The Masters.

“It’s really unlike any other golf tournament we play or any other course we play,” Furyk said. “It’s the only major that’s played at the same golf course every year. I think a lot of golf tournaments tend to pattern — (The Masters) are kind of trailblazers in a lot of the things they do.”

It’s an event Furyk said that is often imitated at other tour stops, but cannot be completely replicated.

“A lot of events kind of pattern themselves after Augusta, whether it’s from how they handle the patrons down to basically the concessions and stuff,” Furyk said. “I wish a lot more places would pattern themselves after the $5 lunch at Augusta.

“I guess, growing up in the north, that was kind of like the beginning of the golf season,” he said. “It was the first full week of April, the weather was just starting to warm up and The Masters was on television. It was the one that really stuck with me. Once you get to the other majors it’s kind of summertime and the season is going full bore. I was out playing a lot of golf. But I made sure I kind of sat down and watched The Masters and how it finished. Just a lot of memories and a lot of history.”

As with the others, certain memories from Augusta stand out more than others for Furyk, who like DiMarco did not qualify for this year’s tournament.

“I had a chance to win in ’98, so anytime you have the opportunity to win (it’s special),” he said. “I think the first time you ever play it and see it, that’s a good memory. I had a chance to play with my dad there. There definitely are some good memories from over the years and I definitely will miss playing in the event, that’s for sure.”

Tommy Hicks is a frequent Albama Golf News contributor

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Featured image: Courtesy of Augusta National

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