After years of finishing in the top 10 at The Masters, Sergio Garcia joined the ranks of golf’s elite, winning the coveted green jacket.
One of the many reasons that people around the world love The Masters Tournament is that it symbolizes springtime. For many the real golf season begins the first full week of April and in Georgia that is often when you know that spring has arrived. After months of dreariness, or worse, the colors of the azaleas and dogwoods contrasting with the brilliant greens of the more-than-lush fairways greens and the majestic long-leaf pines. For those living farther north they know they will have to live with the gray-edged cold but they can turn on their television sets and it is springtime in Augusta. It is a happy anticipation of new growth and great golf shared all across the northern hemisphere.
The new tradition of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition for young golfers ages 7-15, from across the country, proved itself a winner again in its fourth edition at Augusta National on the Sunday before The Masters. No doubt, the 2018 event will be just as successful.
The Masters Tournament Foundation, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America started Drive, Chip and Putt during the summer of 2013. The event is a free nationwide junior golf development competition aimed at growing the game by focusing on the fundamental skills employed in golf.
By tapping the creative and competitive spirit of the thousands of girls and boys who participate during the year before the finals, Drive, Chip and Putt provides aspiring junior golfers an opportunity to play with their peers in qualifiers around the country. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying in each age/gender category earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted at Augusta National Golf Club the Sunday before the Masters Tournament and is broadcast live by The Golf Channel.
Registration for the 2019 Drive, Chip and Putt is now open. Local qualifying is available in all 50 states. For more information, please visit the Rules and Regulations at www.drivechipandputt.com/rules.
Everyone involved remains thrilled at the success of the effort and at the talent, poise and comportment of the kids. This year will be the fifth installment in this universally applauded innovation. (The Masters is among the few entities in the world that can will the creation of a new tradition.) To the delight of children who participated, qualifying tournaments were played at hundreds of locations hosted in every state. Eighty junior golfers, 40 boys and 40 girls, qualify for the finals and are brought to the tournament at no expense.
It is the tournament’s second recent and highly successful avenue to promote interest and participation in golf among children. The Junior Pass Program allows Patrons (in other sports called season ticket holders) to bring registered children, ages 8 to 16, free of charge, following certain protocols enumerated on masters.com.
No Par 3
Much to the chagrin of almost everybody, especially those who traveled to Augusta with only a practice round ticket for Wednesday, the highly popular Par-3 Contest had to be cancelled because of unplayable wind and rain conditions.
Favorites Coming to Town
Many of the pre-tournament conversations are on speculating on who is going to win this year. In 2017 that included several of the usual suspects and some others just breaking their way into the mix.
On the Monday that began Masters Week, the No. 1 ranked player and odds on favorite to win his second major championship, was Dustin Johnson of Columbia, S.C. But the next day, a fall on a flight of stairs at his rented Augusta home wrenched his back and put him out of the competition. World No. 2 was Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. He would finish in a tie for 7th, six shots out of the playoff. No. 3 was Jason Day of Australia. Day would finish tied for 22nd, 11 shots back. Next in the rankings were: Hideki Matsuyama, whose tie for 11th brings with it an invitation for the following year, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who would miss the cut, 2015 Masters Champion Jordan Spieth of Dallas, finished tied with Matsuyama in a tie for 11th with a final score of minus-1, Justin Thomas of Kentucky who tied for 22nd, Rickie Fowler, born in California, educated at Oklahoma State and now a resident of Florida, finished tied with Spieth and Matsuyama at T-11, 2013 Masters Champion Adam Scott of Australia who finished at -2 in a tie for 9th.
If you picked world No. 11, Sergio Garcia of Spain, to win, you looked pretty smart at the end of the week. If you took No. 14, Justin Rose, tied with Garcia at the end of regulation play and eventual runner up, you also came out well.
Some other early week favorites included No. 12 Jon Rahm of Spain, who finished tied for 27th, No. 18 Phil Mickelson who finished tied for 22nd, or either No. 11, defending champion Danny Willett or No. 19 Bubba Watson, both of whom failed to make the cut.
Weather a Factor Early
As the meteorologists had predicted, the wind and rain exacted a price from the players from Wednesday through Friday. The Masters may be known for its “Springtime in Augusta,” but on Wednesday it was more like Springtime in Moscow. Cold temperatures, high winds and a driving rain sent everyone indoors and praying for better conditions for the first round.
It was no longer raining or cold but the wind stayed fierce for Thursday and Friday and what would have passed for cool temperatures felt quite cold, especially on the exposed sections of the course, which is most of it.
Even though it wasn’t comfortable for the patrons, the heavy rain had softened the course and some low rounds were shot starting off the tournament. Sergio Garcia would look back on Thursday and was thankful that he hadn’t shot himself out of the tournament in the wind, but then Spaniards and the British play in much worse all the time. Garcia finished the first round tied for 4th after a one-under-par 71, six strokes back of Charlie Hoffman’s opening 65.
William McGirt held solo second at -3 after a 69 and a stroke back was Englishman Lee Westwood, quite often a contender at The Masters.
They were followed by a logjam at -1, 71, shot by Englishmen, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Justin Rose and Andy Sullivan, Americans Kevin Chappell, Jason Dufner, Russell Henley, Phil Mickelson and Garcia of Spain.
After the second round, Garcia had already made up those six strokes with a 69 while Hoffman fell back to join him at four-under with a 75. Also tied for the half-way lead were Rickie Fowler who shot 67 and Belgian Thomas Pieters with a 68. William McGirt hadn’t moved much after a 73 that left him alone in fifth place at -2.
Rose stood three strokes back after an even par round, where he was in a four-way tie with Ryan Moore, (69) perennial gallery favorite Fred Couples (70) and Garcia’s fellow Spaniard John Rahm (70).
The next group, who were tied for tenth at even par were all former Masters Champions, included Phil Mickelson after a 73, along with Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth with matching 69s.
The one common chord among the 12 leaders within four strokes of the lead was that they were happy to get out of the cold wind.
Garcia (70) and Rose (67) fashioned a tie for the lead after Saturday’s round, but it was by just one stroke in front of Rickie Fowler (71). Rose shook up Augusta National late that afternoon when he posted birdies on five of his final seven holes to reach Garcia at -6 for the tournament. Garcia’s two-under round saw him do what you have to do on the back nine, make birdie on the par-5s Nos. 13 and 15. Playing together the last two days, Rose matched those backside birdies by Garcia but also threw in three more on the treacherous Nos. 12 and 17 and another on 18, the last a score he could have used on Sunday.
Like Garcia, Fowler made those almost necessary birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 Saturday, but they could only save a 71 that kept him a stroke back at -5.
After No. 13, Charley Hoffman held the lead to himself but made bogey on No. 14 and sank his tee shot in the pond fronting the 16th green before making double bogey and dropping two strokes back at -4. Tied there with Hoffman were Jordan Spieth after a 5-birdie 68 and Ryan Moore who posted a 69 that included six birdies.
The only other players under par were Adam Scott with a bogey free 69 that put him three back at -3, Charl Schwartzel at -2 for the tournament after going Garcia and Rose one better on the backside par-5s with a birdie on No. 13 and an eagle on No. 15, and both Lee Westwood with a six-birdie 68 and Thomas Pieters who had a tough day with a 75 that included four bogeys and a double at No. 10. The young man from Belgium showed enough grit to bounce back on Sunday with a six-birdie 68 that included four in a row from No. 12 through No. 15.
To be sure there were several fine rounds on Sunday including 67s by Matt Kuchar and Hideki Matsuyama and a flock of 68s turned in by Charl Schwartzel, Paul Casey, Kevin Chappell, Martin Kaymer, Steve Stricker and Pieters – but it was really never more than a match race between the long-suffering Spaniard and his English friend and Ryder Cup teammate.
To say that Garcia and Rose remained tied with matching 69s by the end of the round Sunday would belie a tumultuous trading of leads and great golf shots all afternoon.
Looking at the pairings early Sunday, the acknowledged experts mostly picked Spieth to win and hedged their bets with the gallery-pleasing Fowler. But Fowler shot a four-over 76 and Spieth tied him eight strokes out of the playoff at -1 for the tournament after a 75.
Rose and Garcia began Sunday tied at -6, both shot 69s and both finished tied at -9. Those numbers may look uneventful, but half the holes saw a new lead or another tie. Garcia made birdies at Nos. 1 and 3 while Rose birdied Nos. 6, 7 and 8 to forge another tie. That would last one hole until Garcia made bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11 to fall two strokes behind while Rose was making six pars in a row from Nos. 9 until No. 15. After not making birdie at No. 13, and more importantly, not making bogey out of the woods, Garcia drew within one stroke with a birdie on No. 14.
Although it really meant no more than another tie, Rose made birdie on the must-birdie No. 15, but Garcia set off an earthquake of sound when his eagle putt dropped out of site on the same green. Tied again, but it seemed to the galleries that Sergio was the force that day.
Both men had makeable birdie putts on No. 16 but only Rose made his for another one stroke lead. That was erased on the next hole where Rose missed a par putt. They both missed makeable birdie putts on No. 18 to finish the regulation 72 holes at -9 – and tied again.
A few minutes later, Garcia and Rose stood on the 18th tee for the second time. Now it was for the first hole of a sudden death playoff to identify the 2017 Masters Champion.
But this time it was Sergio who sent his drive straight into the arms of that incredibly green fairway grass of Augusta National. This time it would be someone else who would slice a shot into the pines where there was no flight path to the beckoning putting surface.
The two men circled their balls on the green, Rose 14 feet from par; Garcia 12 feet from birdie. After decades of the same drama most of us know what those putts will do. They will curl up under the left side of the hole if you don’t hit it hard enough. They will slide by on the right if you do but play for a break. Rose, one of the European Tour’s better putters, put a solid stroke on his par putt and it never took the left turn. Now with two putts for par and victory, Sergio somehow found the peace of mind to find that perfect speed and sank his birdie putt for a victory.
A few seconds ago, he was the man who had played more major championships without a victory than any other golfer in history. Now, he is a champion. Unlike all those second-place finishes in majors and other important tournaments, this time it was Sergio’s day to make the brilliant move and time for someone else to make the sideways shot at the critical moment.
What is it with these Spaniards on the golf course? First, they are fairly oozing with personality, drawing the galleries to live and die with them. They make a brilliant shot and then another and another. Then they hit it so far into the woods that they might be in danger of getting lost if it were not for the thousands of spectators. Then of course they come running out from behind a tree or out of a parking lot as a near miracle shot lands on the green and then there’s a Spaniard willing yet another putt into the hole to rescue themselves from the tragedy that nearly everyone else would have long since surrendered to.
If Seve Ballesteros was a magician, then Jose Maria Olazabal was the sorcerer’s apprentice. And there is another one on the way. In fact, Jon Rahm is already here. He was tied with Rose after the Friday round before a tough weekend stole his thunder. But he can break a club as fast as any Spaniard and he can score from anywhere.
Who teaches these guys how to bring such excitement to the course?
Apparently, when his tee shot on No. 13 rocketed left over the water hazard and deep into the pine trees, Sergio did not have a de ja vu moment. He had a Severiano Ballesteros moment. He took a one-stroke penalty and dropped his ball away from the offending but otherwise beautiful azalea bush. Then he stroked it through two dozen trees, safely onto the fairway, stroked a wedge shot near the pin and sank the putt for what was probably a day-saving par.
Next, he makes birdie on the difficult No. 14 and channels Seve again as he rips his second shot past the demons of the lake on the par-5 No. 15 and rolls in the putt for eagle. In the shocking loud and sudden volley of sound the patrons roared for him the way they roared for his countrymen in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
For a year now, we can all see the change in Sergio. He no longer has to defend himself the way he did when he was asked the same dumb questions for 20 years. Major champions don’t get asked those questions. He wore his green jacket back to Spain where the people who believed in him could see him wearing it as a mantle of a Master of his art. He looks happy. His head is high. He is a newly married man and a new father. He is not arrogant, but still quite humble. He doesn’t have anything to prove. He has just confidently taken his place among the Spanish masters of golf. Jon Rahm will probably follow Sergio’s lead. Jose and all of Spain are very proud of him – and certainly, so is Seve.
Article appears in the April 2018 issue of Augusta Magazine.