Mark Immelman blog: My week at the Masters
April 11, 2014
By Mark Immelman, PGATOUR.COM
- A scoreboard at Augusta National Golf Club shows the final results of the 2014 Masters. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Editor's note: Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional and 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State (Ga.) University golf team. He wrote a daily blog for PGATOUR.COM from the Masters.
(All photos by Getty Images)
SUNDAY'S ENTRY: Sunday at the Masters is truly the Super Bowl Sunday of golf. The energy around the grounds just appears to intensify, the margins seem to tighten and the pressure on each shot raises incrementally the further into the round the players progress. To put that in perspective I must add that just watching someone you care for stand on the first tee and hit that tee shot is a chest-tightening and nerve-wracking experience. To actually stand there and have to hit it must be unfathomable.
After a forgettable Saturday, Larry Mize came dressed for the final round in the requisite green shirt. Indeed, a number of competitors, their families and friends, and the spectators wear something green at some stage during the tournament. Such is the allure of the event and the mystique of Augusta National and the Green Jacket. It is very necessary for the competitors to match their Sunday outfit with green – just in case they happen to be the fortunate one to be able to don that coveted item of clothing at the end of the day. There were a few players on the range whose outfits made me wonder about their ability to match colors or if they had given up on their quest for the Green Jacket in 2014.
Larry struggled from the first hole and got over par early. He rebounded somewhat through the middle portion of the round and eventually signed for a final round of 79. It was not the weekend I know he was hoping for, but as far as goal-setting goes, making the cut was a super achievement and there is a lot to build on leading into the Greater Gwinnett Championship just down the road in Atlanta this week.
With the crowds of patrons beginning to swell in preparation for the final groups tee times, I settled down in front of the big screen TV. Masters Sunday … a tradition unlike any other.
My week at the Masters was once again a memorable one. Being able to work with two Masters champions at Augusta National is truly a dream come true for me. Indeed, as a young golf instructor I often times wondered what it would be like to stand on the range at Augusta National and work with a Masters contestant. Well I must say that it is an exhilarating honor and I count myself blessed to have been able to do so this year.
Let the countdown to the 2015 Masters begin.
SATURDAY'S ENTRY: Saturday was another peach of a day in Augusta, Ga. Bright sun and mild morning temperatures greeted the early groups and there was not a breath of wind. Things were relaxed and somewhat ethereal on the range and there was an easy atmosphere among the few players who were warming up. In fact the smoke from Miguel Angel Jimenez’s practice session cigar was just hanging in the air above him as he eased through the bag and casually hit shots.
I had arrived early to wait for Larry Mize who would be teeing off at 12:35 p.m. with Steve Stricker. I grabbed a cup of coffee in the Caddie House, and a couple of spoonfuls of their decadent banana pudding which was being put out for the upcoming lunch serving. It was a soulful time in a special place for me. I scrolled through the videos on my camera and did a little research on my clients’ golf swings.
Larry arrived and I worked through his warm-up. In my opinion it was his best warm-up of the week and I felt confident he would have a good day. At that time it appeared that scoring would be lower than the brutal Friday the cut-makers had to endure. After his warm-up we jumped on a cart (transportation for the players and caddies) and headed over to the clubhouse. The Founders Circle side of the clubhouse was quiet and serene but when we rounded the building and made our way onto the golf course side of the clubhouse the energy hit me like a ton of bricks. People were milling around everywhere, and there was the obligatory contingent of people socializing and networking underneath the big oak tree.
I watched Larry hit a few practice putts on the main putting green and then wished him and his caddie, Chris, good luck as they threaded through the throngs of patrons to the first tee.
A few minutes later, “Fore please, Larry Mize now driving,” was announced by the starter and Larry launched a high draw down the right center of the uphill fairway.
I wandered on down the hill to the big scoreboard and glanced at the early competitors’ progress. The scores had begun to come back a bit as the temperatures warmed, making the greens play firmer and faster. It was going to be another tough day, I thought to myself as I made my way back to the range to meet my brother, Trevor.
Whilst I was waiting, Nick Price stopped by and we chatted a bit. I have tons of respect for Nick and I hold his opinion on the game in very high regard so I grab every chance I can to pick his brain a little. This time was no different and as always he passed on a tidbit of information that made me sparkle with excitement.
Trevor arrived and he and his caddie, Gary, and I headed over to the short-game area to iron out a few kinks. He has been striking the ball very well over the last few weeks but the putter had let him down. As a result his scores have not reflected the quality of his play. Three hours later we were done … it was a constructive session and he left the range buoyed and ready for Hilton Head next week.
I headed back and caught the last few hours of play. Indeed the scores did balloon and once again Augusta National won the battle. Things tightened up at the top of the leaderboard and the day ended with fifteen people within five shots of the lead. Sunday promises to be Fun-day at the Masters.
FRIDAY'S ENTRY: Any Friday at any professional golf tournament brings a little added extra emphasis to the day. Friday is cut day, and everyone is trying their best to make a good enough score to survive the 36-hole cut and advance to the weekend. At the Masters, unlike on the PGA TOUR, the cut falls at the top 50 players and ties or anyone within 10 shots of the lead.
I met Larry Mize at 7 a.m. (after a 5:30m wake-up cal) to warm up and prepare for his second round. The warmup went fine, and he headed off to the first tee to hopefully build and improve on his opening-round 74. As Larry was winding down, my brother Trevor arrived on the putting green that flanks the driving range to prepare for his second round. Whereas the emphasis with Larry was his long game, the bulk of the pre-round conversation with Trevor was about his putting, as he had struck the ball beautifully. His first round could have been significantly better had he only holed out from inside five feet with any sort of regularity.
The weather and the conditions were perfect early on Friday at Augusta National. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a Masters egg salad sandwich, and headed out to watch my two charges play. Both started off decently with Trevor being 1 under through eight holes. Larry shot a solid 35 on the front.
The turn brought freshening and swirling breezes,and conditions began to get very tough. In fact, in a post-round conversation with Steven Bowditch, he summarized it pretty succinctly:
“This course just keeps coming at you. There is never any letup. You can hit a good approach shot and have fifteen feet for birdie and the next thing you are sweating over a three-footer for par.”
Larry signed for a 72, which got him in the house at 2 over and safely within the cut. Trevor on the other hand, hit the ball like a 67, but he signed for a 74 to miss the weekend.
As I waited on the driving range for Larry for some post-round practice, Sandy Lyle set his bag down beside me and we chatted briefly. He was in at 4 over, and at that stage, he was touch-and-go for the cut. We chatted about it and I was struck at how much making the cut meant to him. Indeed, he glanced over at the leaderboard on the right side of the driving range every so often as his hit balls.
Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal also showed up on the range to hit a few balls. Two rounds of 74 had him in the house at 4 over with an outside shot at making the cut. All of a sudden a roar from the course erupted, and it was for Bubba Watson, who had just made his fifth birdie in row. It put him at 8 under, effectively knocking Ollie out of the weekend.
Olazabal shook his head in disgust but kept on hitting. Once again, I marveled how important making the cut is to these great champions. About 30 minutes or so later, the scoreboard posted a bogey for Bubba at the 18th. It dropped him back to 7 under and guaranteed that the players at 4 over would get to play on the weekend. Ollie’s demeanor relaxed as I realized he would get to go for another two rounds.
Practice for Larry was light and constructive. We worked for just over an hour before he headed home. I exited the grounds, part happy and part sad, through the main gate. Emotions aside though, it was another exhilarating day at golf's greatest major.
THURSDAY'S ENTRY: The first round of the 2014 Masters was one of those Chamber of Commerce kind of days. Temperatures were warm and mild, and the breezes were light and variable. Indeed, for the patrons that held one of the coveted tickets, it was a perfect day to watch some golf.
It was a vastly different affair for the participants. Granted, the conditions were perfect, but the course still had a fair amount of bite. The greens were firm and very fast and the hole locations were as tough as I had seen them for any first round. Many a top player fell prey to the challenging conditions and only a select few managed to shoot under par.
My day began with Larry Mize’s pre-round warm-up. He started a little earlier than normal to spend some extra time around the chipping and putting green. He hit greenside shots for about twenty minutes and then we headed over to the range to hit a few balls. Larry started by hitting a selection of shots to a row of short yellow flags along the right side of the range. They were shots ranging from 30- 75 yards. From there he progressed to an 8-iron. He flushed a few 8-irons and then graduated up to a 4-iron. Initially the long irons weren’t as tight but he continued to focus on his swing keys and he began to flight them more consistently. A few hybrids were smacked right in the center of the clubface and then he went to his 3-wood and finally his driver. After launching eight pretty consistent drives he geared down, hit a few pitch shots and headed over to the putting green en route to his 11:14 a.m. tee time with Branden Grace and Mike McCoy.
I wished Larry all of the best and joined my brother on the putting green. He went through his putting drills first to solidify the stroke. He then holed out a few breaking 6-footers. After he felt comfortable, he hit some long lag putts and holed out a few short ones before we headed over to the pitching green to hit chips and pitches and bunker shots.
Trevor’s range warm-up session went very well. Unlike Mize, Trevor’s warm-up included him varying his flight pattern and curvature on his shots. He appeared to have the draw, the fade and the high and low shots working on command. It led to a few full-blooded hybrids, 3-woods and then he closed with six tee shots. He looked superb and I thought that a low round was very much in the offing.
We headed over to the first tee and his 12:31 p.m. tee time with Graham DeLaet and Oliver Goss. Alas, the day did not pan out as well as I would have liked. Trevor struggled to get the ball close to some of the hole locations and only managed to make two birdies, on the par-5 2nd and the par-5 8th, where he actually hit the green in two with a 3-iron and two-putted for birdie. His card was scarred with one double and seven bogeys, and it added up to a 79 and a frustrated Immelman Camp.
Larry Mize, on the other hand, logged a fairly solid round of 74. He was 1-under through nine holes but spilled three shots on the back and missed a 6-footer for birdie on the last. He was buoyed, though, and had a good practice session afterward.
On the contrary, Trevor was quite pragmatic about the whole thing. He knew that he was swinging well and that he just got on the wrong side of a few slopes in the greens. We hopped in his car and drove back to our accommodation.
I took a quick shower, caught up on the golf scores on TV and got ready to go to an event hosted by Salesforce.com. It was my job to entertain the guests and I did so (I hope) with anecdotes from the PGA TOUR, the tournament and my golf teaching career as they enjoyed dinner and wine around a fire pit. It was a perfect spring evening and a nice end to a perfect Georgia day.
Here’s to some low scores on Friday.
WEDNESDAY'S ENTRY: Wednesday at the Masters is synonymous with the traditional Par 3 Contest. It is always a fun day when the competitors “lighten up” ever so slightly for a couple of hours and go out and play nine holes over the Par 3 course.
The nature of the day doesn’t mean that pre-tournament preparation ceases however. The day before the first round of the first major of the season always ratchets up the nerves and the anticipation in all of the competitors. That sense was palpable on the practice tee. Conversation between the players was a little terser and everyone dug in and focused intently on what their respective games.
Roll on the afternoon and the bulk of the patrons gravitated to the amphitheatre that is the Par 3 course. The players relaxed and brought out family and friends as ceremonial caddies in the fun event. Brandt Snedeker had his two little ones “on the bag.” My brother, Trevor, brought his son and daughter out (pictured below). Rory McIlroy had Caroline Wozniaki caddying for him. Incidentally Caroline holed a sweeping left to right 25-footer for a birdie for him. Jason Day brought his little son, Dash, out. All in all it was a caddy holiday for the regular loopers as they were temporarily replaced by more intriguing and often times cuter individuals in specially-made caddy boiler suits.
For me the marquee group was that of the Big Three. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player went out together and gave the fans a thrill and a pre-cursor to the ceremonial first tee shot on Thursday morning.
Once Trevor had finished playing his Par 3 tournament – he shot even par with a birdie on the second and a three-putt bogey on the seventh – we headed over to the putting green to solidify his putting. (Incidentally even par was his best ever effort in a number of tries in the Par 3. Noting of course that he never ever wants to play well given the “curse” of the Par 3 Tournament which states that the winner of the event will never win the main event. ) Trevor worked on his putting for about an hour and a half. I then headed over to the practice facility to watch him hit a few shots to warm down.
On my way out of the grounds I took one last look at the course. The warm spring temperatures and the freshening breezes had begun to dry the course out and I smiled to myself. The winner of the 2014 Masters is going to have to bring all of his game this year as the conditions will be firm, fast and challenging. Indeed I’m sure that Bob Jones and Clifford Roberts are smiling somewhere in heaven.
TUESDAY'S ENTRY: Tuesday morning greeted Augusta, Ga., with overcast skies after heavy overnight rains. It was chilly out initially but once the sun broke through the competitors and the patrons were treated to a pleasant spring day.
I drove over to the course around 10 a.m. and parked in the patrons’ free parking area. As I walked from the parking to the main patrons’ entrance I was once again struck at Augusta National and how their membership make their event unlike any other. A very easy walk from the free parking area took me to the main entrance. Along the way every person who was involved with the tournament greeted each and every one of the patrons and welcomed them to The Masters.
Entrance to the grounds was quick and seamless and I headed to the practice facility to meet Larry Mize to do some work on his game. After some work with Larry on his long game, I met Trevor for a short-game session.
The range and the short-game area were bustling with all of the competitors tuning up their respective games. The mood was light and a lot of players stopped by to exchange pleasantries and recount the NCAA National Championship basketball game. Among others, I chatted briefly with one of the TOUR’s newest champions, Steven Bowditch. He was in an understandably good mood as he had just played Augusta National for the very first time. “What did you think?” I asked.
“Unbelievable… better than I imagined,” he smiled back. His response resonated with me. It does not matter how many times you have been to Augusta National. It is always incredible and so much more than one expects.
3:30pm brought a really emotional experience for me as Trevor and Larry teed off the first hole for nine holes of practice. To watch two players who are so special to me -- and who I have the very good fortune of working with -- play golf together at one of the most special golf courses in the world seriously tugged on my heart-strings. In fact I walked all of the way up the right side of the first hole with tears in my eyes. Thankfully my Oakley shades disguised my emotions. I was snapped back into reality by a forceful slap on my back by ESPN’s Michael Collins, a.k.a Funny Caddie. In typical fashion, he shared a joke and a laugh with me before I made my way on to the second. Once I was over my emotions, I clicked into gear and, among other things, I noticed how good the course looked given the fact that over 1 ½ inches of rain had fallen less than 24 hours before.
After nine holes was complete, I said my good-byes to Larry and Trevor, who headed indoors to shower and prepare for The Champions Dinner. I joined Gary Matthews, Trevor’s caddy, and we headed over to the Caddy Facility for a quick beer before heading home.
Now I sit and wait for my brother’s return so I can probe him for stories and anecdotes from the Masters Club dinner. I can’t wait!
MONDAY'S ENTRY: To me, Monday is always the busiest day at Augusta National during Masters Week. Eager patrons from all over the globe wait with bated breath for the 8 a.m. opening. My day, however, began with a 7:15 a.m. pickup by Larry Mize. Thankfully he knew a couple of back roads en route to the golf course and we managed to circumvent the parking lot that was Washington Road.
We pulled into Magnolia Lane and were greeted by a friendly security guard who scanned our badges and waved us on toward the Champions Parking Lot behind the member’s driving range. Larry parked his silver Mercedes Benz (players’ transport for the week) and recommended breakfast. I gladly obliged.
The service from the longtime Champions Locker Room attendants, Richard and Tim, was as warm and efficient as ever. Scrambled eggs, toast, sausage and coffee and 20 minutes later we were on the driving range.
The range was bustling even at that early hour as many of the contestants were trying to get some work in prior to the forecast band of severe weather that was bearing down on Augusta.
Larry and I worked on him retaining width in his swing arc to improve the consistency of his presentation of a square clubface on its arc. After about an hour’s work he headed out to play nine holes with Mike McCoy, the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and waited on the black wooden benches outside the Caddy House for a 10 o’clock meeting with Trevor Immelman on the putting green. The atmosphere was steadily growing strangely quiet on the range as the players headed out. On the other side of the ropes, however, activity among the patrons was bustling. I sat and chatted with Greg Hearmon, caddie for Branden Grace, until Gary Matthews, Trevor’s caddie showed up.
We met Trevor and Scotty Cameron on the putting green and got some good work done. An announcement that play was suspended due to severe weather cut our work short, however. As the first waves of rain descended, Trevor and I headed into the clubhouse. He grabbed lunch in the Champions Locker Room as we listened to Tom Watson, Billy Casper and Doug Ford share stories of past Masters exploits.
The weather really began to set in and we decided to head back to his house. We muddled around, chatted, watched TV and also worked on his putting on the hardwood floors in his home. In the end the weather caused a suspension of all play. Practice facilities and the course were closed and a wet Monday ended with Indian curry, the perfect food for a cold and wet day.
For the record, all Monday Masters patrons were given rain-checks for next year – a fantastic gesture by the Augusta National membership and the Masters Tournament.
SUNDAY'S ENTRY: My trip to Augusta, Ga., was wet and rainy but it culminated with an exhilarating drive down Magnolia Lane. As I drove down the famed lane of majestic old Magnolia trees I caught a glimpse of the stately Berkman’s clubhouse. It greeted me with a warm and genteel Southern welcome and it felt like I had arrived home.
Founders Circle looked as pristine as ever. The hanging potted red flowers popped against the white walls and the black shutters of the clubhouse. It was the perfect blend of man-made and God-made. My smile widened and my heart skipped a beat as it always does. Augusta National truly is a gem – one which I count myself extremely fortunate and blessed to enjoy every year.
This Sunday was different from Sundays past. The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship brought a youthful energy to the grounds as the competitors and their parents enjoyed looking around the grounds after the contest.
It is a tradition that Masters champions can bring a guest to play the Sunday afternoon practice round. Bubba Watson enjoyed a round of golf with his wife, Angie. Ben Crenshaw brought his son, Gary Player played with a business contact and Larry Mize brought fellow Champions Tour member Michael Allen. They played a relaxing round between groups of members who were playing their final round before the event begins in earnest Monday.
I spent a fun day with my brother, Trevor (the 2008 Masters champion), and Tim Clark as they teed off the 10th hole and played the back nine. What struck me was how good the course looked given the recent spate of severe winter weather in the area. Amen Corner looked glorious. Not all of the blossoms were out yet but the par-5 13th was still a splash of color against the verdant fairways.
The entire nine holes was to be defined by my first view of the 17th hole sans the Eisenhower Tree. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be a mighty understatement. I had prepared myself for the worst given my love for the tradition at Augusta National and the Masters. When I stepped on the tee, however, the hole looked like it had been there for hundreds of years, shaped only by Alistair Mackenzie and the weather. The loblolly pines flanked what is a wide and lush uphill fairway, providing the perfect frame for a super par-4. I looked over at my brother and I mentioned that the hole was almost just as good without the tree. He just smiled and nodded as we walked off the tee and up the fairway. “I guess Ike got his wish,” I added.
We finished on the 18th and practiced putting for about an hour. As things grew quieter around the clubhouse, we packed up, headed via the Champions Locker Room to grab a Transfusion to go. (A Transfusion is a traditional drink at Augusta National made of Welch’s Grape Juice and ginger ale over ice, with a splash of lime.) It was the perfect end to a great Sunday.