Last night, Tuesday, there was a dinner in a house located just 400 meters from the main entrance of Augusta National GC. Those present: Billy Foster, Matthew Fitzpatrick’s current caddy, but much more famous for having brought the clubs to Seve Ballesteros between 1991 and 1995; Ricky Elliott, Brooks Koepka’s caddy; Pete Cowen, Rory McIlroy’s current coach and the latter, a very famous journalist.
Many anecdotes were told throughout the meeting that lasted more than five hours. Perhaps the best is this one from Billy Foster and Seve Ballesteros:
“Life with Ballesteros was the best and worst of my life, and a moment at hole 9 Augusta sums it up well. Seve was on the fairway of that hole and he said to me:
‘Billee, pitching wedge, eh?’
‘No Seve, it’s 144 yards and the green is elevated 6 yards. There is also a headwind. I think it’s a 9 iron.
‘Ok Billee, very good, you are the best caddy I ever had.
The flag was in front of the green, on the left side, on that long, three-deck green. Seve hit a perfect 9 iron right to the flag. I expected the applause and shouts from the audience, but there was nothing.
‘Billee, did you see the ball?’
‘Seve seemed very good.’ I told…
We were well below green level and I couldn’t see anything. Seve ran up the ravine to see her. The ball was at the back, on the edge of the green. He had left a downhill putt 30 meters with a five drop. It was like trying to putt on a marble staircase.
‘Billee, Billee, he started yelling at me, you’re a h… de p…’. Just looking at him I could tell he wanted to beat me to death with his putter. The shot he had to play was impossible. If he played it straight to the hole, he was going to end up on the fairway, down there, 40 yards from the green.
Ballesteros decided to play it off the green, to the left edge, at an angle of more than 90 degrees. The ball came out strong and was quickly braked against the edge. Now it was further still. I was terrified. I looked towards the Clubhouse and thought maybe it would be a good idea to start running. Then I saw that the ball began to move slowly, so much that I could read the mark. Very slowly he returned to the green and started down the green platforms. It stopped almost completely at each step, but continued, animated by a strange force, approaching the hole. Finally it stopped at 10 centimeters. An inconceivable imagination. Seve approached me. The anger was gone from his face. Now he had the most radiant smile ever seen on a golf course. He put his arm on my shoulders and said:
‘Billee, Billee, it wasn’t your fault. It was my fault for listening to you. ‘
Of the four present at the dinner, three said their candidate for this year was Jordan Spieth. The fourth said Brooks Koepka, still on one leg.
There was a time, here at the Masters, when it was more difficult to get the weather forecast right than the winner who would put on the jacket on Sunday afternoon. Then technology came to the weather, and with satellites, the weather forecast was no longer an issue. One day Tiger Woods appeared and the margin of error narrowed a lot. Eventually technology also reached sports in general and in golf it had a huge influence to even things out. Today it could be said, without exaggeration, that there are at least 25 players with a real chance of winning at Augusta. And typically, the harder it is to get it right, the more interest it generates. The supposed deep analysis of the specialists, the expectations of the fans and the numbers that the bookmakers throw away demonstrate that enormous interest. But at the end of the day there are too many factors left to chance. It is obvious that the winner has to be an excellent putter and a great chipper. But seriously predicting it is impossible.
According to a very important site that evaluates bets, Jordan Spieth received 7.6% of all bets placed in the last week. Without a doubt, his triumph at the Valero Texas Open, his quality as a former champion (2015) and his record on this field have a lot to do with it. Behind Spieth are Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. But people bet on familiar names and the obvious.
Bryson De Chambeau with his monstrous distance has a great opportunity this year. On hard and fast greens being able to pitch with a pitching wedge or a 9 iron when the rest do so with a 7 iron is a huge advantage. But if he misses, the double bogey awaits him at every hole. And few champs double bogey in Augusta.
Patrick Cantlay played well in his previous appearances. Very good short game and very good with the putt. Great temperament.
Justin Thomas just won the Players in great shape. He already said that he feels the pressure to win here, a court that adapts very well to his game. If he can loosen up and play his game, it wouldn’t be unusual to see him in the green coat on Sunday.
Xander Schauffele is among this year’s best players on the Tour. He can play very well in difficult conditions and under pressure.
Scottie Scheffler has great talent And at the end of the day natural talent is a great spice that every champion at Augusta has had.
Collin Morikawa and his extraordinary ball control make him a candidate on a court like Augusta. You know what it’s like to win a Major. You feel safe and you will continue to win.
Hard to put Brooks Koepka aside when it comes to a Major. His caddy says he never saw him hit better. But he has only a few days since his knee surgery and, although many have faith in him, his chances should not be many.
Let’s not forget the Latin Americans. All four are good enough to win here. Ancer, after last year’s extraordinary performance in November, is the most voted Latino. Niemann, the best classified today also has everything to win and knows the court, despite his 22 years. Muñoz is solid and Augusta loves it. Ortíz has already won and can do it again.
morning Thursday, at 7.45, the actions begin with the traditional honorary exit of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player. Also joining this year is Lee Elder, who was the first African-American to play the Masters, back in 1975. At that time, the southern states were not easy for any African-American to stand out. Elder received threats and was always accompanied by police officers on the field. He missed the cut but opened the door to many other players of his condition who later paraded through this magnificent court. Today he is 86 years old and will be part of Augusta history with this just tribute.
A new Masters begins, a process that is repeated and will always be different. There will be plenty of new stories to tell starting tomorrow this April, which is none other than Masters month at Augusta.