Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gusts put official to work near No. 1 green

EDITOR’S NOTE — Golf columnist Ted Bishop is working as an official during the Masters in Augusta, Ga., this week. His column from the tournament also will be published Monday in the Daily Journal.
The nice thing about driving into Augusta National at 6:45 a.m. is the lack of traffic on
Washington Road
We enter Gate 3 onto
Magnolia Lane
, and the day begins. It kind of reminds me of turning off of
Hurricane Road
into The Legends of Indiana Golf Course each morning. The thrill has been somewhat similar.
Friday’s rules meeting at 7:30 a.m. was brief. We were informed that a cold front was moving in and there could be a threat of afternoon showers. The evacuation procedure was reviewed. I picked up my silver Masters-issued rain suit and headed to hole No. 1, where my second-round assignment awaited.
My rules partner was Jay Rains, a high-ranking USGA rules official. No. 1 is a 445-yard uphill par-4. There is a large fairway bunker on the right side of the landing area. A man my size (6-foot-1) cannot see out of the bunker; it’s that deep. Trees guard the left and right sides. There is a large greenside bunker to the left of the hole.
As I approached the green to meet my gallery guards (Augusta’s term for marshals) it was pointed out that there might be a problem with the turf plug from the previous day’s hole position. I was informed by the gallery guards that Thursday’s cup change was not up to Augusta National’s standards. The maintenance crew was summoned. They raised the plug, and the problem was fixed before play began.
The volunteers that assist on all holes at Augusta National are veterans. They have worked the same hole for many years in most cases. They are experts in moving the crowds when balls stray outside the ropes. They make our jobs as
rules officials easy. The continuity that arises from playing this major championship on the same venue each year is unprecedented in golf.
The first player to tee off was Larry Mize, former Masters champion, who at age 52 shot a brilliant 67 on Thursday. Mize hails from Georgia and obviously is a popular choice with the Augusta galleries.
He hooked his tee shot left into the trees. As a matter of fact, his ball was about an inch from the base of a large pine tree. Complicating things, from my perspective, was a sprinkler head located about two club lengths from the ball on his line of drop.
Mize could have taken a penalty shot and dropped on the sprinkler head and then received another club length with no penalty, under another rule. This would have given him a clear shot to the green.
He elected to turn a club backward and take a whack at it left-handed. The shot went about 15 feet into some more trees. Long story made short, Mize started with a double bogey 6, and I escaped a potentially interesting ruling.
It’s a beautiful site from my perch back to the first tee. I noticed the sunshine on the hill in front of the No. 1 tee several hundred yards away. After six or seven groups had left the tee, the footprints in the dew looked like dotted lines in the grass.
A maintenance worker was assigned the fairway bunker on No. 1. His name was Curtis, and he was from Hawaii. It was his 10th Masters.
Between groups, he removed the rake so that no ball’s path would be altered by making contact with the rake. After a caddy would rake the trap, Curtis put the finishing touches on the bunker and wiped away any sand that remained in the grass on the bunker face. These are Augusta National details that get lost.
The population on my hole multiplied exponentially at 10:45 a.m. when Tiger Woods teed off. He hit the longest tee shot of the day, which was 342 yards. He hit a weak wedge which trickled back off the green and wound up making a 10-footer for par. It was the beginning of a frustrating 72 for Woods.
Later in the day, Angel Cabrera hit the longest second-round tee shot, 348 yards. I know this because there was a survey crew located outside the ropes on my side of the hole. These guys had been hired by the Masters to laser all tee shots to give the tournament committee information on where players were landing tee shots.
As the day wore on, the wind picked up. It was blowing left to right on No. 1, which made my side a hot spot.
Phil Mickelson hooked his tee shot as far right in the trees as you could and still be in the golf course grounds. To make matters worse, his ball was lodged against a huge live oak tree. It originally appeared that he would have to take a penalty since he is left-handed.
While Mickelson walked up, we cleared the crowd and removed the ropes. The two-time Masters winner studied the shot and decided to turn his club around and hit a right-handed shot which had to travel under low hanging limbs for about 40 yards until it got to the fairway.
Mickelson, who shot 73 on Thursday, could see his tournament end with a disastrous Mize-like result with this shot. But he screamed the shot low and through the fairway. He hit a wedge from 75 yards out of the rough and canned a 4-footer for par, one of the greatest pars I have ever seen.
Indiana’s Fuzzy Zoeller is making his final appearance at this year’s Masters. Zoeller won the 1979 Masters in a playoff with Tom Watson and Ed Sneed. The course length has prevented the popular Zoeller from being competitive. It has been a special week watching Gretchen Zoeller carry her dad’s orange Power-Bilt bag in this, his final Masters.
“When I showed up here last year, Arnold Palmer said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘You know, I don’t know.’ That’s when I knew my time here was over,” Zoeller wryly remarked.
Well, Fuzzy may be gone for the rest of the weekend, but it should be quite a finish to the 2009 Masters.
My pick? I would love to see Kenny Perry, at age 48, pull this one out just for us old guys.
Ted Bishop is director of golf for The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin and secretary for PGA of America.

Photo Caption: EDITOR’S NOTE — Golf columnist Ted Bishop is working as an official during the Masters in Augusta, Ga., this week. His column from the tournament also will be published Monday in the Daily Journal.

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