Sunday, May 10, 2009

Controversy-free round gives official time to take in scenery

EDITOR’S NOTE — Golf columnist Ted Bishop is working as an official during the Masters in Augusta, Ga., this week. His columns from the tournament also will be published Saturday and Monday in the Daily Journal.
Thursday’s opening round of the Masters was marked by spectacular weather.
We arrived at Augusta National Golf Club shortly after 7 a.m. After a brief rules committee meeting conducted by Fred Ridley, tournament chairman, we headed to our hole assignments.
Let me clarify one detail from Thursday’s column. In the haste of meeting the deadline before I bolted to the Golf Writers of America dinner last night, I misstated my assignments. I was on hole No. 2 on Thursday and will be on No. 1 today.
We have full days; and in the pressure to meet my newspaper deadline, I messed up relaying the first-day assignment.
So, my spot in Round 1 was about 50 yards short of the green on the right side of No. 2, just inside the ropes — not a bad place to watch the entire field and fortunately a fairly quiet area for rulings.
In my 30-plus years of working in golf, I have always felt like mornings are the most peaceful and beautiful time of the day on the golf course. Multiply that times 50 when you are at Augusta National.
During Wednesday’s rules committee meeting, the comment was made by the Augusta greens chairman that this year’s color may be the most spectacular in tournament history.
The fairways and roughs are the deepest green I’ve seen. They are accented by brilliant color
from all of the flowering ornamentals; and I will have to say that in my limited time at Augusta National, this year could be the prettiest I have ever seen the course.
Arnold Palmer hit the ceremonial first tee shot at 7:50 a.m., and the first group of Ian Woosnam, Chez Reavie and Briny Baird officially started the tournament at 8 a.m. sharp. The lead threesome arrived in my area at 8:25 a.m., and the games were on for me.
Right out of the box, I got two balls within 24 inches of each other in my area after the second shots were hit. Reavie and Baird hit their shots within reach of each other and I thought, “Here we go.” But the balls were far enough apart that no marking was required, and the players proceeded.
No. 2 is a 575-yard downhill dogleg left par-5. On Thursday it was slightly downwind, and as the day wore on, a half-dozen players reached the green in two. The pin was placed on the front of the green, which is guarded by bunkers on both sides.
Many players hit their second shots into the greenside bunkers. No player was able to make birdie from the left bunker. In fact, no shot was pitched closer than 20 feet from that spot.
Players who bailed out slightly right were faced with a pitch shot from a tight lie over a bunker. The only way to get the ball close was to pitch it a little long and hope the ball would roll back down the hill to the pin. This is classic Augusta National. Position is everything on the par fives.
Nick Watney made the first eagle of the day playing in the seventh group. He landed his second shot on the front of the green and made a 10-foot putt. The only other eagle was made by Stephen Ames, who was right of the hole about 15 feet and sank the putt.
The longest drive of the morning was from Retief Goosen, and he made bogey after playing a poor chip shot over the right bunker and then three-putting.
We had one official ruling in
the next-to-last group. Stewart Cink received a drop from the crosswalk.
I had another near-miss when D.J. Trahan flew a ball into the gallery. He had a tough lie that was compacted and thin from a water leak. He opted for no relief and chunked his pitch into the bunker. But Trahan saved par with a nifty bunker shot to within a couple of feet of the hole.
Tiger Woods hit a terrible tee shot on No. 2. He pitched it out and had the longest third shot of the day, which was about 175 yards. Woods landed his ball above the hole and made a 4-footer for par.
Gary Player and Ben Crenshaw both made birdies.
Length off of the tee was not the important factor on No. 2. Many birdies were made by players who were 50 to 60 yards short of the green instead of next to the putting surface pitching over or out of the bunkers. Again, typical Augusta National.
The funniest story of the day? Ron Hickman, PGA rules official from Mississippi, was summoned to the tee on No. 4, the par-3, by Player. The three-time Masters champion is making his 52nd start at Augusta and said to Hickman, “Somebody is wearing metal spikes in front of us, and they are tearing the greens up. You need to tell them to pick up their feet.”
I asked Hickman how he handled that one. He smiled and said, “I just walked over to my stool and sat down. I wasn’t going to go to the radio for that one. Masters officials would have asked me to leave and told me to buy a couple of shirts on my way out.”
Indiana’s Chip Essig was involved in a ruling on No. 5 with Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard hit his second shot over the par-4 hole into some bushes. Garcia asked for help from Essig because he didn’t want to break any branches and receive a penalty.
Said Essig, “I told Sergio that he was OK as long as he only bent the branches and didn’t break them. He asked me to help him get into the bush. I think that was the first time I ever climbed into a bush with another guy.”
The tournament office is a great place to gather. Everybody is pumped up in the morning, and the stories are flowing at day’s end. It’s a tough assignment. But, hey, somebody’s has to do it.
Now it’s off to the PGA of America reception and then another day in paradise.
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 columns from the tournament also will be published Saturday and Monday in the Daily Journal.

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