Guy Heveldt: What it's like to play Augusta

Author
Guy Heveldt,
Section
Golf,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 12 April 2017, 8:36AM
Guy Heveldt stands on the sixth tee block at Augusta National.
Guy Heveldt stands on the sixth tee block at Augusta National.

I wondered whether I may be making history. Had anyone ever gone from such mediocrity (with all due respect) as a public course like Chamberlain Park in central Auckland, to the hallowed fairways and greens of Augusta National Golf Club in 10 days? That was my reality.

I was playing Augusta, the day after Masters Sunday. The same course that the legendary Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tiger Woods, to name a few, had experienced some of the greatest moments of their illustrious careers.

After the drama and excitement of the duel between Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose a day earlier, a glorious, crisp Monday morning dawned, perfect for golf. I made my way in an Uber to Augusta. My driver was making conversation, but, to be honest, I wasn't listening. We were late and I couldn't have cared any less about him telling me the difference between Uber and Lyft. I cared about making it on time before they cut me off at the gate.

After a short discussion with security at gate 3, I was driving up Magnolia Lane. The most unique and special drive in golf.

I got out of the car and made my way up the narrow staircase to the Champions' Locker Room, a climb only a select few had taken.

Our group was assigned the locker shared by Cary Middlecoff, the 1955 champion and Sandy Lyle, the Scot who won the title in 1988. Directly across from us was the locker that read "Arnold Palmer" and "Tiger Woods". Not for the first time this trip, I needed someone to wake me from the dream.

I was finally heading out to the practice range where I met my caddy for the day, Terrence. Terrence, a local from Augusta, had been a club caddy for four years. After introductions, I asked him who the biggest name was he had carried the bag for.

"Oh man, probably Tom Brady, I guess," he said incredibly nonchalantly. Brady, the New England Patriots' legendary quarterback, had just been to Augusta a few weeks before and played alongside 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth.

Terrence asked me how I was feeling.

"Nervous," I answered truthfully. "All I want to do is break 100."

"Why you gotta be nervous? You just playing golf," he replied.

I wish it was that simple, mate.

I asked Terrence for my seven iron and removed about 10 balls from the pyramid of Titleist ProV1s that lay before me. First swing - not bad, at least it got out there. A handful more seven irons and my heart rate had slowed, for now.

I looked at my watch. 12 minutes until tee time and I hadn't touched the putter or walked on the greens that are "like glass." I made my way to the practice green - drained three straight 10 footers and felt great. That was until an employee at the club walked past and I blasted a 20 foot putt about 20 feet past the hole. "They're quick," I rather stupidly thought to myself.

We were playing off the Members' tees for the day, making the task considerably easier than in the Masters.

"Whatever you do, do not shank it," I thought, trembling. A couple of decent enough practice swings and I approached the ball.

A nice draw, over the hill and past the bunker on the right side of the fairway, just through into the rough on the left side. I was away! And I hadn't shanked it into the Crow's Nest or Clubhouse. Life was good.

Although, I plummeted back to earth just moments later, flying an 8-iron over the back of the first green. I put it down to adrenaline. Two poor chips and three putts later and I was finally in the hole for a triple bogey.

"Welcome to Augusta."

Things changed dramatically at the second tee when I belted one to the left of the fairway bunker, leaving me just short of 200 yards from the green. A 3-wood flew to the middle of the green and I was putting for eagle. EAGLE!!! My golfing career had only ever produced one eagle before - at the par-5 first at Akarana and here I was at Augusta for a chance at another.

I had 50 feet. And yet Terrence advised me to try and stop it about 20 feet left of the hole and 30 feet short. "You've got to be kidding," I said to him. He stared at me with a "trust me, I've seen this before" look on his face. I decided trust was probably the best option. Terrence was right. I hit one of the best putts I could and left myself a two-foot tap in for birdie. I shook my head in disbelief with a grin plastered across my face. Two holes in and I had a birdie.

A good up and down for par at the third was followed by a treacherous string of struggles. A double bogey after a poor tee-shot at the par-3 fourth followed by a triple bogey at five and another double bogey at six. Augusta had bitten hard.

But just as doubt crept into my mind, a miracle occurred.

I had gone left from the 7th tee, onto the third fairway. But, thankfully, far enough to give myself a look into the green over a couple of trees. 115 yards. Pitching wedge.

"Straight at it," Terrence said with confidence.

I followed his orders and put it to two feet. I could hear the imaginary roars reverberating around Augusta. One of my playing partner's caddies, Freddy, wandered over, tapped me on the shoulder and told me, "I've been caddying here for 16 years and that's the best approach shot I've seen at this hole." That's some honour, Freddy.

After a solid par at the eighth and a bit of a disappointing bogey at the ninth, I had made the turn in 45. I was well on the way to breaking 100.

It was time for the magical back nine. The place where some of golf's greatest moments have occurred. I'd had the entrée, now it was time for the main.

A superb drive down the hill at the 10th set me up for a par, while I got lucky on 11 by finding a clearing right of the trees. Despite leaving my approach short of the hole, two putts, thanks again to Terrence's advice, recorded me another par.

After a good start to the back nine, I dreamed of producing something special at the par-3 12th, the signature hole on the course. But, after Terrence gave me an 8-iron, and I flew the green by some 20 yards I was into Jordan Spieth territory. A lost ball and a bit of struggling around the green and I had a quadruple bogey to my name. I know how you feel, Jordan, I know how you feel.

13 was where the magic happened. I couldn't have asked for a better drive, leaving me 170 yards and a 5-iron to the green. Once again, Terrence suggested I go "straight at it" and let the hill behind the hole do the work. I hit the shot of my life. 10-feet right of the pin, the ball bounced up the hill and finished about 20-feet away. I had a second eagle putt, this time from 20-feet.

"Stop it here," Terrence said, about 3 feet outside the right of the hole and 10 feet short. I whacked it. 4-feet past. But, it was another birdie. My third of the day, this time at one of Augusta's most famous holes.

After a double bogey at the 14th, thanks to struggling on the toughest green on the course (according to the caddies) and a good up and down par at the 15th, it dawned the day was soon going to end.

Just the par-3 16th and the two par-4s to finish, 17 and 18. A bogey at 16 and a bogey at 17, meant I needed a bogey at the last to shoot under 90, something I could only have wished for before the round and after a triple bogey to start. It was a similar feeling to what I'm sure Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Woods have all felt heading down 18, albeit with no green jacket on the line, no crowds and just an individual goal at stake. But it was exhilarating.

Unfortunately, my drive put paid to any chance of a bogey. Straight up and right. The worst drive of my entire round. A 4-iron up the fairway was my only option and, after leaving the 9-iron short of the green for three, an up and down seemed impossible. And so it proved. Three shots later I was in the hole for a six. And, in the blink of an eye, the round was over. Five hours of absolute magic around one of the most famous settings in sport, let alone golf.

Three birdies, five pars, three bogeys, four doubles, two triples and a quadruple bogey later and I had completed a round of 90.

At the back of the 18th green, I stopped and took a moment. To think, less than 24 hours earlier, the 18th green was barely visible as around 100,000 fans crowded the area to see Sergio Garcia beat Justin Rose in a playoff to finally break his major drought. Today, just course officials and greenskeepers, birds and incredibly privileged, lucky and mind-blown members of the media occupied the famous terrain.

One to tell the grandkids.

(Editor's note - The NZME sports department are investigating whether Heveldt signed his card, which incorrectly states 89, and therefore will incur a two-stroke penalty.

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