AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – The skies and scoreboards were empty but the grounds of Augusta National were full.
With temperatures in the mid-80s and a growing concern of Wednesday storms looming, players and patrons got their money’s worth on a perfect spring Tuesday at The Masters. The area for free parking was closed off well before 11 a.m. as thousands flooded each nook and cranny of the property. Amen Corner felt like a more civilized version of Times Square.
What they came to see was the relaxed, intimate atmosphere for which Masters practice rounds are known.
Mackenzie Hughes, a Masters rookie playing alongside fellow Canadians Adam Hadwin and Mike Weir, lay down on the Hogan Bridge and pretended to do snow angels. He couldn’t quite believe where he was.
Neither could Brad Dalke, the runner-up from last year’s U.S. Amateur, who proudly sported his Oklahoma Sooners hat while walking side by side with Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson, picking their brains and clearly having the time of his life.
As for Spieth, he has continued his march toward exorcising demons on the par-3 12th hole that ruined his chances for victory last year in the final round. The Texan calmly knocked his tee shot to 3 feet as the gallery roared and groaned at the same time. As he walked away, a patron confirmed the elephant in the room.
“If he could have done that last year, he would have won the damn tournament.”
Spieth has now unofficially played the 12th hole using just six strokes in his last three tries. He needed seven strokes in one try last year.
What the patrons also came for was the underrated tradition at the par-3 16th, where players attempt to skip their balls across the pond, hoping to hit the green.
Pat Perez wanted to walk on by without participating, but the masses insisted he give it a try. He kicked the grass, bowed like a bullfighter and tossed a ball down.
The first attempt was swallowed by the lip of the bank. The second made it onto land but crept back down into the hazard.
By this time, Perez was visibly angry. The third try found the putting surface as patrons egged him on.
But there is more to the practice rounds than those little moments where players openly enjoy their surroundings. For most observers, attending The Masters is their mecca, too.
It’s evident as a father puts an arm around his son and explains how the par-4 18th doglegs to the right. It’s clear when asking a stranger to take your photo is more expected than not.
Perhaps no one could summarize it better than a tall man who appeared to be in his 30s watching the action in a sea of onlookers. As another patron accidentally bumped into him and apologized, he responded in kind.
“Hey, it’s OK. We’re at Augusta.”