First Timer’s Guide to The Masters

First Timer’s Guide to The Masters

Every golfer dreams of getting the chance to see firsthand the sacred golf ground that is Augusta National for the annual playing of the Masters golf tournament each April. And for those that have been, the dream quickly becomes getting the chance to go back.

For me, my first trip was last year. I learned a lot in that trip and have a few tips I would recommend to any first-timer. But first, let me share a little about my first day at Augusta National.

When I stepped through the gates and looked out across Augusta National, I couldn’t believe just how much more it was than on TV – more verdant, more expansive, more beautiful, more perfect. As a native Kansan who grew up within an hour’s drive of the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium, I remember the first time I stepped through the concourse and couldn’t believe how big, beautiful, and special the field and the rest of the ballpark felt. This was just like that, times a hundred.

As I wandered across a fairway at one of the crossings, I looked down and the perfection was still there. Every square foot of turf was perfect with individual blades of grass all standing uniformly together. There were no bare spots, no stray clippings, and no discolored blades. I looked up to a green and it was there too – sparkling white sand in the bunkers lay perfectly uniform with perfect edges along the entire border before giving way to the green surround and, then, the green itself. I passed by a tree and at its base were pine needles, laid there in a perfect circle.

Augusta National 12th hole

It was Wednesday, a practice day with the afternoon Par 3 Contest. The entire day, I raised my camera every moment something struck me. I bet I had my camera in front of my face about half the day, because it all struck me. The banks of azaleas, the layout of a green, a golfer making a swing, the menu board for concessions, my sandwich. I also took the time to soak it in and experience it all as it was and not through the screen on my camera (by the way, I took all the photos in this story on that day).

I made a circuitous route down to the far corner of the golf course, an area known as Amen Corner. Along the way, I watched golfers play their practice rounds, which is a different breed of golfing all in itself. They hit long clubs into par-fives and then drop a ball in layup position to hit a wedge into the same green. Then, they’ll maybe drop some balls in a bunker and hit to different spots on the green, anticipating where pin placements will be in the days ahead.

Skipping at 16

At the par-three 16th, the crowd began calling, “Skip!” when golfers had teed off and were starting to walk to the green. With a smile, they invariably stopped just short of the pond, grabbed a ball and a club and, hitting down the slope towards the water, tried to skip a ball the length of the pond and onto the green. Most didn’t make it. Those that did drew applause from the patrons encircling the hole.

I spoke to the woman managing the seating area around the green. She showed me how on that practice day the green folding chairs were loosely arranged in rows. “On tournament days,” she said, “I’ll tighten up the rows and make sure the chairs are a lot tighter. We’ll get 5500 chairs in here.” That figure seemed almost impossible, but I took her word for it. She also told me about the local rules around the chairs that were empty, saying anyone is welcome to sit in an unattended chair so long as you readily get up when the owner shows up. That information came in handy the rest of the day.

TigerBenJordan

I watched Ben Crenshaw, preparing for his final Masters, give Tiger and Jordan Spieth a putting lesson on the 13th green. He placed tees in different spots (again, likely future pin locations) and then showed them the break of the putt before having them give it a go. Even on twenty-five footers, it was impressive how many times their ball hit the tee.

As I made my way from the 13th green back to the tee, I was surprised at the overall curvature of the layout. It was closer to a big, wide horseshoe more so than a dogleg. The slope of the fairway was more severe than I thought as well. I could never see myself attempting to go for it in two, even with a perfect professional’s tee shot, simply due to the uneven lie and the trouble waiting around the green itself.

Which brought me to Amen Corner – the special place where the 11th green, the par-three 12th hole, and the 13th tee box all grace the earth in surprisingly close proximity. In fact, the 13th tee sits somewhat behind the 12th green, meaning tee shots fly alongside the green and out to the fairway.

August Natl Lunch

It was behind the 12th tee box that I decided to grab my lunch. Everyone talks about the pimento cheese sandwiches, but the menu is a bit broader than that. Almost equally famous are the egg salad sandwiches and Georgia peach ice cream sandwiches. Whatever the choice, they are all surprisingly economical with the pimento cheese sandwich offered for just $1.50. My selections were washed down with what the young ladies working there called their 12th hole specialty – a layered combination of pink lemonade, blue Powerade, and Sprite. Maybe they just made it up or maybe it’s been something served there for the last several years. Regardless, I decided it’s my new Masters tradition.

Leaving Amen Corner I walked up numbers 11 and 10 – or, as it felt, climbed a mountain. The 11th plays downhill and the 10th, I have heard, drops in elevation from tee to green about the same height as an 8-story office building. Along the way, I tried to find the spot where Bubba hit his playoff wedge, bending it sharply to the right and into a green jacket. Out of breath as I reached the top, I took in the cabins from where Rory once played and watched as Bill Haas teed off down in front of me.

Then I made my way to Par 3 course, picking a spot between its 8th and 9th greens to take in the action that was just about to start. If you haven’t heard of or watched the Par 3 Contest, you are missing a fun event with golf’s elite alongside a few of its legends. Most golfers bring along a small entourage, letting a friend, a wife, or their kids act as caddy. For some with very young “caddies”, it’s an interesting site as the golfer carries his own clubs while holding the hand of the youngster around the course.

We heard a roar and quickly found out that Jack Nicklaus had made a hole-in-one, then watched as players hit tee balls to number eight, putted out, then turned and hit towards us on number nine. The 8th had numerous near misses – balls that landed up near the middle of the green before slowly backing down the hill and funneling toward the hole. But, there were no aces. The 9th has a more severe slope to the green and balls backing down from the top tier to the front pin are usually moving a quicker pace. Again, several balls finished or passed within inches of the hole, but no aces.

Tiger and daughter

After taking in current players like Tiger, Rory, Phil, Bubba, and Jordan, as well as legends like Gary, Jack, and Ben, it was time for the golf shop. Masters merchandise is only available at Augusta National and I had a bit of a shopping list – for myself, as well as family and friends back home who put in orders or who I wanted to give a gift.

I was glad to see it was busy, but not crazy. I quickly found everything I wanted, plus a lot more, all of which accompanied me to the checkout stand. I won’t share how much I spent, but it was significant as I apparently needed a new hat, golf shirt, golf jacket, a putter cover, some glassware, three dozen logoed balls (two dozen were for a friend who asked I get them), and a pile of gifts and other smaller items. I’m not an accomplished shopper, but I looked like a pro that day.

So – about those tips for first timers:

  • Before you go – make a list of the places you want to go to or things you want to see…Amen Corner, golfers finishing on number 18, the eagle-friendly 15th – don’t forget anything important
  • Getting in – when entering from I-20 and Washington Road, stay left as long as you can on Washington Road and try to take the second entrance; the parking there is a lot closer than if you take the first entrance just before the Publix store
  • Leave your cellphone in the car – they aren’t allowed and you do not want to wait in line to check it, nor do you want to wait in line to get it back at the end of the day
  • If it’s a practice day, take a camera (your phone is also a camera, but that doesn’t count – has to be just a camera)
  • Take or buy a chair and stake your claim – you can leave it anywhere after inserting a business card or writing your name on the included tag; giving you a home base to watch golf while allowing freedom to wander off a bit if you want
  • Chairs have to be armless – that’s all they sell there; you can bring your own but the Masters version is only $30, its pretty cool, and its approved, so I’d go that route if you want a chair to sit in
  • Shop early and ship it – the shop should have fewer patrons in it early in the day and shipping your stuff home is cheaper than an extra checked bag on most airlines, plus shipping it all is a lot easier
  • Wear some good walking shoes – you’re going to be walking a lot and dealing with steep slopes
  • Then take one last look before you leave – it’s a special place, soak it in

Just a few thoughts for you and some reminders for me, because I certainly plan to go back. Now that I’ve been, I don’t want my first trip to be my last.

Posture at Address

Golf Instruction

The correct set up at address positions your backside out so you hinge correctly from your hips while your spine remains in a neutral position. There are two common faults in the set up known as C-posture and S-posture. The following guideline will explain both faults and how you can correct them.

C-Posture

C-posture occurs when the shoulders are slumped forward at address creating the appearance of a rounded spine. C-posture limits spinal rotation and makes it difficult to maintain posture throughout the golf swing. Muscle imbalances in the chest and upper body often lead to C-posture. Similar to S-posture, weak core muscles can be a root cause for a slouched forward address position. Also, an incorrect set up position without any pelvic tilt or clubs that are too short can both cause the upper body to hunch over the ball.

C-Posture Drill

The following drill helps improve extension in the upper body and correct C-posture. Begin by lying face down on the ground with your elbows at your side and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Both thumbs should point toward each other and parallel to your collar bone. Begin by pushing your belly button off the ground while keeping your pelvis flat on the ground. Keep your lower rib on the ground while you keep your abdominals engaged. Next, curl your upper spine and shoulders up off the ground. Maintain the lower rib on the ground and your chin should come slightly up off the ground.
Golf Posture

S-Posture

S-Posture in the address position occurs when a player creates excessive arc in their lower back by sticking their tail bone out. The excessive curvature in the lower back places additional stress on the lower back causing a loss of posture or reverse spine angle throughout the backswing.Consequently, S-posture moves the lower body out of position during the entire sequence of the golf swing.

S-posture often results from a series of muscle imbalances where weak muscles are combined with overactive or tight muscles. Core strength is essential for proper stabilization of the spine. Sitting in a chair for long periods of time can lead to the muscle imbalance where the hip flexors become shortened or tight. Therefore, the glute muscles become weaker on the opposite side. Other muscles such as the hamstrings and lower back are forced to assist the glutes in performing hip extension. Consequently, muscles that were not intended for a specific movement are now required for the action.

S-Posture Drill

The following drill will help you increase mobility in your back and find a neutral posture. Begin by getting on your hands and knees with your back parallel to the ground. Next, suck in your belly and arch your back up as much as you can. You should appear similar to a cat when it arches it’s back in the air. From this position, let your chest move down and closer to the ground with an opposite movement so the middle of your back is lower than your shoulders and butt.

If you suffer from S-posture or C-posture either drill should help you recognize the neutral stable position in your posture.

2016 Drivers: Speed Is The Name Of The Game

Golf Driver

Speed – that’s the new name of the game in golf. Don’t laugh. It’s not a joke, because while golf’s pace of play can sometimes be glacially, painstakingly slow, speed doesn’t necessarily concern how quickly a player gets from the first tee to the eighteenth green. We’re talking club speed and ball speed. Specifically: How fast and far can a club make a little white ball sizzle down a fairway?

That’s the question designers evidently sought to tackle this offseason, particularly so off the tee. The newest crop of drivers, from Callaway’s Great Big Bertha to the Cobra King F6 to the Nike Vapor Fly/Pro, have all been modified so as to create more ball speed, which subsequently adds more distance to cater to increasingly longer courses.

And, though the old adage is “drive for show, putt for dough,” peruse the rankings from the 2015 season and you will find an inextricable link between driving distance and top 10 finishes. Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Bubba Watson finished one, two, three, respectively, in driving distance in 2015. The trio also combined for 32 top 10 finishes and eight victories. So no, speed may not be a word typically associated with golf. From the looks of it, though, it’s not a bad place to start.

Callaway Great Big Bertha

Callaway Great Big Bertha
One of the first characteristics that Callaway boasts about the latest iteration of its famous driver is the implementation of its Next Gen R Moto Technology. Put simply, it provides a thinner club face, which promotes higher ball speeds and bigger drives off the tee.

More than that, the shape of the head has been slightly tweaked to make it more aerodynamic – hence allowing for higher club speeds – and Callaway even offers weight classes from 295-325 grams. There is also an adjustable, 10-gram sliding weight on the perimeter of the club head that can be positioned to promote a draw or fade, depending on the golfer’s preference. This is the key difference between the Great Big Bertha and their XR model, driving about a $70 price difference.

Cobra King F6

Cobra King F6
Similar to the Great Big Bertha, the Cobra King F6 has added a speed-inducing aspect, though in more simplistic terms. The F6 features what is called a “Speed Channel” around the perimeter of the face, which increases ball speed on mishits. Where Callaway thinned the face of the club, Cobra thickened it up to make for a more forgiving model, an appeal to higher handicaps looking to add distance even on awkwardly struck drives.

It differentiates itself with a wider, shallower face than the Cobra Fly-Z, and also with an adjustable sole weight, which the golfer can place either in the back or front. A front-placed sole weight would lower the launch trajectory, whereas a back-placed sole weight would raise the launch. The King F6 also features three additional draw settings, as well as the MyFly8, an adjustable hosel in which the golfer can shift the loft setting from nine degrees to 12. And, if appearance is a concern, the F6 comes in either black, white or blue.

Nike Vapor Fly/Pro

Nike Vapor Fly
Rory McIlroy ate up, on average, 311.5 yards off the tee in 2015, good for tenth on the PGA Tour. He finished third in strokes gained from tee to green. He’s currently the No. 3 golfer in the world, behind Jordan Spieth and fellow bomber Jason Day. When he tees up his ball, he uses the Nike Vapor Fly/Pro.

As Callaway did with the Great Big Bertha, Nike cut down on the weight of the clubhead, reducing it by as much as 30 percent. McIlroy subsequently saw an increase of three miles per hour in ball speed, up to 186 miles per hour, adding an extra four yards of carry per mile per hour. Nike’s adjustments to the club goes by the name of Project Max, tailored specifically for McIlroy to increase, or “maximize,” his distance off the tee.

The lower center of gravity promotes higher launching shots and, thus, further carry. But it’s also easier to hit flush, thanks to the edges of the face being .3 mm – or 30 percent – thinner and the cavity back design that boosts head stability. The loft is also adjustable, allowing the golfer to go as low as 8.5 degrees and as high as 12.5.

As it goes with most Nike equipment or apparel, it’s loud. The Vapor Fly/Pro features a lime green and electric blue design, which doesn’t make it incredibly appealing for traditionalists, though when ball speed is up and distance is added, it’s easy to forgive the club’s appearance.

TaylorMade M1

TaylorMade M1
TaylorMade got a little technical when describing its newest line of drivers, the M series, which will have considerable expectations after the wild success of the R series.

“The crown is precision-formed and built ultra-thin, ultra-lite and high strength to maximize weight savings,” the description reads. “This savings was repositioned to build a weight-loaded sole, moving overall clubhead weight lower and to the center for a more efficient power transfer.”

Or, in short: the club is lighter, which will allow for higher club and ball speed and increase distance off the tee. After all, it is being promoted as TaylorMade’s longest driver yet, which is no small claim as TaylorMade is as ubiquitous with woods as Titleist is with balls.

The M1 has two adjustable tracks – or a “T-track” – one being for a draw, fade or neutral bias, the other, in the back, for launch and spin settings. The idea behind the T-Track system is to increase the weight of the sole for a more efficient power transfer and higher ball speed. There’s that word again: Speed. And if you’d like more of it, the optimal placement of the weight on the back track is at the back.

It seems to be working. It’s the preferred driver of Jason Day, who finished in the Top 10 in the final three majors of the season, claiming first at the PGA Championship.

PING G

PING G
It’s not uncommon to find dragonflies on golf courses. What is uncommon, however, is to find them being remarkably useful on said golf courses. Which is exactly what PING has done with its latest driver model, the PING G. Designers at PING have taken a scientific approach to the manufacturing of their latest driver, using a concept called biomimicry as the baseline of the driver.

Biomimicry is abundant in society – there are sharkskin inspired swimsuits, office buildings designed after termite dens, replicating burrs to create Velcro – but it is a new concept in terms of golf. PING’s engineers claim to have used a dragonfly’s intricate wing patterns to design an extraordinarily thin clubhead crown. That design results in a whopping eight grams weight savings over that of the G30. This drop in crown weight allows Ping engineers to re-position that weight and keep the G’s center of gravity the lowest of any manufacturer, making it one of the most forgiving models.

It also has a feature called the Vortec, which was designed to promote a more aerodynamic clubhead path and therefore increase swing speed. The end result is a driver that accomplishes two very important things: more forgiveness and more distance.

Srixon Z355

Srixon Z355
Where every other company is zigging – emphasizing club speed and overall lightness of a driver – Srixon is zagging. While the race has been on to minimize weight while maximizing length to appeal to higher handicappers, Srixon has flipped the script with the Z355. Using what it calls “Action Mass Technology” to induce higher ball speeds, the Z355 has a heavier head – 211-grams of titanium – counterbalanced with a 54-gram shaft designed for a combination of consistency, distance and forgiveness.

It doesn’t stop with the zagging there, either. Whereas the vast majority of drivers feature an option for a draw or face bias, the Z355’s CG is fairly neutral, producing a higher launch with flatter trajectories, protecting against those ballooning shots golfers often see on mishits. The underlying premise of the Z355 seems to be consistency and forgiveness without sacrificing performance.

This list, of course, does not feature every new driver of 2016, and there is a chance these are not the sticks for you. The optimal method for choosing a driver – the biggest, baddest, most expensive club in the bag – is to physically go hit it. Just don’t be surprised, however, when the local pro or rep begins discussing speed in a conversation about drivers.

– Travis Mewhirter