99 golfers, 99 ways to prep for Masters
It comes but once a year, this Masters thing, always ending the second Sunday in April and always staged at Augusta National Golf Club.
So clean, so simple, so easy.
All right, then, so why is the preparation process so darn complicated? Ask the 99 players who are entered and you’d probably get 99 different ways in which they have gotten themselves ready. Surely, Scott Stallings’ method hasn’t been matched by anyone else in the field.
“Today will be my 15th round,” said Stallings before heading out for a Monday afternoon practice session.
OK, so those rounds have been spread out over the last three-plus months, but the point is, Stallings certainly has taken advantage of the Masters invitation that came his way after winning last year’s Greenbrier Classic. It arrived in mid-December and it took until Dec. 15 for Stallings to make the first of what is now five trips.
“I think Augusta has adopted me,” said the Masters rookie.
Compare that splurge to, say, a Nick Watney, who showed up Monday and is seemingly treating it like a normal week on the PGA Tour, having not made any special trips up to Augusta in recent weeks, something that can’t be said about dozens of others in the field.
From where he sits, Adam Scott thinks Watney is employing a philosophy that would suit a Masters rookie such as Webb Simpson.
“I don’t think he should treat it any different than anything else,” Scott said.
Yet just as you’re thinking that is sound advice, you come to the realization that the most successful Masters players of this generation, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, certainly treat their tournament preparation differently for this precious event.
Each comes up several times in the weeks prior, then go through a favored, annual routine — Mickelson to the Shell Houston Open, then Augusta; Woods to his home course for practice, then a Sunday arrival at the course.
There were nine holes Sunday, then nine more Monday for Woods, while Mickelson always takes Monday off the week of the Masters. The left-hander will play 18 Tuesday, Woods will probably do the same, and then they’ll have a light Wednesday, part of which will include the annual Par 3 contest.
Now, there are seven green jackets between the two of them, so you’d think that Woods and Mickelson would have a blueprint that anyone would adopt, eh? Well, not true. Scott sees all of this as a matter of taste. Further, there’s the matter of the game in question — golf — and everyone knows you can’t make sense of it all.
Take, for instance, this school of thought that you need vast experience around Augusta National. Really? Then explain Woods’ dominating victory in 1997 — his first Masters as a pro and only his third overall — and let the record show that Charl Schwartzel in just his second Masters appearance, last April, did something no one had ever done in 74 previous tries: Birdie each of the last four holes to win.
“My first year here (2002) I finished ninth,” Scott said, “(and) I didn’t think much (of the diffificulty). What’s the big deal?”
Of course, over the next eight tries, Scott discovered what the big deal is, because Augusta’s confounding greens gave him fits and he placed no better than tied for 18th, and he wasn’t exactly a player who came here with a game plan.
“That’s what this course can do. It can break your confidence quickly, if you’re a little bit off,” Scott said.
So he mixed things up a bit last year, bypassed the three tournaments leading into the Masters to make visits here and practice, and since he earned a share of second, Scott figures why not maintain that ritual?
He played the WGC-Cadillac Championship but took a pass on the Transitions, Arnold Palmer Invitational and Houston. Last year he practiced at Augusta on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, then took off Tuesday and Wednesday. This year he didn’t come in quite that early, but having played Saturday, Sunday and Monday, he’ll skip Tuesday, and probably just do the Par 3 Wednesday.
“I think I’m familiar with the course again,” Scott said. “(But) you can have all the knowledge you want, you’ve still got to have some good results and hit some good shots.”
As to his workload, which consists of just eight stroke-play rounds and one match-play round, Scott didn’t indicate an ounce of concern. Had he not come down with tonsillitis, the Aussie would have played in both the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and Sony Open in Hawaii “and my schedule wouldn’t look so light.”
But as it is, Scott’s teeing it up for just the fourth time this year in competition — and he’s not only OK with that, he’s enthusiastic about it. Heck, he arrived in 2007 having won in Houston the week before, and he went on to finish tied for 27th at Augusta.
“I think being fresh is very important and getting enough time to prepare properly, especially for major championships, is important,” Scott said. “I don’t think I need to play a lot to be competitive and be sharp. You can get here, be fresh, and if you’re fresh in your mind, you can be sharp out there and not make the poor mistakes.”
Given that he nearly won a year ago with such a recipe, it’s hard to argue with Scott.
Then again, given that he’s had an open invite to play and practice upon one of the world’s most hallowed golf courses, can you question Stallings’ almost fanatical appetite to be here at Augusta National?
Sort of reminds you that there’s no blueprint for anything in this game.