Ben Hogan famously would tune up for the Masters by spending a few weeks at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla.
Presumably, Malaysia and Thailand weren’t an option.
Things certainly have changed since Hogan set the standard, though one thing remains the same. Come this time of year, all thoughts turn to Augusta National and the quest for a green jacket.
Padraig Harrington doesn’t pretend to hide the anticipation he feels for the season’s first major championship, even if it might look like he’s not taking it seriously. On the contrary, playing next week in Malaysia, then going to Thailand, then journeying onward to play the Valero Texas Open is in keeping with a practice that he has employed for years.
Harrington thinks it’s best for him to play two or three weeks in a row into a major. Now, appearance money helps, sure, but clearly the chaps these days aren’t shying away from extensive travel in the weeks before Augusta. Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel and Matteo Manassero also will be in Malaysia for a joint European and Asian Tour event. The next week, Ernie Els and Y.E. Yang will join Harrington in Thailand for an Asian Tour stop.
What figures to occupy some of Harrington’s down time in his upcoming Ireland-to-Malaysia-to-Thailand-to-Texas-to-Augusta jaunt are thoughts of the Masters, a tournament that he never gets tired of, even if the course beguiles him.
“There’s no doubt there’s excess baggage,” Harrington said. “You gain experience, but you have excess baggage. Everyone carries a few scars that they remember.”
It is such refreshing honesty served up with a stark perspective that makes Harrington arguably the game’s best interview. He will tell you that while Augusta National, at 7,435 yards, is a longer golf course than when he first played the Masters in 2000, it has been returned to what it was intended to be for players of his caliber.
“The changes they made there are perfect,” Harrington said. “They got the course to what it was, what I saw on TV (as a kid). Absolutely.”
The Irishman proceeded to take you around Augusta National the first year he played it and how he hit “a flick” into No. 1, a “little wedge into five,” a “half a lob into seven,” and “only a pitching wedge at nine.” The frightening 11th “was a little 8 (iron),” and 17 “was only a lob wedge.” Harrington was at the closing hole and exclaimed, “18 was a lob wedge; I hit lob wedge every day.”
But if sounds easy, he assures you that it wasn’t.
“When a course is short, they end up having tricky pin positions,” said Harrington, who recalls holes being cut just a yard from the slope.
“This is what we’re all worried about with Merion,” he said, referring to the site of this summer’s US Open. “The short holes where they get tricky because we prefer a big, solid golf course made easier rather than a short course made trickier.”
Augusta National, according to Harrington, fits the bill as “a big, solid golf course,” so hole locations no longer have to be dicey. Instead, they’ll be placed perhaps three or four paces from a slope.