AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Cantlay watched playing partner Justin Thomas tap in for par and then shuffled off the green in a hurry. He checked his watch. It was just past 9:45 a.m. on Friday, a little more than two hours since Cantlay arrived on Augusta National’s 11th hole to resume his first round, and he was already running late.
“I’m going to try to eat something, ” he told his coach as he made a beeline for the clubhouse. “I don’t really have time to do much else.”
Cantlay disappeared into the clubhouse and reappeared a few moments later, sandwich in hand, which he unwrapped and ate, standing, as he watched as he watched the group ahead of him tee off. By the time Adam Scott, Collin Morikawa and Tyrrell Hatton made their way down the fairway, Cantlay’s name was displayed on the sign alongside the 10th tee. It was just past 10 a.m., and he was due back on the tee. He took one last bite, tossed the rest in the trash, and walked towards his second round.
“Getting up early and playing 27 holes?” he said later. “Today was a long day.”
The confluence of events that lead to a November Masters meant that running behind was always a distinct possibility, and an eventuality Augusta National was well prepared for. It became an inevitability after a two-and-a-half hour rain delay early on Friday. Augusta National prepared by teeing players off on both the first and the 10th, in two miniature morning and afternoon waves. But it gets dark by about 5:30 p.m. here in Augusta, and with the last group in the afternoon wave teeing off at 2:52, about half the field will return to the course on Saturday to get to the tournament’s halfway mark.
When they do, they’ll be facing the same, unfamiliar situation that Cantlay dealt with today: A taste of the amateur life. Heading to the first tee without the luxury of a proper warm-up, grabbing a quick bite along the way, and feeling all the time in a bit of a hurry.
Cantlay started this next round with a sketchy 3-wood down the middle and a yanked iron left of the green, which added up to an opening bogey. He nevertheless finished with a six-under 66, putting him T5 heading to the weekend.
Most professional golfers have their pre-round warmups planned to an exacting degree, from the music they listen to to the shots they hit to measuring out the time it will take to walk from the green to the tee.
Pros get asked all the time about things they almost never think about. They don’t really know about what a win here would mean for them, or care about who just crept up to what number in the world rankings. No, these are like swimmers focusing on the line at the bottom of the pool, or Formula One drivers plotting how to enter the approaching turn. These are focused athletes who shun almost everything they can’t control and think intensely about the things they can. The process of warming up is one of those things. On days like today, when they’re thrust fully outside of their comfort zones, how do they react?
Justin Thomas, who played with Cantlay during the first two rounds, opted for a different route. He considered the time available — just 20 minutes between tee times — and realized he had a mandatory quick trip to the clubhouse to sign scorecards and needed to arrive slightly early on the first tee — what would’ve been a 15-minute round trip to and from the Augusta National range was a no-go. He opted for the putting green instead, just behind the 10th tee, where he rolled a few under the watchful eye of his newly-employed putting coach John Graham.
“I didn’t feel like I needed to go to the range and hit a couple balls, and frankly, I didn’t really have time to, anyway,” Thomas said. “I hit a few putts, walked to the first tee at about 10:11 and pegged it at 10:14.”
When he did make his way to the tee, he pulled a driver and left his intended draw out to the right. He made bogey, just like Cantlay, and then he made another at the 13th before righting the ship. He shot a second-round 69 to work his way into a 36-hole tie for the lead.
“On a day like this, it was okay,” Thomas said. “But when you get those 45- or 50-degree days where it’s a little chilly any time you don’t spend hitting or moving, you’re going to get tight.”
Ultimately, that’s what both Thomas and Cantlay say is the key: staying loose. It’s not about hitting more balls, it about keeping your mind sharp and your body loose (which you can do with the help of these stretches!).
It’s not something these two will have to worry about this weekend. When they come to the course for Moving Day, they’ll go back to their normal routines. They’ll get their full, deliberate warmups, range balls and swing coaches in tow. But I’ll still be thinking that moment on Friday, where three golfers on an almost-empty course rushed to the first tee to sneak in another round of golf.
You could almost forget they were doing so with golf’s biggest prize on the line.