ON AN OUTDOOR PATIO AT THE TOP DAWG TAVERN, AUGUSTA, Ga. — The circus and Scottie Scheffler have left town, but two Irishmen and I have stayed behind.
“Can you take our picture?” one says. “We can take yours.”
We are standing outside the black gates of Augusta National on Monday. A few minutes earlier, we had parked our cars in the relatively empty parking lot at the Whole Life Christian Bookstore, crossed Washington Road and walked about a block west, and though we were strangers, we all knew where we were heading.
“You bet,” I said, and I snapped a few photos of them in front of the “Augusta National Golf Club Members Only” sign, and at the start of Magnolia Lane, and they did the same with my phone. The gates are a zoo all week, but the day after? Two Irishmen and I walked right up, though we were eventually encouraged to move along by a security officer.
Count it as a thing learned. Here are a few more over the past week at the Masters, along with some things seen, heard, eaten and drunk over a week. Let’s shoot for a 100 of ’em.
2. If you’re not looking, you’ll miss the entrance. To the left and right of it are trees. Magnolia Lane itself is maybe 10 yards wide. The sign itself is only a couple feet tall. No, there are no neon lights.
3. Washington Road is a chain-restaurant palooza. I had Jersey Mike’s today. On Saturday night, our team had Bonefish Grill. On Sunday night, it was Domino’s.
4. The Hooters where John Daly pitches a literal tent for the week is about a mile east of the club. A sign on Monday touted he’ll be there all week.
5. Outside Bonefish Grill, I small-talked with one of the cooks who was leaving when I was on Saturday. “Are you a golfer?” he asked. I laughed. I’m originally from Wisconsin, I told him, and the whole atmosphere, I said, reminded me a little of our state fair. “Oh absolutely,” he said.
6. On Thursday, we ate at Tbonz Steakhouse. They feed hundreds a day during Masters week, but yet, my steak and baked potato did the job. I can’t imagine the poor cook.
7. The media center looks, feels and tries to treat you like a hotel. I won’t tell you any more about my quarters for the week. Promise.
8. OK, one more. Each day, our bags were sniffed by Huddle the dog, and he’s a good boy.
9. At most ranges, you have to stand. At Augusta National, there are bleachers.
10. Jordan Spieth’s funky pre-shot routine looked even more deliberate here.
11. On Wednesday, I bumped into Bob Turner, Hideki Matsuyama’s interpreter, here. He said that he helped last year’s Masters champ with his Champions Dinner speech, but no, he was not in the room when it was given. Jack Nicklaus said it was one of the best Champions Dinners ever.
12. The gift shop, which is maybe a long par-5 away from the first tee, is both out of control and organized. The line to get in is well structured. And then it’s a free for all. The lines for the shirts are the longest. The gnomes are the most popular, I’m told, and they were gone when I went on Saturday.
13. A worker told me that the most someone spent as of Saturday afternoon was $8,000. A man next to me overheard the figure and said, “I’m just imagining them having an army of gnomes.” I laughed.
14. I bought a quarter zip and a bag tag for me, a coffee mug and a golf towel for my wife, and a hat and a shirt for my nephew. I cashed out for just $300.
15. The best time to go? When Tiger and the leaders are out. That’s when I ducked in, and I didn’t have a wait. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes or so.
16. During Tuesday’s practice round, Stewart Hagestad, a top amateur, was wearing a belt with the Masters logo that he likely picked up in the gift shop.
17. The quirkiest spot is a pitching wedge away from the gift shop. A bank of free-to-use phones sits there, and I wrote about what folks were talking about here!
18. One woman even had someone take a picture of her with a phone in her hand. It’s not every day you see a landline.
19. The rough isn’t grown very high. Augusta National bites you in other ways.
20. Sunglasses at Night by Corey Hart is playing at Top Dawg Tavern now.
22. The Augusta National members are easy to spot. They’re weaning their green jackets. You’ll occasionally see the common folk shake their hands.
23. The most entertaining spot to be during practice rounds is in the grandstands to the left of the 16th tee. Here, you can cheer players to skip balls the water. On Tuesday, Bernhard Langer, Larry Mize and Russell Henley needed a little push.
24. Sandy Lyle, a major champ, plays with a kickstand bag.
25. Cameron Smith plays with a speaker on his bag. Or at least it looks like one. And if so, that’s the VERY first question I want to ask him: What are you listening to, Cam?
26. The most enthusiastic interview I heard all week? Viktor Hovland talking to a journalist in Norweigan. They slapped hands beforehand and laughed throughout
27. While interviewing Bubba Watson on Friday, Bubba stopped two journalists who were asking him question after question to see if anyone else wanted to ask something.
28. OK, let’s talk about what you came here for. Sandwich ratings! I tried ’em all. No. 1 is the barbecue. The sauce puts it at the top. But it’s small.
29. No. 2 is chicken salad.
30. No. 3 is the sausage biscuit. It could move up if it were a touch less greasy.
31. No. 4 is … the pimento cheese. It’s the first sandwich I tried this week. Had to. It’s the king. But it’s a little mayonnaise-y.
32. No. 5 is the chicken biscuit.
33. No. 6 is the chicken sandwich. This is a lot of folks’ favorite, but the chicken was too chewy for me.
34. No. 7 is the club.
35. No. 8 is the ham on rye.
36. No. 9 is the hot dog. Yeah, yeah, it’s not a sandwich.
37. No. 10 is the egg salad. It just kinda tasted like nothing.
38. The chocolate chip cookie is actually the best.
39. The Crow’s Nest beer is a good golf beer — smooth (it’s a wheat), not too boozy (it’s a wheat), a little fruity (there’s a peach aftertaste). I’ve heard whispers that it’s a differently concocted Blue Moon, and I buy that.
40. Wonderwall by Oasis is playing at the Top Dawg Tavern right now.
41. The other beer offerings are “Import” and “Domestic,” which I’m told are Stella Artois and Miller Lite, respectively. I don’t think you need me to tell you how those taste.
42. The cups are keepable, and you see folks with stacks of them walking the grounds.
43. I went to the honorary tee shots on Thursday. Some thoughts. Masters chairman Fred Ridley is taller in person.
45. Watson shouted to Player before his tee shot: “Aren’t you going to do pushups now?
46. To which Player said: “I was doing them before you were awake.”
47. Speaking of the Black Knight, here are a few of his lines from his press conference afterward. On being asked about hitting a honorary tee shot at a tournament in India: ”First of all, I was really charmed. I love India, the intelligence, the technology, the manners, the so humble — the women dress so nicely. I’m so used to seeing women with damn dresses up their bum, and you don’t see anything like that in India. It was really, really enjoyable.”
48. “If I may boast for a minute, I’ve beaten my age over 2,000 times in a row. In a row.”
49. I asked Player, Nicklaus and Watson what advice they would give Phil Mickelson should he reach out for some. Watson made a “zipper his lips” gesture. Nicklaus said he couldn’t hear the question. Player did. “I have a special thought on Phil Mickelson. I think we live in a time now when we are such a judgmental society, a litigious society, a critical society, where people get crucified. The greatest PR man on the golf Tour in the last five or X amount of years has been Phil Mickelson. He has been the ideal man for a sponsor, for professional golf, for the public, the way he’s handled the public, with dignity and with love. And he makes a mistake, which every one of you in this room have made a damn mistake. We all have. And he said he’s sorry. But even the Lord God will forgive you of your inequities if you ask for forgiveness. And he made a mistake, and for everybody to be — I’ve heard him. I said, hold your head up high. You’ve made a mistake. Everybody makes a mistake.”
“And he should go on with his life. I think it’s pitiful — I actually made a statement on television. I said, if there’s nobody that hasn’t made a mistake, I’d like to invite anybody in the world to have lunch with me at Augusta, and if you haven’t made a mistake, I’ll have lunch with you, but I’ll have lunch on my own. It’s amazing. From the epitome of perfection, he’s down there being crucified. It’s not right. That’s my opinion. He said terrible things, but we all make mistakes.”
50. Hole observations! TV doesn’t quite show the elevation changes. The tee box on the 445-yard, par-4 first sits on a hill, drops and slowly climbs back up. On Sunday, after hooking his tee shot left, Scheffler went back to his caddie, Ted Scott, and they laughed.
51. The 575-yard, par-5 2nd is mostly downhill. The easiest hole on the course for the pros this year.
52. The 350-yard, par-4 3rd is back up the hill. During Wednesday practice rounds, Lyle nearly hit Collin Morikawa with a shot here.
53. The 240-yard, par-3 4th is a beast. The right front bunker makes it more troubling.
54. The 495-yard, par-4 5th slopes to the left. There’s an odd red-marked hazard area along the left side of the fairway here — the grass between the red line and bushes can’t be more than five yards, and the slope of the fairways pushes balls into the bushes, so I can’t really see balls stopping in that area. But it’s there.
55. The par-3 6th probably plays a little shorter than its 180 yards — it’s all downhill.
56. The 450-yard, par-4 7th is pretty basic, but on Saturday here, I watched Dustin Johnson bolt to the left of the tee box, duck into the public bathroom and then jog back up the fairway. That was probably a sight for a few folks.
57. The 570-yard, par-5 8th was the second-easiest hole for the pros this year.
58. I can’t properly tell you how severe the slope is ahead of the green on the 460-yard, par-4 9th.
59. My friend Ben texted me asking if his favorite hole, the 495-yard, par-4 10th, looks as good as it does on TV. It does. I could see Augusta National some day adjusting the bunker ahead of the green — it doesn’t serve much of a purpose now, though GOLF’s Luke Kerr-Dineen mentioned it does somewhat mess with the visuals from the fairway.
60. Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone) by Glass Tiger is playing at the Top Dawg right now.
61. While nothing trumps Bubba Watson’s shot through everything on 18 on Friday, the second-best shot of the tournament, in my opinion, came on the 520-yard par-4 11th. Tom Hoge pushed his second shot right here on Friday, and this was his lie — slightly downhill, with grandstands behind him, a mound in front of him, maybe a 10-yard-wide green and water behind the green. After talking with a fan — Hoge looked like he knew the man — he dropped a wedge to about 5 feet.
62. Probably the best place to view the golf is near the 11 green. You’re on Amen Corner. You can see players finish out on 11 and tee shots on 12 (and some action on 13). There’s a concession stand here.
63. A sneaky good spot to watch is behind the 14 tee, but you have to get there early or wait. The area can hold about 25 people — there’s a bush behind you — so you don’t have to angle too hard for a good view, you can watch shots into 13, and there’s a concession stand nearby.
64. I stood on the 155-yard, par-3 12th for a good half-hour on Wednesday trying to figure out where I’d aim it. I couldn’t figure it out. (I’m about a 14-handicap, and I play a low draw, if you’re wondering.)
65. The drop-off into the water ahead of the green on the 510-yard, par-5 13th is steeeeep. Now that we’re thinking about it, most of the greens are like that. This was the third-easiest hole for the pros this week.
66. The 440-yard, par-4 14th does not have one bunker. It’s the only hole on the course that doesn’t.
67. The 550-yard, par-5 15th was probably the most talked about hole of the tournament. The tees were moved back, the players I watched laid up short of the water in front of the green, and the risk-reward play the hole used to offer was gone — it was driver, short iron, wedge, putt.
68. It was also the fourth-easiest hole for the pros. The best in the world have no problem with par-5s.
69. During the practice rounds, players spent a good amount of time on the green on the 170-yard, par-3 16th. The slopes are tough to figure out.
70. The 440-yard, par-4 17 slowly rises from the tee box, and the green is slope-y. Tough hole.
71. The hole I spent the second-most time on was 18. The window off the tee is tight — all you see are trees on either side of you, and the bunker on the left side of the fairway. And then you have to walk up a hill on the way to the green.
72. It’s here where I was about 10 yards to the right of Bubba Watson on Friday when he parted the trees. Three days later, I still can’t figure out how he did it. (You can read more about it here!)
73. The roars through the Georgia pines you hear about on TV? That’s real. You can listen to the action throughout the course, and the patrons often try to figure out what happened. Most of the guesses were about Tiger.
74. I saw just one celebrity — former NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He’s also a golf nut.
76. Angie Watson was following Bubba. A former college basketball player, she’s tall.
77. I saw Harold Varner’s wife, Amanda. She was carrying their newborn, Harold IV.
78. McIlroy picks his tee out of the ground when he tees off with an iron in a way I hadn’t seen before. He positions his iron at about a 15-degree angle just behind the tee, kicks the iron, and the tee pops right up, unbroken.
79. The SubAir system Augusta National uses to dry out its course is effective. And loud. Stand behind the six green and you can hear it working.
80. The Joker by the Steve Miller Band is playing at the Top Dawg right now.
81. To cover up mud spots and provide traction, Augusta National groundskeepers applied a green dirt substance to the course. By Sunday, it kind of smelled.
82. Saturday was brisk. Hats, gloves and multiple layers weather. But Danny Willett went with short sleeves. “I’m usually warm anyways,” he said. “When the sun came out it was OK. No worries. It’s still cold, but it’s not as bad as it was.”
83. Some player thoughts. Let’s start with the champ. I talked with Scheffler’s dad on Sunday, and he described his son’s personality this way: “He was born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, and Scottie is a little bit of both.”
84. I also talked with his caddie, Ted Scott. The longtime caddie for Bubba Watson was in tears explaining why he came out of retirement to pick up Scheffler’s bag. Then joked, “I guess the Masters champion was so I guess I should cry.”
85. Scott’s impact on Scheffler can’t be overstated. Scheffler is good natured. Scott makes him even more so. “Teddy is definitely someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously either,” Scheffler said. “I don’t know how much time you spend around Ted, but he’s a pretty goofy guy, and we have a lot of fun together. He tells a lot of good jokes. Not everybody may think they’re funny, but his dad jokes are pretty good, and we get a good chuckle out of them.
86. Every so often, I was caught watching Scheffler’s feet. But Jon Rahm warned it’s a ‘don’t-try-this-at-home’ move. “You can’t teach that,” he said. “No, it’s unteachable. If you try, you’d probably end up hurting people. Matthew Wolff’s swing, again, unteachable. If you try, you end up hurting yourself. Same with a bowed wrist. You can learn a bowed wrist, but if it’s not natural to you, it will hurt you.
“There’s a lot of things in a person’s swing that just comes natural and you can’t really teach it. It can’t be a coincidence that two great ball strikers, Greg Norman and himself, have that in common. There’s got to be a reason why it’s functional.”
87. Does Scheffler have staying power? If he stays simple Scottie — and I wrote about his aweshuckness here! — yes, put him down for multiple majors. But fame does strange things.
88. I felt cringy watching Scheffler four-putt 18 on Sunday. But how many putts would you take in that moment?
89. Let’s talk Tiger! Watching him walk up 18 on Friday with his putter as a cane was … striking.
90. Speaking of striking, his play off the tee and with his irons — maybe the biggest question marks — was good. His short game let him down. I was surprised.
91. Tiger was more easy going this week, I thought. He joked about his four-putt. That’s striking and surprising.
92. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Rory more excited than when he holed the bunker shot on 18. He wants this tournament maybe more than any other player wants any other tournament.
93. Cameron Smith is going to win here one day.
94. Cameron Champ, too. This year, he was tied for 19th in driving accuracy, and second in driving distance. That plays.
95. I also interviewed Erik Van Rooyen, a nice enough player, but I didn’t write anything on him. As I waited for another player to talk to on Wednesday, I was told that the media type who had asked for Van Rooyen had left and “could I ask him some questions.” So we really just talked. His parents, who flew in from South Africa, cleaned up in the gift shop.
96. Eavesdropping is nothing new at a tournament — it’s usually quiet and conversations carry — but the talk amongst the boys and girls is notable at the Masters, where people come from all over the world. I think my favorite was a woman who was watching Hoge who said she had known him since he was 7 and that “she was so proud.”
97. Of course, there’s other golf in Augusta, and the second-hardest greens may be at Augusta Muni, where I played on Monday morning.
98. I visited the clubhouse on Sunday before the leaders teed off. There are couches to your left when you walk in, memorabilia to your right, and a check-in desk. The stairs upstairs to the dining area are tight.
99. One more food story. I ate in the clubhouse. I had the burger. It comes with pimento cheese, but the bacon was the highlight. Crispy.
100. Time for a beer at the Top Dawg. Round Here by the Counting Crows is playing right now. See you next year, Masters.