Tiger Woods hit his tee shot. Justin Thomas hit his. John Augenstein, playing a U.S. Open practice round this past September with the 15-time major winner and the world’s third-ranked player, hit two. The 11th at Winged Foot is a shortish par-4, at 384 yards, but a bunker on the left lends to a lay-up, which Woods and Thomas both did. Augenstein went short, too. And then long, trying a driver with his second swing.
They started walking down the fairway.
Deep breath now, John!
“I asked Tiger, ‘You know, do you, would you ever hit driver here?’” Augenstein said, recalling the episode at this week’s American Express.
Throw him some numbers, John!
“Kind of threw him a couple numbers out, tried to act like I knew what I was talking about,” Augenstein said.
Your childhood idol is going to answer, John!!!
“He just looked at me and was like, ‘Why?’” Augenstein said.
“And that’s all he said.”
Keep breathing, John!
“And I was like, I don’t know, just thought driver might be a play here,” Augenstein said.
“And he’s like, ‘No, just try to,’ and then he explained himself. But for a second, it was funny because he just said, ‘Why,’ and paused, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s about to come next.’ But he said why and then he told me, you know, he’s like, ‘I’m just trying to hit that 245-yard number. I think that’s the best way to play the hole. And he was, he was very nice.
“But that kind of, for about a five-second silence pause, I was like, ‘Oh, boy, this isn’t, this isn’t what I was planning on, but …’”
This week, Augenstein played his first round as a professional, after an amateur career that saw him become a two-time All-American at Vanderbilt and finish as runner-up at the 2019 U.S. Amateur (which earned him both the spot at the U.S. Open and one at the Masters). He shot two rounds of 72 and missed the cut. But, he said Tuesday, his first shot at PGA West would be nowhere near as worrisome as his first tee shot with Woods at Winged Foot.
“I mean, Tiger being my childhood idol, watching him play, I mean, he’s one of the biggest reasons the guys my age played, loved golf, thought it was cool and continued working at it, was because of him,” Augenstein said. “So, yeah, I looked up to him my whole life, of course, and so, yeah, that was, he’s the only guy I’ve ever met that I was like, you know, that’s pretty cool, like, that’s, wow. That’s kind of a little more of a wow factor, I think, than a lot of guys.
“But he was very nice, very approachable and so it was a really cool experience.”
As was the Masters. At Augusta, Augenstein made the cut and played the third round with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy. There, he said, McIlroy never asked why. He was five under for his round entering the par-5 13th — then three-putted for a bogey. On 14, he hit his tee shot down the fairway, and he birdied the 16th, before finishing tied for fifth.
“Maybe he said a few things to himself and walked off and that’s fine and then went to the next hole and it had never happened,” Augenstein said. “… To see him make bogey on the easiest hole, he could have easily — it could have thrown his round off a little bit. I’m not saying — nobody out here ever gives up, but it could throw the momentum of your round off and to see him kind of just get it back within the stakes and keep moving was, I think, one of the biggest things that I learned from him, probably.”