‘How could I ever beat this guy?’ And other confessions of a Masters rookie

The sights and sounds of the Masters are a lot for rookies to behold.

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Ed. note: Just as Augusta National is the ultimate insiders’ club, the Masters is the ultimate insiders’ tournament. Nearly nine decades after the storied venue was founded, the Augusta Experience has remained shrouded in mystery. To unlock some of its secrets, we asked those who have been part of the experience to describe one element of what makes Augusta Augusta and the Masters the Masters. The fifth installment of our “What It’s Like…” series (below) was contributed by Gary Koch.

Previous installments: Sinking green-jacket dreams at 12 | Working on the Masters grounds crew | Staying in the Crow’s Nest | Hitting a ceremonial opening tee shot

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Arriving in my old Dodge Dart on the Saturday afternoon before the first round in 1974 — I was a kid from the University of Florida, for goodness sake — I was totally in awe. So much so that I drove as slow as humanly possible, soaking up every moment.

The way I was looking around, it’s a wonder I didn’t crash into something. That would have been some kind of Masters debut, wouldn’t it?

Gary Koch at the 1983 Masters.

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Anyway, on my left side, I saw a few pros hitting balls to their caddies. I tried to see who they were, but I was too far away.

Shortly afterward, I checked into the Crow’s Nest. I decided I would hit balls instead of going on the course. I messed around for a bit on the putting green and then walked over to the first tee, trying to imagine what it would be like to hit the first shot on Thursday.

I looked down to the left of 18 and saw a big open area where, back then, they allowed players to hit balls. There was one guy hitting shots to his caddie who was a couple hundred yards away — high, towering iron shots that required the caddie to take only one step to his right or one to his left or maybe one step straight ahead to retrieve the ball.

I kept shaking my head, thinking, I’ve never hit one shot that looked like those. How could I ever beat this guy?

I sat there mesmerized for about 10 minutes and walked back up the hill to the clubhouse, my confidence shaken. It was definitely time to reevaluate my expectations for my first Masters. The guy was Tom Weiskopf, who wound up tying for second that year behind Gary Player.

I missed the cut.

With reporting by Michael Arkush

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