AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s been 25 years since Tiger Woods famously won the first of his five Masters titles, so it would seem only natural that other players seek his advice on how to play Augusta National.
Listen to Jon Rahm, though, and it seems like Woods isn’t always forthcoming with his knowledge of the course — or the game of golf in general.
“I think there’s only one man in this field that hears advice from Tiger because I’ve asked before and I get nothing,” Rahm said. “So you might need to ask Justin Thomas.”
Thomas, of course, is Woods’ friend, and the two often play together at home in Florida. Last week, they took a trip on Woods' private jet to play a practice round at Augusta National, where Thomas might have asked a question or two about winning a green jacket.
Rahm, a former world No. 1, didn’t exactly get that level of information from Woods. Not that he didn’t try.
“I remember asking him at (the Tour Championship) the year he won, before on the putting green in the practice round,” Rahm said. “Hey, man, any tips for Bermuda (greens)? He turned around and said, ‘it’s all about the feel,’ and just kept going. I was like, ‘cool, thank you.’”
Rahm, who laughed as he told the stories, said he asked Woods at another tournament about how to chip into the grain, and Woods simply said he had to be shallow.
“Meanwhile, I turn around and J.T.’s there with him and he’s getting a whole dissertation on what to do.”
Thomas also had a chuckle when told he must be special to get advice from the greatest player of his time.
“I want to learn, so I’m going to ask a question,” Thomas said. “I feel like Tiger’s been a good person for me to do that. But, yeah, I guess I’m very fortunate in that regard.”
AN INVITE LIKE NO OTHER
The official invitation came as Sam Burns was out of town playing in a PGA Tour event. After three wins since the last Masters he knew it would be coming, but until the tournament actually requested his presence it didn’t seem real.
He was going to his first Masters, and he wanted to savor the moment.
“My wife sent me a picture and I said, ‘please don’t open that until I get home,’” Burns said. “So that was a really neat moment for us to open it together and read it and just get to celebrate.”
A pro since 2017, Burns had a breakthrough year since the last Masters, winning the Valspar Championship for his first title, following it with a win at Sanderson Farms this year and then repeating as the champion at Valspar.
The 25-year-old shot up to No. 11 in the world with his trio of wins. More importantly, they qualified him for his first Masters on a golf course he saw only once before, when he attended a practice round about 10 years ago with his father.
Father and son returned last month for a practice round that made it even more special.
“I think we were both blown away by just the property in general,” Burns said. “You stand up there on the first tee and you can just see all the way down 18 and kind of through the trees. It feels so big. It was definitely a moment for me that I’ll never forget getting to walk around with my dad for the first time and getting to play.”
SHORT GAME WOES
The knock on Viktor Hovland, if there is one, is that the Norwegian’s short game isn’t up to the sublime level of his ball striking.
But he’s done well in two Masters on an Augusta National course where proper chipping and putting might be more crucial than anywhere else.
Hovland was low amateur in 2019, then returned last year to shoot even par and tie for 21st. Along the way he’s learned by watching his fellow pros that figuring out the spin on short shots is the key on a course where a variety of shots come into play.
“I think it’s more about spin, controlling spin,” he said. “If you can do that, you can hit some of these short game shots really close when they don’t really look too easy.”
Hovland, the fourth-ranked player in the world, said he learned a lot about slopes and angles — at least on the back nine — by watching the Masters on television over the years. Now in his third Masters, he’s more comfortable with the course and an atmosphere that is different from anywhere else golf is played.
“It’s a place like none other,” he said. “The course is hard. It’s kind of made to make you feel uncomfortable, but I feel like I’m, just through other experiences, I think playing the Ryder Cup was very helpful for me to just kind of handle new experiences better. So even if I am uncomfortable, it’s not the end of the world. I know how to handle that.”
COLD WEATHER GOLF
Minnesota isn’t known as a breeding ground for top golfers, for obvious reasons. Tom Hoge honed his game there anyway, largely because in his native North Dakota, golf opportunities — and warm weather — were even more scarce.
Now Hoge is one of the top players in the world, and he believes his Minnesota experiences while growing up are a big reason why.
“For me living in North Dakota, we didn’t have a real strong junior program like Minnesota did, so just the opportunity to go play in real golf tournaments, and I think that’s the best way to practice and prepare yourself,” Hoge said. “Get into competition and see how you handle yourself and see what you need to work on. For me it was great to go test my game against better players in Minnesota and very fortunate to have that.”
Hoge, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, traveled to the neighboring state for tournaments like the prestigious Pine to Palm, which he won in 2009 while finding out he could compete against the best in the area.
The 32-year-old is somewhat of a late bloomer, winning at Pebble Beach this year for his first PGA Tour win. Now ranked No. 38 in the world, he got an invitation to the Masters for the first time.
“It’s been my eighth year on tour and first Masters, so pretty cool to be here,” he said.
Dustin Johnson won a green jacket in the only Masters ever held in November. The fact he didn’t get to keep it as long as other champions wasn’t an issue.
The Masters hands out a green jacket to the winner every year — with the caveat that they return it when they return to defend the title.
“I was fine with only having it five months,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I’d have taken it for just a week. You’re still a Masters champion.”
Johnson’s win in 2020 took some of the pressure off since he was long favored to win a Masters. But he wouldn’t mind winning again — and this time keeping the jacket for an entire year.
“There’s not as much pressure that I put on myself coming back here as a past champion,” the former world No. 1 said. “But I still want to do well. Next goal is to get another one.”
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