Hadwin at the Masters: Testing lightning greens with a Masters champ

Adam Hadwin lines up his putt on the ninth hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Monday, April 3, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. Matt Slocum/AP Photo

Periodically throughout the Masters, Canadian PGA Tour winner Adam Hadwin will check in with readers to talk about making his first appearance at Augusta National in golf’s first major of 2017.

With everything that’s happened in the last few weeks—winning, playing Bay Hill, and getting married—I didn’t get a chance to play Augusta until Sunday. And while it was certainly cool to drive to the club, I’ll admit I didn’t get overwhelmed by the experience the way some say they do. Maybe that’s because I’ve never spent a lot of time digging into the history of the game. I hate to say it, but I don’t even know the story of Augusta National that well. For others, that history is probably key, but to me, Augusta is the course that holds the Masters—a major tournament in which only a particular group of players is allowed to participate. You have to be in the Top 50 in the world, you have to have won an event—those are the things that get you into the Masters, and it is an honour to get the chance to play here.

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I snuck out to see the course on Sunday and it was pretty quiet. It certainly didn’t have the atmosphere you’d expect from the Masters. The Drive, Chip, and Putt competition was going on, but it was calm and there weren’t a lot of people around.

Right away I recognized that I’d have to adjust some of my preconceived notions about the course. It is significantly more difficult than I thought it would be and anything that’s off-line, long, or short, is really penalized. But what surprised me most was how big the slopes on the greens really are. You watch it on TV and you see where guys are aiming putts and where it rolls out to, and you think, ‘It can’t be that bad.’ But some of those rolls are as tall as I am, and it takes you a while to wrap your head around it.

I’d also been told the course gets progressively harder as the day goes on. But on Sunday the greens were putting at 12.5 on the stimp and the course was firm. With those massive slopes I just couldn’t see how it would get any harder and if it did, would the course even be fair? Some members were around and I asked them about how much faster it would get. They said it was the firmest and fastest they’d seen it heading into tournament week, but with rain expected it looks like the staff pushed the course in preparation. That calmed me down a bit because I couldn’t imagine how the course could possibly get more difficult.

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On Monday, I played nine holes before it started to rain, but I still didn’t get that Masters feeling. That changed Tuesday when I teed it up with Mackenzie Hughes and Mike Weir.

The goal was to learn as much from Mike, who won the Masters in 2003, as I could.

Getting to play with Mike was incredible. It was cool talking to him on the back nine and asking him if there was a point in the final round in 2003 that was critical to his win. And he explained what was going on in his head—and that’s invaluable. I think both Mackenzie and I learned a great deal. Mike is a classy guy and he did everything he could to help us when we went around. Coming from a guy who has played here a lot, the one thing he stressed was not to be overwhelmed when mistakes happen. The wind will swirl and you’re going to hit some perfect shots that will end up in bad spots. Everyone has to go through that—and it sounds cliché—but you have to be patient. That might not strike some as particularly insightful, but when you’re walking around with a guy who has won—and gets to go back every year—well, you take that advice.

It was while playing with Mike that I really got the sense I’m at the Masters. That “pinch me” moment came on the 13th hole, looking back at the par-3 12th, and seeing all the people in the stands around on Amen Corner. It is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

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After playing it a few times, I now know Augusta is a great golf course that tests all of your game. If your game is off, it’ll show. I expected it to be an easier golf course off the tee, but it isn’t. Maybe guys just make it look easier on TV—but even tee shots are hard. You have to shape shots around tees and you have to hit really straight shots through slots off the tee. And it is a lot longer than I expected—even when it was firm on Sunday. I know it has been lengthened a great deal since Tiger was playing it in his early years and was hitting mid-irons into holes like the par-5 15th, but I’ve found it quite long, and I don’t think I’m a short hitter. I hit a 3-wood into the 15th hole. It was into the wind, but I haven’t come close to hitting an iron into that hole. And the greens are fast and undulating, so it places a premium on every part of your game. You really have to think your way around it. There are a lot of courses on tour where there are four or five holes a round where you can make a mistake and recover. That’s not the case at Augusta.

However, I think it sets up well for me. I can move the ball both ways when I need to, which I think will help going into the greens. In terms of putting, it’ll be dealing with the speed. If it gets quicker, the downhill putts will be like putting on a driveway and the uphill ones will seem like they are flat. That takes some adjustment. That’s where the iron game comes in—because you could hit all 18 greens and walk away with a lot of three-putts if you hit them in the wrong spots. Sometimes it might be better to miss a green and have to chip than to hit the green in the wrong spot and have an impossible putt.

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Despite the fact it is my first time at Augusta, I feel confident. I believe these tournaments bring out the best in me. It’ll be a lot of fun to test my game against an iconic golf course I’ve seen on TV for many years, and against the best players in the world. I can’t wait for it to start.

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