AUGUSTA, Ga. — The late Hootie Johnson fiercely defended the lengthening of Augusta National during his term as club chairman. The first overhaul added 285 yards after the 2001 Masters, and six more holes were lengthened after the 2005 Masters.
Johnson said the changes were to keep current with the modern game, and he leaned on his own experience.
But he wasn’t playing in March 2005 with a PGA Tour player. He was playing with teenagers.
“I had a guest down here in March — 17 years old, about 5-foot-10, 160 pounds. He hit pitching wedges into 17 and 7,” Johnson said at the 2005 Masters. “A lot had been written some years back that we were trying to Tiger-proof our golf course, and we are not worried about Tiger. We are worried about these 17-year-olds.”
That 17-year-old was George Bryan. Also playing that day was his 14-year-old brother, Wesley Bryan, who makes his Masters debut this week.
“I think it was probably more George-proofing at the time than it was Wesley-proofing,” Bryan said Monday. “I wasn’t having lob wedges into No. 17. He always hit the ball farther than I did. And playing with Mr. Johnson was obviously a treat, and seeing his reaction to where George was hitting some of those tee shots is pretty funny, as well.”
COLD WELCOME: Xander Schauffele qualified for the Masters nine months ago when he won The Greenbrier Classic, part of his stellar rookie season that ended with the 24-year-old from San Diego winning the Tour Championship.
He waited until March to come to Augusta National for the first time, and he hardly even played.
“It was pouring down and about 45 degrees,” Schauffele said. “So it was quite miserable, to be honest. I was so excited to be here, and there was only about two or three members that flew in from England to play. They were manning the storm, and my caddie and I and one of the local caddies here were manning the storm. I didn’t play any holes. I just walked and kind of looked and rolled some balls, because I was freezing.”
He spent two days at the club, and it only got slightly better.
“The next day I showed up and it was clear, but it was about 34 degrees,” he said. “All the guys in the shop are joking that this is the hardest the course can play.”
His preparations for the Masters didn’t end there. Schauffele took advice from a few other San Diego residents, Charley Hoffman and Phil Mickelson, to find the slickest greens with the most slope. That would be San Diego Country Club, so he tried to play there a few times before he arrived.
Good preparation? Not really.
“It was a little bumpier and slower than what we have out there,” he said.
BUBBA’S BOY: Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and his wife adopted their first child, Caleb, shortly before Watson won his first green jacket. The boy is now 6, and the Masters is growing on him.
“He loves the Par 3,” Watson said. “He loves walking around with Dad. He thinks he’s really doing something, being a caddie. He looks forward to it now. He talks about it — ‘Who are we going to play with?’ — so he can see if he’s got any other friends playing with us.”
Watson joked that his son doesn’t like golf because that’s what keeps his dad away from home. But he recognizes the Masters.
“He just knows this tournament, you get a green jacket,” Watson said. “I don’t know if it’s because of the commercials, but he knows. And there’s one commercial that Golf Channel is playing that he waddles out in ’14, when he waddles out with his hands in his pocket, so he knows that’s him. So when that commercial comes on, he stops and looks and sees that it’s him.”
AGELESS WONDER: Jack Nicklaus holds the record as the oldest Masters champion, winning in 1986 when he was 46.
Bernhard Langer isn’t sure how much longer that will last. Phil Mickelson is 47 and is the biggest threat to that record this year, especially with Mickelson having won the Mexico Championship last month.
But it isn’t just Mickelson.
“The guys are much fitter nowadays than golfers have ever been,” Langer said. “You have guys like Mickelson, Fred Couples and a few others in the future that are still long enough to temper this golf course or to have a chance if their short game is good. And it’s going to be more of them in the future, because we’re learning to be real athletes. … They have physical trainers, mental coaches, whatever it takes. They watch the diet. And that will give you longevity.”
Twenty years ago, Nicklaus was 58 when he made a Sunday charge — on the front nine, not the back nine — and tied for sixth.
Langer has been on the fringe of contention two of the last four years. The German is 60 this year and not ruling himself out.
“My goal is certainly to be in contention,” he said. “Two years ago, I didn’t play to finish fourth or fifth or third or whatever. I wanted to win, and I played extremely aggressive right out of the get-go and got caught a couple of times with really bad breaks. … But yeah, my goal is not just to maybe make the cut or something. I would like to be in contention, like to be on the leaderboard and have a chance on Sunday to win the trophy, or the green jacket in this case.”