Even for fearless youngsters, it’s one of the toughest challenges in sport. The record books showing that it’s nudging towards 40 years since the Masters produced a first-time winner is proof of that. Add the likes of Tyrrell Hatton to the list of players to discover how difficult it is to, well, master Augusta National.
The Englishman had been in good form ahead of his debut at the age of 25. He’d been rolling in putts from all over the place in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas a fortnight ago. He was picked by many – this correspondent included – as a possible “surprise” package in this event’s 81st staging.
Poor Tyrrell. That was a kiss of death before he’d even stepped on to the first tee on Thursday. I’d be here all day if I was to list the Scottish players alone who’ve had a hex put on them through either being mentioned in a positive way or seeing their game fall apart when a scribe turns up to watch.
Whatever happened to Hatton on Thursday certainly wasn’t part of his plan. An eight-over-par 80 left him close to last among 93 starters after title favourite Dustin Johnson withdrew due to the unfortunate fall that saw him hurt his back on the eve of the event. Hatton’s card contained eight bogeys. His only highlight was a 2 at the sixth. It left him with no chance of being around at the weekend.
Another first-timer, Hatton’s compatriot Tommy Fleetwood, also struggled on his debut in the event. The Race to Dubai leader, who’d come here equally buoyant after finishing second to world No 1 Johnson in the WGC-Mexico Championship early last month, had to settle for a 78. His initial learning experience included coming home in 41, which contained a 7 at the 15th.
In fairness, Fleetwood had predicted that this test would be the toughest he’s faced in golf. “The first thing that struck me was it’s the first course I’ve ever seen where precision is so important,” said the Lancastrian. “It’s the biggest course I’ve ever seen for that. It’s kind of forgiving off the tee a little bit, the fairways are quite wide, but you still have to take the tee shots on to give yourself the best chance of hitting the iron shots in.
“Then, around the greens, there’s no other place like it. I mean, we play a lot of courses where it’s kind of simple to wander around and go, ‘well, you can’t hit it there or over there is a good miss and that will be fine’. Sometimes it only takes one practice round, but this place is very, very different.
“You can see why it’s not only power hitters that win, because with approach shots to the green, the course can work in your favour as much as it can harm you, and if you are on your game and your irons are very precise, then you can use it to your advantage.”
The challenge, of course, was made even more difficult on this occasion by the first two days being played in blustery conditions. In short, experience is probably the most important club in the bag coming here. “The wind is going to magnify your misses and a lot of the guys that aren’t familiar with this course and where you can go to on certain holes for certain pins will miss in the wrong spot and end up making big numbers,” pointed out three-time winner Phil Mickelson. “Because I’ve played here so many times, I just kind of know where to go.”