Amid a year of lost traditions, the par-3 course at Augusta National will be awfully quiet on Wednesday afternoon. Normally, Wednesday is the day players let loose, put a significant other on the bag – or track down tiny caddie bibs for their kids – and hit a few trick shots around the par-3 course on the northeast corner of the property.
Lanto Griffin is playing his first Masters this week after qualifying courtesy of his 2019 Houston Open win. He started thinking about Masters Wednesday shortly after.
“It’s weird, the Par 3 Contest and having – skipping the ball over the water on 16, all those things are things that you sit back and watch during Masters week,” he said. “It’s going to be weird not having that, but at the same time you’re at Augusta National playing for a green jacket.”
Griffin would have used Wednesday as a tribute for a man who became like a second father to him growing up. Stuart Swanson was among those to step in after Griffin’s father passed away in 2001 and helped him pursue his dream.
“We threw a party at my home course after the Houston Open about a week and a half later and I actually presented Stu with a caddie bib and gave it to him,” Griffin said. “He was going to caddie for me there. That’s not going to be possible but luckily with making it to the Tour Championship…I’m going back there in April.”
While Griffin’s path back to Augusta National in 2021, that’s not the case for an amateur. There are six of them in the field this week at Augusta, living a dream week.
John Augenstein, a fifth-year senior at Vanderbilt, is one. Like Griffin, he would have put someone special on the bag for the Par 3 Contest: his dad Drew. The elder Augenstein will be on the grounds at Augusta National this week regardless, as Augenstein’s coach. Augenstein brought his mom Susan, too, who didn’t get to be on site during the U.S. Open.
“That would have been a really cool experience getting one of my parents out there to caddie,” he said. “I think they’re more excited than me even.”
John Augenstein hadn’t made many plans for the Par 3 Contest otherwise. His caddie for the tournament, William Kane, is a friend of Webb Simpson’s and there was talk of Augenstein joining Simpson’s group.
“Obviously it’s an incredible tradition that the Masters has,” he said. “It really is unfortunate that I’m not going to be able to experience it the first time.”
It’s perhaps the only disappointment there is about this week. Augenstein made five trips to Augusta National in preparation for the Masters. He took in the history with each trip, saw the Crow’s Nest (he won’t stay there during tournament week), the champions locker room and the clubhouse. He got the lay of the land – where his locker is, where to eat breakfast – and he studied the course.
There wasn’t a big revelation regarding the latter.
“In the fairway is obviously a premium at all times, being able to control the ball going into the greens is very important,” he said.
Augenstein has been polishing what he has, not necessarily learning new shots. He took note of all the sidehills, downhills and uphills and discovered where he’d need to shape the ball one way or another. Augenstein works with instructor Matt Killen, who has much experience preparing players for Augusta.
“Our practice plans, for eight to 10 months I’d say, have been very centered around large, curving shots,” he said. “Whether I’m in trouble and I need to hook an iron 35 yards or hit something over a tree, under a tree, around a tree, whatever it is. Really, really working on distance, shape and height.”
Andy Ogletree, the man who defeated Augenstein in the final match of the 2019 U.S. Amateur, had an easier time, perhaps, getting to Augusta National as a student at Georgia Tech. On Monday of Masters week, he relayed memories of the annual trip the Yellow Jackets got to take the Augusta. It was always a perfect morning, and one in which the first few holes passed in a fog.
Ogletree’s Par 3 Contest plans won’t come to fruition this year, but he referenced a scenario in which he would rotate family members through the afternoon, if it had happened.
“I have two brothers, so maybe let one of them caddie for three holes, the other caddie for three holes and my dad caddie for three holes or something,” he noted Monday.
For James Sugrue, the 2019 British Amateur champion, the Par 3 Contest was earmarked for his dad.
Sugrue will play the Masters, much as he did the U.S. Open, without much of a cheering squad. As it stands, his father Michael won’t even be on the grounds because his travel from Ireland to the U.S. was deemed non-essential.
Regardless, it’s Augusta National, and Sugrue will soak in the full experience. He had never seen the course until this week and planned a single night’s stay in the Crow’s Nest, the lodging typically reserved for amateurs on property.
“In my practice I’ve been doing a lot of practice on side lies and downhill and uphill and every sort of a lie but a flat lie,” Sugrue said.