AUGUSTA, Ga. – Abraham Ancer’s first impression of Augusta National has a familiar ring: “I’m in heaven, man.”
The butterflies first hit Max Homa as he approached the gates on Washington Road.
“Magnolia Lane to me, it looked a lot smaller than I thought it would,” said Homa on his “Get A Grip” podcast with Shane Bacon. “But once you break through the trees to the front that everyone’s seeing with the picture, the logo and then the clubhouse, that felt brighter and bigger. I hate to be like the cheesy guy but … there was more volume to it. It just felt oddly satisfying to see. The building just seemed whiter; they pop more. It’s all the corny stuff you hear all the time.”
Homa didn’t want to sound corny, he said, but the cliches are all true. The 29-year-old UCLA grad told Rory McIlroy it felt like Disneyland. Homa admittedly stood in awe in the practice area watching Tiger Woods. Not because he hadn’t practiced alongside Woods before, but because he was next to Tiger Woods at Augusta National during the Masters.
“It was a million pinch-me moments in a day,” said Homa of his Monday debut.
There are 26 first-timers at the first-ever November Masters this week. Hopefully, no rookie will ever experience another week like it, given that there are no patrons and the Par 3 Contest was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no entourage either. Players are only allowed one designated coach and one guest. 2019 U.S. Amateur champ Andy Ogletree designated his dad as his coach (he’s not) and mom as his guest. He also brought grandma in for a special assignment.
“She’s the best cook I know,” said Ogletree. “We asked if she would come hang out, you know, just to give me a little more comfort back home at our house this week.”
Only three players in Masters history have won in their first attempt: Horton Smith (1934), Gene Sarazen (1935) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979).
But no other Masters has been anything like this one.
Colin Morikawa comes into his first Masters already a major winner. His comfort factor level is high, which is makes it easier to show up to a new place, even a place like Augusta National, and adapt quickly. The empty course – no grandstands, no ropes, no galleries – Morikawa believes might work to his advantage.
“I think I got very lucky showing up to the Masters in November this year, having no fans, because I was able to step on to No. 1 this morning and just go out and play golf,” said PGA champ Morikawa on Monday. “I didn’t have to look at the fans line the fairways or see the grandstands, wherever they might be. I saw the course for what it is.
“I think that’s going to be really beneficial, not just for this year, but for years forward. Yes, sight lines might change with grandstands, but to see it for what it is, very, very helpful.”
Matthew Wolff, like so many, grew up trying to make putts to win the Masters during contests with friends. His favorite memory watching the Masters came last year when Woods won on Wolff’s birthday, April 14. Wolff looks forward to a time when he can celebrate with his own special birthday round at Augusta.
This week’s Masters marks Wolff’s third major championship appearance after finishing runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau in September at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. While Wolff’s aim is to treat this week like any other tournament, the history at Augusta National and the past champions on the grounds makes that task nearly impossible.
That being said, he does feel that a quiet Masters plays to his advantage.
“Coming down the stretch with a one-shot lead,” said Wolff, “it’s definitely, in my opinion, I think it’s a little more relaxing coming down without, you know, thousands and thousands of fans sitting behind the green watching your every shot.”
While waiting for the green to clear on the 11th hole Monday, Homa stood in awe at the scene laid out before him. At last, he was living out a childhood dream.
Once the green cleared, however, he gripped an 8-iron and went to work.
It was like that all day, Homa said on his podcast, this back and forth between are-you-kidding-me moments and the familiarity of routine. Homa turned professional at the same time as Justin Thomas, who is now playing in his fifth Masters. The wait might have helped Homa to soak it in even more.
“It just felt like a little bit more of an appreciation for just being here,” said Homa, “while also being insanely motivated to be here for every Masters forever. … This is nuts.”