For Times golf writer Scott Hanson, Thursday at the Masters was the worst best day of his life.
Editor’s note: Times golf writer Scott Hanson is covering the Masters as part of our coverage leading up to the U.S. Open, which will be played June 18-21 at Chambers Bay in University Place.
Augusta National took me down to my (arthritic) knees Thursday.
That’s what this course can do to you if you have a poor game plan — golfer and writer alike.
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Thursday was the worst best day of my life. If that makes no sense, let me explain.
My plan Thursday was to walk 27 holes. I would follow 65-year-old legend Tom Watson in the morning, then after taking a break, follow Seattle native Fred Couples. It was an ambitious plan, but I did not want to be like many golf writers who never leave the media room. If I am at Augusta National, I want to be part of it.
I am in decent shape for 51, and have no trouble walking 18 holes. But in retrospect, the plan was idiotic. I didn’t take into account the temperatures in the high 80s and humidity around 2,000, the interminably long rounds and the significant elevation changes.
Following Watson for nine holes was a treat. He was even-par through the nine holes I watched, then finished at 1 under, the oldest player in the history of the event to finish below par.
Couples teed off at about 1:30, at the peak of the heat, and he wasn’t playing well. I was tiring badly, my bum knees were starting to really hurt and I could tell that despite wearing sunscreen, I was getting burned. I was tempted to go back to the media center after Couples finished nine holes, but I wanted to see the back nine (after seeing the front nine twice) and a plan is a plan.
But after Couples bogeyed 10 and 11, I decided to end the fight. I was now getting blisters on the bottoms of both feet, my knees were locking up and the rest of my legs were just plain sore. But just as I was leaving, I saw Jordan Spieth, one group ahead, birdie the 12th hole for his fourth birdie in five holes. That put him at 6 under an a chance to do something very special. I just had to follow him, my knees and legs be damned.
I saw him birdie the next two holes to get to 8 under. I knew he had a good chance to shoot a 62 and break the major scoring record of 63. I wasn’t going to quit watching, not with that at stake. But even when he made a bogey on the 15th to likely end that quest, I kept on going. I wanted to sit, but was worried that if I did, I might never be able to get up again.
In the one marathon I ran, my legs started cramping badly at mile 20, but something in me made me keep going despite the pain: that it would be worth it in the end. That was exactly how I felt Thursday. At the 18th hole, twice I started to walk early to the clubhouse, thinking I could watch Spieth’s last couple of shots on TV, but each time something pulled me back and I was about 10 yards away when he closed out his round with a birdie.
I had watched a 65-year-old make history, and a 21-year-old finish off one of the best rounds in Masters history, and I didn’t sit down once. I couldn’t sleep last night because my legs hurt so much, but it was worth it. Today, I will park my rear in the stands, where I can see the par-3 16th and approach shots into the par-5 15th.
And eventually I will recover.
It is nothing that two knee replacements and a two-week spa vacation can’t fix.