AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A stream of people young and older walked on a path along the driving range at Augusta National, most of them carrying bags from the golf shop, some of them taking home a prized trophy.
To their right was Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, smashing drivers into the horizon, one fueled by protein shakes and the other by his own brand of coffee.
More surprising was a Brooks Koepka sighting, considering he had surgery less than three weeks ago.
More than the first major of the year, Augusta has become a 10-day celebration at the home of the Masters.
It started with 82 of the best women amateurs from around the world, practicing on Friday and then competing on Saturday in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
On Sunday, the practice area and 18th green was buzzing with 80 kids from 30 states, Canada and France, ages 7 to 17 in the Drive, Chip and Putt national finals. Sam Udovich of Minnesota won the his age division (Boys 12-13), which he thought was pretty cool. Sweeter yet was Justin Thomas coming over to give him props.
“He just came over and said, ‘Hey, great job, congratulations.’ He was going to tee off in like two minutes, so it was great for him to say congratulations,” Udovich said.
Next to the first tee, one man had one hand on a merchandise bag and the other on his son’s shoulder as they watched Brendon Todd and Brian Harman rip tee shots.
“Save that bounce for the tournament,” Todd said to his fellow Georgia Bulldog.
By late afternoon, the focus shifted to the 88 players in the Masters and their pursuit of a green jacket. Thomas, the No. 2 player in the world who captured The Players Championship three weeks ago, is among the favorites. So is Jon Rahm, now with nothing but winning on his mind after his wife gave birth to their first child on Friday.
Dustin Johnson is the defending champion of a Masters that either feels like a long time ago or like yesterday. By the calendar, he won 140 days ago on Nov. 15, the first autumn Masters because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the colors of azaleas that were popping with colors, it can feel like November never happened.
“Now this looks like Augusta,” Match Play winner Billy Horschel said when he teed off.
Rory McIlroy, in pursuit of an elusive green jacket he needs to complete the career Grand Slam, was on the putting green. Mickelson played alone.
Also arriving in Augusta on Sunday was Koepka, the four-time major champion who plans to play this week. Koepka is not even three weeks removed from having surgery on his right knee from a dislocated knee cap and some ligament damage from a fall he took.
He missed the Honda Classic, The Players Championship and the Dell Match Play during some serious rehabilitation in California. Even without playing a tournament since a runner-up finish in the World Golf Championship in Florida, it wasn’t a dull March. He got engaged to Jenna Sims.
DeChambeau, meanwhile, had to do some math on the first tee, which is not unusual, except for these circumstances. He was playing with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson against a pair of Augusta National members, which included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
DeChambeau wanted to know how many strokes they would be giving.
“Condi negotiated it,” Watson replied.
It’s not unusual for members to play the course alongside the players. On Monday, the stage belongs to the best in the world. It’s all about the Masters.
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