In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Robert MacIntyre reflects on what you learn as a rookie and how he’s feeling ahead of his second appearance at the Masters.
There are quite a lot of things you learn when you come here and play in The Masters for the first time as a rookie, and I’m excited to be back. Obviously I didn’t know what to expect last year, and for me it was a dream come true just to get here. Then when I arrived I liked the golf course, it suited my eye and everything felt good, and to play as well as I did was the icing on the cake.
There’s a lot of things you take away from your first experience, but one of those things for me was realising that playing here at Augusta National is not something I will ever take for granted. It’s the most special golf course I’ve ever been to in my life. I think it’s because you don’t get to play it much. Being Scottish, I’ve played The Old Course, St Andrews so many times. This is a golf course you don’t get to go to, you don’t get to see. From where I’m from, how I’ve been brought up, I wouldn’t have got on the grounds at Augusta if I wasn’t playing or caddying.
I also think that’s why finding out after I finished last year that I had qualified for this year’s tournament was so incredible. I remember finding out when I got in and speaking to Sky Sports, it was like ‘you’re 12th right now’, and I was thinking you might get back here if you stay in this position. Then we stood inside with the members watching two TVs: One was on the leaders, and one was on the 18th green. Brian Harman had about a 20-footer that would stop me from qualifying for this year, and I just stood there and prayed. When he missed it I just came charging out, and my family were standing out just in the corner there. It was just a dream come true.
And although I’m excited to be back, I have felt a little more relaxed this time around than I was as a rookie. I went on the range today 20 minutes before I was meant to meet Sandy Lyle. Last year with it being my first visit I’d have been there hours before, checking out the whole place. This time round I rocked up, jumped out the car, put my shoes on and went off to the range. Hit 20 shots then met Sandy on the putting green. It was the most chilled out it could have been. It was like I was playing Glencruitten with my pals at home. It sounds daft but that’s the way it was.
I like to keep things the same, so I don’t prepare any different for this week than I do on normal DP World Tour events, and I’ve also kept it the same off the course this year too. We’re in the same house. My family are out here. Mum is cooking us way too much food. To have everyone out here is a no brainer for me because I play better when I have my family and friends here, and it helps me because I come back from golf and don’t think about golf. I’ve even got the PlayStation set up in the room!
Coming into this week I also feel a lot more prepared about how to play this course. I definitely learnt a lot last year, and I think the biggest thing is knowing where you can miss it, especially on the Sunday. The tucked pins, even for some of the easier holes like 16, make you think you can be aggressive at it, but if you miss it ten yards right of your target you leave yourself with a downhill putt needing to hole a six foot putt for par. It’s just little things like that. They save a lot of the tough pins for Sunday and it sucker punches you if you miss.
I’ve also brought my old yardage book from last year, my caddie Mike has brought his old book and between us we know the course better. Even just that small thing means we’ll have less work to do before Thursday which is nice because it’s a long week, especially if you can get into contention Sunday.
That being said, I think everyone has their own ideas on how to play at Augusta, and most players don’t give too much away. When I played the back nine with Sandy during practice, he was talking about hitting bin lids, about picking areas and not getting overly aggressive. But as individuals we have to do what’s right for us, and the way I play is different - I’m very aggressive and go after shots. I think my scores and results show that. I just like to attack. There’s always going to be ups and downs and that’s just the way it's going to be.
I think another thing people maybe don’t realise until they’ve actually been here and played, is the amount of blind shots you have at Augusta. You’re hitting over slopes and mounds. You can’t see your target. It’s a lot to do with trust and committing to your line. It’s also to do with hitting off uneven lies - down slope, up slope, sideways lies. With those shots there is a focus on managing your body and not just hitting shots. You have to move the golf ball at Augusta, shape shots more than normal instead of stepping up and smashing it. You have to create angles to pins and play smart. That’s something I grew up dealing with at Glencruitten. The course is also up and down a hill so I’m familiar with that. I think that’s where the comparisons between Glencruitten and Augusta stop though; Glencruitten has three green keepers, Augusta probably has 200!
This year, there’s a few subtle changes to the golf course that I’ve picked up from playing. The tee box at 11 has been lowered down and moved further back. They’ve cleared out the right-side trees there too so there is more room for your drive, which also means that you’ve got a shot from the trees there now instead of maybe laying up short of the green. Down on the green there’s a bigger run off on the right side which makes the miss on the right harder, and on 15 pushing the tee back means we’ll have a couple longer irons into that green now which makes it tougher.
But my game is in good shape, and I’m playing a lot better than last year too. I was nervous last year and I had played probably more leading up to it, but this year we’ve had to pull back a little bit on what we were playing to get into certain events.
I played last week and played great though – other than a blip during my third round. I actually don’t know what happened there other than I didn’t have my ice cream the night before, but I’ve been playing great tee to green the last couple of weeks. And I just went out on Sunday, last Sunday there, and did the exact same things and played well.
I’m just hoping that the weather doesn’t come in too bad and it can stay firm which would suit me. But the game is in good shape, so I just need to put four rounds together.