It was a pretty vibrant day at the Masters in Thursday’s first rounds. We come into the competitive rounds with all of these swirling stories about who’s playing well and why they think this is finally their year. They have new swing elements, new clubs, new practice regimens or even whole new approaches to the playing the course.
They have felt their fortunes rising in their very bones, they’ve examined their past mistakes and learned from them and their games have finally come around; they’re just right there.
So at the end of the first day, an interesting exercise is to look at the top of the leaderboard and the bottom of the leaderboard for exceptions; “I didn’t expect him to be there.”
And nowhere was that more apparent than with the 14-year old Chinese amateur prodigy, Tianlang Guan. It was stunning when it was announced that this mere child was to become the youngest player to play in the Masters on the strength of his victory in the 2012 Asia Pacific Amateur.
No one ever thought a 14-year-old kid would win that and no one ever thought that a 14-year-old kid would tool around Augusta National in 1-over par, 73. It was supposed to be a nice, celebratory learning experience. Nobody really expected him to play well.
He had the pros shaking their heads at the fact that he did so spectacularly well given what everyone expected to happen. He made 5 bogeys and 4 birdies and nobody will be dismissing him on Friday.
To find another outlier, you have to look no further than the top of the leaderboard where Aussie, Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia are tied at 6-under 66. On the Tour since 2009, Leishman finally notched his first win at the Travelers in Hartford in 2012 all the while enjoying respectable million dollar years. But he’s had a tough time this year making just 5 of 9 cuts.
Sergio brings with him his standard man-child petulance cloaked in negativity and seems to never quite grasp why he can’t win a major. You wish for the best for him in hopes that he will finally throw those shackles off, but we…have…been…waiting! Perhaps this week.
England’s David Lynn had it to 5-under early in the day on his was to 6-under at the rate he was going. But he bogeyed 17 and settled for 4-under. (We also found out that he’s supposed to be very funny.)
2008 Masters winner, Trevor Immelman, has been out of the limelight for so long of late, it was a nice surprise to see him at 4-under with an easy, satisfied expression on his face.
1992 Masters winner, Fred Couples, at 53-years-old, was supposed to come out for a nice ceremonial tour of the hills and dales and instead fired a 4-under that he said he would have been happy with if he was 33.
It was a bit of a surprise that 2011 Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel, started off double bogey, par, bogey to be 3-over after 3. But he fought back with four birdies from there to finish at 1-under.
In many ways it was not a surprise that 3-time Masters winner, Phil Mickelson, inconsistently meandered around the grounds and finally posted a mere 1-under. “Mere,” because he always had that gleam in his eye as he talked about the Masters in the run up to the tournament. But in his mind he played so well, the gleam was even brighter and he was making “Phil the Thrill” kinds of noises about attacking those soft greens after the heavy overnight rains.
It was a surprise that Steve Stricker could only manage 1-over, but the eagle he made on 15 masked the five bogeys he began with on the front nine. With his new severely short schedule, we all hold our breath to see how this part-time approach will work out. It would be so great if this really good guy can indeed have his cake and eat it too.
It was a surprise that Keegan Bradley also could do no better that 1-over. But the good news there was that his card wasn’t that messy: 3 bogeys and 2 birdies clustered between the 5th and the 11th. Everything else was clean.
For as great as 2010 British Open Champion, Louis Oosthuizen’s swing is and as solid as his $3.5 million 2012 was, it’s a surprise that he finds himself at just 2-over and in danger of missing the cut.
Ian Poulter did his best to pump himself into a Ryder Cup-like trance wherein he fiercely and mindlessly went on to win this week. I like that he put it out there and went for it. But 4-over is not what any of us expected.
And I think we expected a lot more from Hunter Mahan, also at 4-over.
And finally, two last major surprises, Padraig Harrington and Nick Watney at 6-over. Harrington because he so meticulously planned for this Masters, enthusiastically going to San Antonio to keep the competitive juices flowing. And Watney because you would never expect a great player like him not to be able to stop making bogeys, 8 of them.
The point of this post is not to dismiss those who were unexpectedly successful on Thursday or to scorn those who were not.
The point is that in the game of golf, particularly as played at the highest level by the best players in the world, the game will sometimes take its boot off of your throat and you will finally realize the best in yourself. So don’t be surprised and play hard.
And on the other side, the many mysteries of your swing can finally congeal in your mind to the exclusion of anything else. So always work on a disaster plan that gets you back in the present as fast and solidly as possible. If you can’t keep the target and the shot in your mind as you play, survey where your mind is while you play.