First-timers are welcome at the Masters as long as they don't
make trouble. They are expected to be both awed and bloodied by
Augusta, and to contribute to its sinister charm. They are
certainly not expected to win. To do that, a player must be
either wildly presumptuous, like Fuzzy Zoeller, or wildly
talented, like Gene Sarazen. Zoeller (1979) and Sarazen (1935)
are the only rookies to have donned the green jacket, and
Sarazen won in the tournament's second year.
But the novices who came to Augusta last week were emboldened by
their numbers. Of the 93 players in the field, 19 were making
their first appearance. The profusion was due in part to the
weird recent streak on the PGA Tour: In one five-week span
starting in early March, four players got into the Masters field
by winning PGA Tour events. To put it in perspective, the field
included almost as many first-timers as former champions (20).
A naive optimism took hold among the rookies. Maybe they could
buck tradition and challenge for the title. "Sure, one of those
guys could win," said John Daly, who claimed his first victory
at the 1991 PGA Championship after getting in as the ninth
alternate. "They don't care about history or who won in
19-whatever, and neither do I. Magnolia Lane is just another
road, and I sure as hell don't get any chills driving up it,
unless I got my windows down."
The problem is, Magnolia Lane is not just another road, and
Augusta National is not just another course. Augusta chastens
the inexperienced and the insolent more harshly than any other
par-72 in creation. Of the boxcar of rookies who came to the
Masters last week, only four made the 36-hole cut. Alexander
Cejka and Jim Furyk were just happy to be around for the
weekend. But David Duval tied for the low round on Saturday,
shooting a three-under 69, and finished 18th. Scott McCarron,
winner of the Freeport McDermott Classic in New Orleans in late
March, shot three rounds of par or better and was 10th. He spent
most of the tournament on the leader board, valiantly defying
convention and suggesting that he might be the next John Daly,
only with manners.
There is a good reason why rookies do not win at Augusta: It's
too hard for them. As Paul Goydos, who got his invite by winning
the Bay Hill Invitational in March, put it, "I don't have enough
game for this place yet." A greenhorn would do better to listen
to Phil Mickelson instead of Daly. "When I first came here I
felt like I should be firing at every pin," says Mickelson, who
was playing in his fourth Masters. "Now I might fire at a pin in
a certain spot, but firing at a pin means maybe eight feet left
of it so that I have an uphill putt."
The rookie who proved to be a good listener fared better than
some of his peers. Cejka, the charismatic young German by way of
Marienbad, Czechoslovakia, played an exhaustive practice round
with two-time champion and fellow countryman Bernhard Langer.
Langer demonstrated all the circuitous paths the ball could take
on and around the greens. "He showed me some crazy chips and
putts," Cejka says. So many, in fact, that it took the twosome 8
1/2 hours to get around the course. But the lesson served Cejka
well: He was even par after 36 holes, before blowing up on the
weekend, when he shot 78-80.
Paul Stankowski wishes he had paid more attention. He was the
last player to qualify, getting an invitation on April 7 after
winning the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta. He blamed himself for
not asking more questions of Larry Mize and Scott Simpson during
practice rounds. He was sent packing after shooting 74-78.
The combination of nervous exhaustion from winning in Atlanta
and the adrenaline rush of Augusta was too much. Friday, on the
6th hole, Stankowski passed a note to his wife, Regina, asking
if she wanted to take a week off. She nodded.
Before he left, however, Stankowski did some sightseeing. Using
a disposable camera he bought after winning in Atlanta, he took
a picture of the road sign on Interstate 20 pointing to Augusta.
He took a picture of the front gate of Augusta National. He took
a picture of the members only sign. He took a picture of the
azaleas and the dogwoods. And he went into the gift shop and
bought himself a commemorative glass. Then he scooped some sand
out of a bunker and filled the glass with it. "I'll probably be
arrested," he said. "But you never know. I might never be back.
I mean, I got goose bumps coming up 18 even when I was
Beneath his equanimity, McCarron was just like the rest of them,
another tenderfoot thrilled to be there. When McCarron and his
wife, Jennifer, took their first drive down Magnolia Lane,
Jennifer hung out of the car window, snapping pictures. "Honey,"
Scott said, "get back in the car, or I'm going to be
One of the first things McCarron did when he entered the locker
room was kiddingly thank Mark O'Meara. O'Meara had three-putted
from 20 feet at the final hole of last October's Las Vegas
Invitational. That gave McCarron solo third place and allowed
him to keep his Tour card without having to return to qualifying
school, which gave him the opportunity to win in New Orleans,
which guaranteed his first Masters invitation.
McCarron did his homework. One of his best friends is Brian
Henninger, who last year in his Masters debut was tied for the
lead after three rounds before finishing 10th. "A lot of us are
saying, 'Heck, if he can do it, I can do it,'" said McCarron,
who played practice rounds with Henninger and Ben Crenshaw. He
noted pin positions and got the feel of playing before the large
galleries. "Truthfully, I was more nervous in the [Monday]
practice round," McCarron said. "We must have had 40,000 people
He learned about the long and short of Augusta. Through three
rounds he led the field in driving distance, at 316 yards, and
he displayed amazing touch with his 49-inch putter. And by
virtue of their top-24 finishes, McCarron and Duval have already
secured invitations to the 1997 Masters.
Still, trying to decipher the intricacies of Augusta National
drained McCarron. At the famed par-3 12th, for instance, he
never determined which way the breeze was blowing. "All I could
figure," he said, "was clockwise."
In the end McCarron acknowledged he has a lot more to learn
about Augusta. "Basically," he said, "I still feel like I'm at a
party without an invitation."
At least Jennifer will know to keep her head in the car in '97.