Focus, but don't freak. It's only the Masters, the tournament you start thinking about before the Super Bowl and continue dreaming of during March Madness, the one your relatives, college buddies and corporate sponsors all gear up for, the one that works on your head like no other event. "You get starry-eyed," says David Toms, who eats up the event's famed pimento-cheese sandwiches along with the history, the dogwoods and azaleas, the caddies in white overalls and past champions with two-foot backswings, all of which contribute to the magic of Masters week. "But you have to keep calm, too, or you'll be gone by the weekend." Toms, 38, counts on routine--patterns of travel, practice, food, sleep and more--to get him through the least routine week of the spring. He will be "as ready as I can be" at Augusta, where he will rely on his wife, Sonya; his seven-year-old son, Carter; his caddie, Scott Gneiser; his agent, Dave Parker; and a maximum of 14 Krispy Kremes. Here's the plan.
On March 19 caddie Scott Gneiser drove his maroon Yukon SUV the 700 miles from his home in suburban Chicago to Indianapolis, Nashville and then Atlanta. The next day he finished the trip to Jacksonville, where he looped for Toms at the Players Championship. In previous years Toms's game plan had them backtrack from there to Atlanta for the BellSouth Classic, the last Tour event before the Masters; after that Gneiser would load Toms's luggage and golf bag, plus Gneiser's gear and some CDs, and the two of them would make the 21/2-hour drive to Augusta. Pass them on I-20, and you might hear the sounds of Kenny Chesney or Tim McGraw--Gneiser prefers classic rock, but the Louisiana-born Toms is country all the way.
This year the plan changed, thanks to an elementary school calendar in Shreveport, La. With second-grader Carter Toms's spring break coming during BellSouth week, David scheduled a week of vacation with Carter and Sonya in Florida. After a quick return to the Toms home in Shreveport, they plan to fly directly from there to Augusta on April 3, thanks to the fractional-ownership deal David has on a private jet.
April 4, 2005
While Gneiser pulls into town in his Yukon, Toms will be arriving at a minimansion on brick-paved Bransford Road, just south of Augusta National. The house belongs to a family named Hogan (no relation to Ben). Team Toms camps here every year, paying $6,000 for the week. It's an eight-minute drive from the Hogans' driveway to the back entrance of Augusta National, saving Toms the headaches of traffic on Washington Road.
Monday, April 4
Shortly after dawn, Toms will drive his wife's rental car to a strip mall and return with a jumbo box of glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. He has a weakness for them but controls it: "Two Krispy Kremes per day, that's my limit." Sonya will drive him to the course, where he'll play an early practice round (see Early Birds) and check off other tasks:
• Claim player ID. It's a Masters-logo pin with a number between one and 90 or so--based on how early he registers--which Toms will wear on his hat or visor all week.
• Arrange family IDs for Sonya and Carter. The photo badges give them access to the course and the clubhouse.
• Get keys to courtesy car. The Masters has a strict policy: gleaming white Cadillacs only. If you see one on Bransford Road and hear Kenny Chesney's voice, that might be Toms on his way home from the course.
If FootJoy has a shoe to debut, Toms will find a new pair (size 101/2) in his locker. The locker room is peaceful at Augusta, which allows only players and locker-room attendants. The latter come to know what the veterans like to eat, so before a practice round, Toms might find his favorite breakfast waiting: eggs, corned beef hash and sweet iced tea.
After his round he'll sign autographs on his way to the players' parking lot. Eight minutes after leaving the grounds he's back at casa Hogan for hugs and handshakes, music and barbecue. "There'll be relatives arriving, old college friends and other friends. My wife and mother-in-law will be cooking in the kitchen. My dad's probably taking charge of the grill, unless Rob Akins beat him to it." Akins is Toms's swing coach.
Tuesday, April 5
Toms typically spends a couple of hours on the range: an hour with full shots, an hour on the short game. He'll chat with other pros--they call him DT--and play a practice round later in the day. "If you make all your practice rounds early," he says, "how do you know how the course will play late on Sunday afternoon?" Out on the course he wants to get comfortable hitting draws and fades to 10-foot circles he has visualized on the greens. His short-game work involves honing chips and lag putts that move at varying speeds. "Everybody talks about how fast the greens are, but that's only on the slopes. On the flat areas they're the same speed as other courses we play."
Wednesday, April 6
The annual Par 3 Contest means hours of family fun on the 1,060-yard short course built by George Cobb and Masters cofounder Clifford Roberts. But the course is jinxed: No winner of the Par 3 has ever won that year's Masters, and Toms happens to be the Tiger of Masters Wednesday, with two Par 3 victories in the past four years. With his son, Carter, caddying for him, he often has such a good time that he forgets the score. "I'll look up and be five or six under," Toms says. "That tells you something--if you relax and have fun you can score without even trying." As for the jinx, he says it's not permanent. Ten Par 3 champs have won the Masters, they simply never did both in the same year. Still, if he has a putt to win on Wednesday, he may think about lipping it out.
Thursday, April 7
The day starts with breakfast in the clubhouse. Eggs and toast, but no hash to roil a stomach full of butterflies. And no tea--he'll be jazzed enough without caffeine. Toms will wear one of several "suggested" outfits Tommy Hilfiger Golf sent him. Outside Gneiser will stand at his prearranged post, a spot between the clubhouse and the range, dressed in the white overalls Masters caddies must wear. On warm days the caddies can boil in those jumpers, so some wear only underwear beneath. Gneiser adds at least a T-shirt. After half an hour in the fitness trailer, Toms warms up on the range and then heads for the tee.
Gneiser hands his man a Pro V1. "We always start with a ball numbered 1 or 3," the caddie says. "I carry 2s and 4s, too--David won't play balls numbered 5 or up." For Toms good golf is about rhythm and routine. He tried medium-length yellow tees at the Match Play; they worked, so he stuck with them. The same goes for food, shoes, clothes, even which side of the bed he sleeps on. If Gneiser mentions LSU sports on the 1st hole and LSU alum Toms makes a birdie, they may trade purple-and-gold trivia all day.
Friday, April 8
If Toms misses the cut, he'll blow town ASAP. Still, he won't miss the spectacle: Even if he's not playing, Toms watches the weekend rounds on TV. And he'll get a paycheck no matter what--a literal paycheck. At the Masters, even cut victims get a token $5,000, and unlike regular Tour prize money, which is direct-deposited into players' bank accounts, the Masters mails out real paper checks complete with that famous logo. The club also ships out "the crystal" that players prize: a crystal vase for each day's low score, a pair of goblets for an eagle, a jumbo bowl for an ace. Toms won a vase for his Sunday 64 in 1998 and goblets for an eagle in '99.
In the likelier event that he makes the cut, he can celebrate a bit on Friday night--bring on the iced tea!--and sleep a little later the next morning. Even players who make the cut on the number roll to the tee no earlier than 11 a.m. on Saturday.
Saturday & Sunday, April 9 & 10
By Saturday the Hogan house will be, in Toms's word, "roaring." Sonya does double duty as hostess and hubbyguard. Greeting guests, making sure everyone knows everyone else and gets enough to eat and a minute with David, she shields him from most of the havoc. "She'll say, 'Let's go out back for some quiet time. You can decompress, watch a movie.'" Lucky for Toms the master bedroom is a perfect Masters bedroom, sealed off from the rest of the house. It's quiet back there; he can hear himself think. Mike Weir found a different solution one year: After renting a house for his family and friends, he stayed in a hotel. But Toms enjoys the hubbub, as long as he can slip away. One of his favorite escapes is playing catch with Carter.
"Throwing a baseball with my son--that's a good time," he says. "On Friday and Saturday evening you want to relax. If you're dreading a hole or a shot, it helps to occupy your mind with something else. But at the same time, you need to think about the tournament. To see it happening. To win you need to picture yourself winning--I totally believe in that. So if I'm in contention on Saturday night, you know what I'll be doing."
On Sunday morning Toms will take his time getting dressed. He'll picture the day from 1st tee to 18th green, right down to the clothes he'll have on. Remember those "suggested" Masters-week outfits from Tommy Hilfiger? There's a shirt for Sunday that would look great with a green jacket.
For a typical Tour event Toms arrives on Monday or even Tuesday. He will hit Augusta on Sunday evening, April 3. He'll be on the course by eight o'clock the next morning. "That moment--the Monday practice round--is one of the highlights of the year," he says. "I don't start super early; I'm not like Tiger, going out before the people show up. To me the fans are a big part of an exciting day. There's a huge, happy crowd getting up close, taking pictures. They love it, and so do you."
Another reminder: no extra shots. One Monday, after 1993 Masters champion Bernhard Langer got away with a couple of reloads, Toms tried it. An official pulled him aside: "Mr. Toms, we have a rule here. One ball."
"You feel like they're hiding behind trees, watching you," Toms says. "They want you to think, This is the Masters--a tournament that's above the players. I like that. This is the Masters, and it's special."
What's In the Bag?
Toms will arrive with 18 or 19 clubs in his bag, but it's not a Woosie moment. He'll bring a backup driver, an extra putter or two to try out, maybe a new wedge if one of the old ones is wearing out. During practice rounds he also carries a stretching pole (a telescoping stick that helps work out kinks in his back). By Thursday he'll stow the pole in his locker and get down to 14 clubs, plus:
• One dozen Titleist Pro V1 balls (numbers 1--4 only)
• About 100 tees
• One dozen Titleist gloves (he wears a new one each round)
• Pouch for his wallet and watch
• Strip of sandpaper to roughen grips
• Bottled water (cold)
• Two or three packets Amino Vital powdered sports drink
• Two or three nutrition bars
• Extra towel
• Extra tube of sunscreen (SPF 45)
• Umbrella and golf-bag rain hood
• Short- and long-sleeved rain shirt and pants
• Several quarters, dimes and pennies (Toms marks his ball only with coins, but never nickels)
• Duck call stamped with the LSU logo (an avid duck hunter, Toms sometimes practices his quack on the course)
TOMS ON ...
The lengthening of Augusta National
They're limiting the number of guys who can win, making things hard for the moderate to short hitter."
His goal next week
In my first few Masters I was glad simply to be there. Now I'm going to try to win."
His favorite spot
I love the 13th tee. There are azaleas around the tee box and no people. It's only the players, a couple of ball spotters and an official, plus maybe a cameraman. You have thousands of people on the course and millions watching on TV, but you're in this fine, quiet little spot, hitting a shot in seclusion."
My son wants a Masters T-shirt. Heck, I want a T-shirt