Golf

Tiger’s belief, Spieth’s wrist, Rory’s texts: 9 secrets shared at the Masters

Pinehurst #10 opened this week. Want to play it?
Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth are entering this Masters in very different states.
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National Golf Club would never publicly acknowledge its relationship with the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, host of an ever-popular tournament called The Championships, Wimbledon. It does exist though. 
You can see it in the pastel flowers, the manicured turf, the sponsors of the tournament, the high-standing reputations of the clubs. (There’s even one member of both clubs.) You can also see it in their press conference rooms. They both slope downward with big steps. The leather seats are green and they sit there, in position, year-round. It’s been rumored (and reasonably so) that the folks at Wimbledon even visited ANGC on special purpose to check out how Augusta does press conferences. 
The result? A new Wimbledon media “theater” in 2023 that looks extremely like what we’ve got here in Georgia. 
Why would they do that? Because Augusta National does media right. It’s comfy in that Masters interview room. There’s a row of azaleas that ring the foot of the podium. It feels like a library, with its dark, hardwood desks and soft lighting. In other words, it’s a fantastic place to spend a cloudy, drizzly Tuesday. Like, my entire Tuesday, when nine of the best golfers in the world showed up, on their own, on time, to share their thoughts ahead of the year’s first major.
Here are nine things learned via press conferences that we had never heard before.
McIlroy was scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. press conference Tuesday, but was seated at the front of the room at 12:22. Most players are never early, but McIlroy was obviously in a rush. An ANGC member moderates every press conference, always starting the show with a question of their own, but this one didn’t bother. He immediately kicked the honor to the room that was still filling up. And while most press conferences last at least 20 minutes, McIlroy’s was abruptly cut short at less than 11 minutes. Everyone was properly confused. 
McIlroy had just arrived on site for the first time all week — which is to say, later than basically everyone — and clearly had better places to be. But rarely do players rush Augusta National through official Masters engagements. This felt very odd. 
McIlroy was asked about his recent visit to see swing coach Butch Harmon. The two aren’t working together in any official capacity (and by official we mean contracted), but McIlroy said they speak regularly. As in they text on a daily basis. It feels like a bit more of a relationship than we’d heard about before, and certainly more than most relationships players have with coaches they don’t employ. But as McIlroy pointed out, Harmon has quite the track record:
“He’s part sort of psychologist, part swing coach. Like I always joke about you spend four hours with Butch and you go away with two swing tips and 30 stories. But you always go away hitting the ball better than when you came.”
… but there’s more to it. You have to read between the lines in every Woods press conference. In the past, when asked if he could win, he has been forthright and brief, saying that he’s in the field because he thinks he can win. On Tuesday, Woods worded it a bit differently:
“If everything comes together, I think I can get one more,” Woods said. He stopped there, until it was implied he should continue. 
“Do I need to describe it any more than that, or are we good?”
No more needed! Because the word everything is doing plenty of work. 
That wrist injury that hampered Jordan Spieth in 2023? It hasn’t completely gone away. He admitted to the press room that he aggravated it earlier this year in Hawaii and also again last week in San Antonio. 
“It’s an ECU tendon issue,” Spieth said, that flares up for 24 hours. He says he understands what he can/cannot do with the injury during these moments, but the injury hasn’t been eradicated entirely. Which makes you wonder: 
Should pro golf have injury reports like other sports do, to help inform fans and gamblers and storytellers? This is a good week for that discussion. Thanks, Jordan. 
Much has been made of the Champions Dinner menu Rahm has prepared with Chef José Andrés. It’s very Spanish, includes odes to multiple Rahm family members, and has been almost universally praised in anticipation. His countryman Sergio Garcia is very excited for it. 
Rahm is nervous. Perhaps because of the fact that he has to give a speech to the greatest assembly of golf talent in one room. 
“It is quite daunting to think about the room you’re going to be in and having to stand up and talk to that group of players, right. I mean, it’s basically all the living legends in this game, active and non-active. Everybody who’s been somebody in this game is there. So as wonderful as it is to be a part of, it’s still, yeah, a little nerve-wracking for sure.”
For the last 12 months, Rahm has been allowed to keep the jacket in his possession, not the club’s possession like all other green jackets must be kept. And now that he has to turn it back in, Rahm feels like he didn’t wear it enough. He admitted to keeping it in a very visible place in his closet so he could see it often, whenever he walked by, but now it’s out of his hands.
Unless he wins again this week. 
Seriously. 
Hovland has been battling some up-and-down form early in 2024, a dip from the peak of peaks he saw winning the FedEx Cup last year and leading Europe to win the Ryder Cup. The golf he played then, he says, feels like a bit of a blackout, where there are no thoughts that impede your golf. No swings that feel off. Golf is simple. 
“That’s obviously the end goal when you play this game, is that you show up and you go through your routine and there’s almost, like, a blackout,” he said. “You just react to what you’re doing and you see the shots, and the ball flight translates into what you’re seeing. That’s the goal. When you’re not doing that, you have to obviously work to get there.”
He is currently working to get there. 
Writers sit back and watch press conferences all the time, wondering when to speak up themselves. At Augusta, you raise your hand and wait your turn to be called on, hopeful that your query will earn a thoughtful response. It’s generally a pretty predictable experience. But when Brooks Koepka is behind the mic, who knows what will happen. 
He’s been revealing, antagonistic, pouty, considerate, secretive, etc., but in almost every instance, it’s entertaining. As evidenced again Tuesday. Koepka was asked a simple, even topical question — by GOLF.com’s Alan Bastable, for the record — that must ring around golf fans’ minds at times: in the absolute best scoring conditions, could a pro shoot 59 at Augusta National during the Masters? 
“Have you played here?” Koepka rebutted, indignant at the idea, his eyebrows raised. It wasn’t a rhetorical question. He waited for a response. 
Bastable’s reply: “Not yet.”
“I can tell by the question,” Koepka said, sitting back in his chair. Enough said. 
It was amazing how content and comfortably Scottie Scheffler was during his press conference. While other players constantly have some form of angst to deal with (Rory, Jordan, Tiger, Rahm, Viktor — everyone above!), Scheffler is so relaxed. So relaxed he told a great story about the time on a course he was most nervous, back in the final round of qualifying school.
“Going into the last round at final stage, I was well inside the number, and I just needed to not play bad to get through. And that’s kind of a weird spot to be, especially when you’re playing for your career, essentially, you’re playing for that whole next year, and it’s important to be able to get through that qualifying school.
“I did not play well for 16 holes, and I was maybe like even par, and I’m just getting lapped out there. It was a pretty easy golf course. And I’m looking up at the board, and I’m like, Man, I got to birdie one of these last two holes. And I birdied the 17th hole. It was a reachable par-5. Had a nice up-and-down, made a good 4 or 5-footer. Hit the fairway on 18. Kind of settled down. I got a wedge, a middle pin, stock number, slight upslope, not a hard shot. Shot I’d hit the green 95 times out of 100 if that’s what I’m trying to do.
“I hit one of the worse wedge shots I’ve ever hit in my life, long left of the green. My stock number usually goes about 130, I hit it 150. And I’m standing there looking at this chip shot I have, and instead of just being able to hit the green and 2-putt, all of a sudden I’m long of the green, I have this really hard chip off a down slope, down towards the green. The green’s on a down slope, it’s a fast chip, and I’m standing over it.
“And that was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been. I did my best to calm down, and I hit a good chip and got up-and-down. But that to me was the most nervous I’d been, just because you’re just kind of getting into your career and you’re playing for a whole year worth of tournaments. And if I don’t get that ball up-and-down, I got to go back to playing the mini tours, essentially.”
What a scary thought for mini tour pros. 

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.
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