Illinois golfer Brad Benjamin ready to take on Augusta
Brad Benjamin spent four months learning the course at Augusta National, then learned it all anew this past week.
And he plans to learn it again when The Masters begins today.
Benjamin, an amateur from Rockford, played the course nine times since December. Then six more times the last six days.
“I look at it from how I played it the first time around to now, and you feel you are the caddy at this point,” Benjamin said after his final practice round Wednesday.
Except the course has played far shorter the last six days than the first nine times the 23-year-old Guilford graduate played here. And he expects it to be even faster and shorter when the tournament begins.
“That was the only downside to playing the practice rounds,” he said. “You could only prepare so much. It was more or less to learn the layout, not the conditions.
“When I played Friday, that was my first round back here in two and a half weeks, and we finally got some warm weather. Every hole was playing a club, a club and a half, shorter. Which is huge.
“On some of these holes you never get a flat lie. On 9, I was hitting a 5-iron or 6-iron in. Today, it was an 8-iron. No. 10 was the same way. During the spring, I was hitting a 4-iron or 5-iron. You hit a good drive now, you can hit maybe a 6-iron, which off that downhill lie you can manage. The course is playing so much different. It’s good for me in the sens that I don’t hit it real long and now I’m getting some help from the fairways. But at the same time, it makes the greens more difficult.”
Benjamin said he is lucky to be paired with two-time Masters champ Bernard Langer and 25-year PGA Tour veteran Scott Verplank in the opening two rounds.
“Langer is one of those guys who knows his way around the track,” Benjamin said. “And Verplank is a veteran who plays real similar to the way I need to play – short and straight and be a good putter. I can definitely learn a lot from those two guys.”
Spartan living quarters
Benjamin said staying in the famed Crows’ Nest above the clubhouse with the other Masters amateurs is both glamorous and basic.
“It feels like the dorm life back in college – small bed, not a whole lot of space,” Benjamin said. “But you know what it means to stay up there. There have been so many players. It’s something special. I might never be up there again. Hopefully, the next time I come, I’m a professional. That would be a dream.”
Conquering his nerves
A dozen practice rounds didn’t prepare Benjamin from playing in front of thousands of fans, but the last three have.
“Monday was really, really nerve-wracking for me,” he said. “I was more nervous on the putting green than I was for the first tee. Getting used to that is the biggest part of the (practice) week. I felt comfortable yesterday and comfortable again today (Wednesday). I had no nerves today walking out on the putting green. You know you are playing for just fun today, but it’s nice to know you are getting comfortable with the crowd and the atmosphere.”
Playing it safe
The one thing Benjamin has learned the most about Augusta National is to not force things.
“I’ve found the more aggressive I play, the worse I do,” he said. “Shots I back off on and play a little more conservative tend to work out better.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 firstname.lastname@example.org.