If you’re confident in your pick for this year’s Masters, be sure to tell a few people so your well-earned bragging rights don’t draw rolling eyes from those who right now are in a quandary about who will be slipping on the green jacket in a couple of weeks.
You can go with the traditional favourites, but don’t discount a guy like Jimmy Walker, who is winning regularly this season, along with many others who could be first-time major winners when the upcoming proceedings at Augusta conclude.
“Look at Harris English and Patrick Reed’s obviously been playing really well, but when it comes right down to winning golf tournaments, you have to hit the shots and you have to control your emotions and you have to make putts,” said Graham DeLaet.
DeLaet falls into the category of conceivable first-time winners.this year. With five top-10 finishes in just nine events this season and a remarkable Presidents Cup performance last fall behind him, he’s been knocking on the door for his first win and sooner or later, it will open.
It would be a remarkable story, but it’s a little early to be talking about what he would have at the Champions dinner at next year’s Masters should he win this year. That was a question put to DeLaet during a teleconference with the media on Wednesday.
For one thing, he still has the Shell Houston Open from which he’ll depart for the Masters and it’s a golf course that he likes after tying for third there in 2010, so he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
Preparation is another important aspect of playing a legendary golf course such as Augusta, which he has never seen in competition and is still learning its greens and where to miss.
“That’s where the advantage comes from being around that course,” said DeLaet, who recently went on a scouting mission to Augusta.
“If you’ve been a guy like Freddy Couples who’s played there and played there well for the past 25 years, he’s had pretty much every shot and he knows where to miss and where not to miss and that’s a huge advantage out there,” he said.
On his recent visit, DeLaet took an Augusta caddie along with him in order to pick his mind in cool, damp conditions.
“First of all, it was pretty unbelievable driving up Magnolia Lane,” said DeLaet.
“We, unfortunately, had some pretty bad weather. It was drizzly rain and cold the first day and it was pretty tough on my body to swing in that kind of cold with that many layers on,” he said.
It wasn’t much different the second day.
“I was supposed to tee off at eight and it was 33 Farenheit, so I actually grabbed a couple of wedges and a putter and just walked the golf course, chipped and putted, because I knew it wasn’t going to be good for my body to play,” he said.
“It was still very worthwhile to go and to see the course and just to kind of get a little bit of a layout and kind of get the wow factor a little out of the way, but it was unfortunate that the weather didn’t cooperate a little bit better,” said DeLaet.
“It’s long. It was soft and cold when I was there. It was probably playing 8,500 yards it felt like. It’s a beast of a golf course. Having some length is a huge advantage around that place,” he added.
Length is something that DeLaet isn’t lacking. He’s currently tied for eighth in PGA Tour driving distance with a 304.1-yard average, but he’s already acknowledged knowing where to miss and other subtleties of the golf course will also be important once the fun begins.
“There are a couple of uncomfortable tee shots out there, the 18th being the most glaring. I mean, it’s pretty tight in through there,” he said.
“It’s probably a three wood off that tee, but I like to turn my three wood and it doesn’t really fit that shot and then, driver is a lot of club there and you almost have to cut it, so I’m going to have to kind of choose what kind of shot I’m going to go with on that hole,” said DeLaet.
“Obviously, it depends on the weather and the wind and course conditions and that kind of thing. Other than that, I feel like I have the shots off the tee for most of those holes,” he said.
“I was a little surprised at 14. I thought that was a lot more of a straightaway hole and you almost have to turn one over there, so that one, I’ll probably try to kind of hit a three wood draw, even though most guys hit driver,” he said.
“With my driver, I tend to work it a little bit left to right, so it doesn’t fit that shot shape very well. Other than that, I think those are the only two that I’ve really thought about that I have to kind of manufacture a little bit of something that I wasn’t really expecting going in,” he said.
DeLaet had seen Augusta on television. He remembers watching Mike Weir’s win in 2003 and celebrating with his dad. His first whirl around the venerable golf course forged a new memory.
“It was all I had expected and more,” he said.
“It seemed, like, fake to me, like it wasn’t real almost. It’s funny become I’ve seen obviously all the holes on TV and I felt like I knew the golf course going in, but at the same time, I don’t think I really realized how treacherous the greens are,” he said.
DeLaet plans on continuing his preparation upon arrival, hoping to play a practice round with Weir and pick the mind of a former champion, but Augusta will be an entirely different place than the one he remembers from his first visit.
The patrons will be buzzing around. He’s got buddies coming who will stay in one house and his family and his wife Ruby’s family will be staying in another. His potential to do something special at Augusta will likely draw media attention.
The wow factor that he spoke about has the potential to build throughout the week as he needs to get down to business in order to be ready for that first tee shot of his first Masters.
“I always get the jitters on the first tee. The most nerves I’ve ever felt on the first tee was at the Presidents Cup. I mean, my heart was racing for the first hole and a half there and so, I probably anticipate it being something like that (at Augusta),” said DeLaet.
“At the same time, I feel like because I’ve been through it once or twice kind of thing,with a couple of different majors, with the Presidents Cup. I kind of know what to expect,” he said.
“Going into the British Open last year, I remember not really knowing what to expect and how I was going to feel on that first tee when they announced my name,” he said.
This time, DeLaet knows what to expect, so that leaves him one step ahead of where he was at the British Open and even the Presidents Cup.
Whether it’s a big enough step to get fitted for a green jacket remains to be seen, but his forward progress to this point would have you believe that he’s quite capable.