Keith Mitchell has attended the Masters four or five times, and he has played Augusta National five times through friends, his time playing at Georgia or a practice round when he qualified by winning the Honda Classic.
None of that prepared him for Monday.
“I was nervous just simply walking across the range,” Mitchell said. “And then I started hitting some putts and some balls, and I started feeling better. But this place is just magical for anyone and everyone.”
Mitchell is among 17 players making their Masters debut this week, which includes the six amateurs. Every one has watched it on TV and has dreamed of playing. Perhaps it was actually attending the tournament that made it different for Mitchell.
“I’ve seen that range from the other side of the ropes before, and I’ve always watched people and admired how they hit the shots and hit their wedges and the shapes of the drivers,” he said. “And then I was the guy that people were watching. I think it’s just kind of neat seeing it from the other side.”
But that begs the question: Were they actually watching him?
“No,” Mitchell said with a laugh before adding: “I felt they were. I wanted them to.”
His goal this week is to feel like he belongs, which is more about shedding the awe. Mitchell already has taken his place in golf by beating Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler with a birdie on the last hole to win the Honda Classic.
“I still kind of feel like a rookie and still feel just kind of in awe of the place, and I hope that never goes away,” he said. “But at the same time, I want to be more comfortable inside the ropes out here. That’s tough, because only experience and time can change that. … Everybody is saying, ‘Enjoy your first trip, soak it in, have fun.’ I’m trying. But I’m also playing in one of the biggest tournaments in the world, and you want to play well.”
Rickie Fowler knows he can play well on the weekend with a major championship on the line. What is still missing is a celebration after the final shot.
Fowler returns to Augusta National brimming with confidence after shooting 65 and 67 over the last two rounds of the 2018 Masters.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough to overtake Patrick Reed, who held on for a one-stroke victory and his first major title.
“Just have to do one better,” Fowler said Monday.
At age 30, he is eager to break through with his first championship in one of golf’s signature events. Though he has also had runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open and British Open, as well as a tie for third at the PGA Championship, Fowler believes Augusta might be his chance for major No. 1.
“I love this place just because of how much it allows you to use your imagination,” he said. “I can putt well around here. I love putting these greens.”
Fowler was asked if he had any regrets about last year’s close call.
“I left it all there,” he replied. “It would have been nice if there was one more hole, when it was all said and done, but no, I hit the shots that I wanted to.”
Mark Broadie, the Columbia professor behind the “strokes gained” statistics on the PGA Tour that rank players compared with the rest of the field, produced some analyses about the Masters that confirm it’s a test unlike any other.
In an article for golf.com, Broadie writes that players make 2% more of their 6-foot putts at Augusta National — a high figure — compared with typical PGA Tour events, mainly because the greens are so manicured that they roll true.
“Players sink more putts inside 10 feet at Augusta than anywhere else,” he wrote.
However, Broadie said over the last four years Augusta National has the highest three-putt rate of any PGA Tour event — 5.4%, compared with the average PGA Tour rate of 3 percent.
He also looked at proximity to the hole on shots from 125 to 200 yards. Augusta National ranked No. 1 in difficult, with players averaging 31 feet from the hole, compared with 26 feet as the PGA Tour average.
“Put another way,” Broadie writes, “Masters competitors leave shots as close to the pin from 150 yards as players do on all other Tour venues from 170 yards.”
NBC Sports says it received a .96 overnight rating for its coverage from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where Jennifer Kupcho played her final six holes in 5-under par to win.
It was the highest-rated amateur golf telecast — men or women — in 16 years, dating to the 2003 U.S. Amateur championship match that got a 1.36 overnight rating.
The tournament began with a GOLF Films short titled, “When I Grow Up, I Want To …,” which the network says has nearly 1 million views on social media.
AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry contributed to this report.