That’s the first full Masters tournament I’ve been involved with since Tiger’s win in 2019 – I only managed the weekend last year so it was joyous to be back for the whole nine yards.  Actually, I learned the origin of that expression *the whole nine yards” from Sirius XM Director Jeremy Davis this week.  It dates back to the mid 1800s and the first rapid-fire machine gun, the Gatling, which had a belt of cartridges fed through it, producing continuous fire without reloading.  When the spent belt was ejected it measured nine yards, hence the term:  giving something the whole nine yards.  That’s certainly what repeat champion Scottie Scheffler (top) gave the tournament.  But I digress.

There is so much to enjoy at Augusta National and so much to marvel at and to be present for the whole week, only donning a waterproof jacket for extra warmth at the end of a long Friday, was an added bonus.  On Monday, Fred Albers, one of my Sirius colleagues, introduced me to Scheffler’s parents, who had come over to chat with him during one of Scottie’s practice rounds.  It’s easy to see why the world No 1 is so grounded and likeable because his Mum and Dad are the easiest people in the world to chat to.  I asked them if they’d be over at Troon (which they’ve never visited) for the Open but they think that’s unlikely.  Not only is Scottie’s baby due very soon, one of his sisters is about to produce and the other sister has a two-year old.  They suspect baby-sitting duties will be required of them quite heavily in July.

And what about Scottie?  He and long-term coach Randy Smith decided at the end of last year that it would be a good idea to start working with a putting coach and so they enlisted the services of Englishman Phil Kenyon.  Now the American is almost unbeatable.  He’s won two green jackets in three years, three tournaments out of the last four and hasn’t shot over par since last August.  Admittedly, he occasionally throws in the odd missed tiddler or a three putt from six feet, but as soon as this crumb of comfort is thrown to the other players a barrage of high-quality golf shots surfaces and normal service is resumed.

A sight to strike terror into the hearts of his rivals – Scottie working with putting guru Phil Kenyon. [Golf Digest]

On one of the other practice days I was able to snatch a quick word with Shane Lowry who enveloped me in a bear hug and promised faithfully he would sign my poster from the Royal Portrush Open in celebration of his epic triumph.  That will be on my priority list for Troon later in the year.  Alas, no opportunity to catch up with Rory presented itself and, double alas, there was no danger of conducting a winning interview with him.  As a friend of mine said with characteristic bluntness, “We’ve been waiting at this bus stop for a long time………!”

The patrons are a good bunch at the Masters – endlessly patient (particularly when it comes to the ridiculously long queues to get into the merchandise shop) and very good humoured.  Liberated from their mobile phones, which are not allowed on the premises, they are very present and intent on the action.  More than one player commented on the total silence during the playing of their shots.  Normally, at least half of the fans have their noses in their phones during tournament play and there’s a persistent buzz around the place as so many have their attention elsewhere.  Not at Augusta National.

I remember hearing of a study which said if you watched something through a screen (mobile, video, computer, whatever) even if you were actually AT the event or concert, the human brain doesn’t encode the experience in the memory banks the same way as if you watch directly with the naked eye.  Strong and vivid memories are made by you watching – so stop trying to record everything for posterity and just be in the moment seems to be the message.

Climate change has dictated that the full, glorious sensory experience of the flora at Augusta is now best enjoyed in March, as opposed to April.  So, this year every imaginable shade of green was on display with the occasional, albeit muted, pinks and purples of the azaleas and dogwood peeping through.  Nonetheless, it was an all-around visual sensory experience reminiscent of my trip to London last month to the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition.  There you donned 3D glasses that enabled you to feel you were travelling through and were part of his paintings.  Down at Amen Corner no glasses were required to make you feel absorbed by the peaceful landscape yet challenged by the nervous energy that surrounds all major sporting events.  It really is a place like no other.

The only special glasses required at Augusta National were the ones through which you could view the solar eclipse.

One day I fell into chat with two of the patrons, a couple of pals in their early 30s.  For one it was his first visit, but the other was fortunate enough to have been coming to the tournament since he was thirteen and when the discussion turned to the shop and their various purchases the habitual attendee was keen to show me the Masters watch he had just bought.  It transpired that he has bought a different Masters watch for each year he has been to the tournament.  I’m guessing he had them bought for him in the early days because they are, as you can imagine, expensive items.  Anyway, he now has around twenty watches and declared that he would keep building up his collection until he could present the whole lot to his son on his wedding day.  I ventured to suggest the future bride might not be too chuffed with the wedding present but he waved that away with, “That’s OK.  He can flog the lot of them if that’s what he wants.”

After a pause, he added, “Which he probably will as these are all analogue watches and he can only tell the time on a digital watch!”

My Masters purchases – but nary a watch in sight.

I never ever visit this amazing country without enjoying the people and having a laugh…..while frequently not being able to believe my eyes or ears.  The latest eye-opener occurred when I was approaching the security lines in the new part of international departures in Atlanta.  There, on the ground, were two bold broad red lines with the instruction, “No Firearms Beyond Here.”  This was followed by another order, “Recheck Your Bags.”

In case it’s slipped your mind, I suppose.