Unrequited love in the azaleas
Amen Corner 

Amen Corner 

Gary Player could hardly believe what he was hearing from Lee Trevino. It was 1969.

“Put it in your book,” the Merry Mexican pointedly told a reporter shortly after finishing 19th at Augusta National that year. “I’ll never play that course again. It’s just not that kind of course. I can’t play there. They can invite me all they way to but I’m not going to play there anymore.”

Trevino was famous for his catchphrases such as, “you can talk to a fade but a hook won’t listen.” 

And so it stood to reason that he got little change out of Augusta National with his low, raking, left to right slider.

True to his word, he skipped the Masters in 1970 and 1971, 1974 and 1977. But while he eventually relented and returned there from 1979 through to his final appearance in 1991, he knew he was never going to win.

Graeme McDowell would never commit the sacrilege of skipping the Masters even though he might be tempted given that he’s made the cut just three times from nine starts and recorded a best finish of tied 12th back in 2012.

“I can’t imagine not coming here,” McDowell said after a closing 73 left him tied for 52nd on six over with Darren Clarke, who shot a 72. “Even if I decided not to play, I’d come to spectate. 

“Okay, that’s a lie. But I came back to watch Rory in ’11. No, it would be sacrilegious, as you say, not to play here. It doesn’t matter how much it frustrates you. You come in to enjoy it for what it is — a celebration of golf on my favourite golf course in the world. 

“I love it. I love this course. But, yes, it’s unrequited love.”

McDowell said he discovered for new ways to get around Augusta this week but while he now believes a change in putting style to die the ball into the hole on super-slick greens might work. He’s running out of ideas though he did discover another way to take shots off his score yesterday. But it required the intervention of a bumble bee and three referees.

Bothered by a bee that was buzzing around his ball on the short, par-four third, McDowell went to swat it away and swatted both the bee and his ball marker. 

“I was very, very clumsy,” he confessed ruefully. "A rules official came over and told me to put back my marker and I had shot penalty and that turned my bogey five into a six. 

“Then I got that shot back about five minutes later as I walked to the sixth tee when Sir Michael Bonallack and another referee came over and gave me the shot back. I asked if they could follow me around for the rest of the day. It’s the first time I’ve saved a shot here in a while.”

McDowell didn’t ask for a review of the original ruling. 

“It was a very, very clumsy thing to do and I thought it was a penalty,” he explained. “But it turned out a bee is a loose impediment and in the process of trying to remove a loose impediment you can actually move your ball or your marker by accident and it not be a penalty.”

All joking apart, McDowel heads to Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links this week with better feelings about Augusta National than ever before having decided to avoid disappointment by keeping his expectations low. 

“My game is a work in progress and my ability to play this golf course is a work in progress,” he said. “I didn’t let it get to me this week, which I am happy with. Emotionally I was on a pretty even keel all week, which is what you are looking for. But I didn’t drive the ball the way I can and my speed putting was really off all week. It’s a live and learn and there I things I will pour back into coming back here again. 

“It was never really about this week for me. It was about the bigger picture and the rest of the season.”

Clarke insisted that “Augusta is Augusta” and nobody really learns to dominate it, even the multiple Masters winners. 

But McDowell is sure it’s a puzzle he can solve.  

“You have to be a front edge guy around here,” he said of his putting. “You have got to drop ‘em in. I am not a phenomenally good fast green putter. I guess growing up on slow greens, I have a way of rapping everything into the hole and I blew it through every break this week. Would I want to change for one week? That’s the question. Speeds are getting up at other venues too.” 

If McDowell is still hugely concerned about his game, Clarke hid his concern better.

The Ryder Cup captain is working with Dr Bob Rotella again, the man who helped him get out of his own way and win the 2011 Open Championship. 

And after shooting six over for the week with six of those shots going on the tough, par-four seventh — he went 6 5 5 6  — the 46 year old still has plenty of game to offer.

The captaincy has clearly changed the Dungannon man, who now has something to distract him and keep his mind off his own golf.

“The Ryder Cup has obviously got my attention,” said Clarke, who almost aced the 12th, when he cut an eight iron to around  admitted. “And it will have more of my attention as the time draws near. 

“But I spent a bit of time with Dr Bob yesterday as well and I was just basically was out there trying to  enjoy myself. Wherever the ball would go, that was fine. 

“Invariably, in the past, whenever I played my own best golf it's when I haven't really cared about it.  Which is very difficult for me to clear my mind.  But when I do, I tend to enjoy it a little bit more.

"Certainly I've got other things maybe a little bit more important than my own golf.  Don't get me wrong, I still want to compete, I still want to play, but the Ryder Cup is obviously at the forefront of it all.”

As for Rory McIlroy’s failure to conquer Augusta, Clarke’s still convinced it is only a matter of time before the Co Down man dons that green jacket.

“You know, he hasn't quite been on his game this week I don't think,” Clarke said. “But Rory's Rory. He can win anywhere, any time, any week. I still believe, his game is perfect for here and he will win here.”