After I birdied the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes in the par-3 tournament the day before the Masters, Stewart Cink, my playing partner, said, "Joe, hit one in the water. You don't want to win this thing." I knew about the famous jinx, that no par-3 winner has then won the green jacket, but I'm not superstitious, so I kept firing at the flags. I birdied the 5th and 9th holes, shot 22, and won.
I should have taken Stewart's advice. On Thursday, the day after my 35th birthday, I dunked four balls into Rae's Creek and shot 87. On Friday, the day after my 11th wedding anniversary, I broke Frosty, barely, with a 79 that left me dead last.
That made my first Masters tough to swallow, but I have no one to blame but myself. I made all the rookie mistakes. I go to most tournaments on Monday night and play one practice round and the pro-am. For the Masters, I got to Augusta on Sunday morning and practiced from dawn till dusk for four days. I was grinding so hard, I never even explored the clubhouse or tasted the blueberry cobbler. By Thursday morning I was drained, mentally and physically, and I totally lost control on the course. I was trying to be perfect on every shot, and that strategy doesn't work, especially at Augusta.
Despite all the calamity, I had an amazing week. I'll never forget the first practice round on Sunday afternoon, when my caddie, Bob Low, and I were alone at Amen Corner. As much as I'd seen those holes on TV, they're much prettier in person, and I got goose bumps. I learned some lessons about patience, and I left with a crystal bowl for winning the par-3. When Hayes, my one-year-old, grows up, I'll be able to take him to the Masters, bring him to the brick wall next to the first tee of the par-3 course and show him the champion's plaque. My name will always be on it.