Next week will mark my 19th Masters, but I still get a thrill every time I play Augusta National. My love affair with the place began the first time I played there, when I was in high school. I tagged along with my uncle Bob [Goalby], who was playing a practice round five days before the tournament, and played out of his bag. I probably shouldn't have done that, but hopefully I won't be reprimanded after all this time.
After I became a pro, Uncle Bob and I used to play practice rounds every year in Augusta. He'd tell me, "Don't go here, because I remember one year Sam [ Snead] hit it here, and he had a chip he couldn't get up and down." At the time I didn't realize what it meant to Uncle Bob to win the 1968 Masters and return to Augusta year after year. Now that I do, I would like nothing better than to have a place in the champions' locker room, as he does.
I usually play pretty well at Augusta and have finished in the top five three times. When I get on almost every tee, I can look down the fairway and visualize a good shot. Certain courses fit certain players' eyes, and Augusta seems to fit mine.
My best chance for a victory in the Masters came in 1995, when Ben Crenshaw won for the second time. I led after two rounds, then shot a 39 on the front nine on Saturday. Those nine holes did me in. On the 3rd hole I missed the green and chipped up to about eight feet and was getting ready to putt when my ball moved. I took a penalty stroke and ended up making double bogey. That shook me up, and I never really recovered. I came back to shoot even par for the day but ended the tournament in third, losing by three strokes.
The sense of history surrounding the place is overwhelming. There aren't many places where you can hit balls on the same range used by Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.