"My mentality was, I'm almost 41, I've played in only four Masters, I'm not the longest hitter in the world and this course isn't going to get any easier for me," Flesch says. "This might be the best chance I'll ever have. I got caught by a gust on 12, tried to be aggressive coming in and made a couple bogeys because of that. That's golf. To be honest, I didn't care if I finished third or fifth or eighth—I had a chance to win and gave it my best shot."
Three more bogeys on the back nine dropped Flesch into a tie for fifth, his best finish in a major. His second-round 67 was the low round of the tournament.
The day after he failed to win the Masters, Flesch drove to the Head and had dinner with his pals from Cleveland Golf, and the next morning his Masters Hangover was joined by the real thing. "We tied one on and had a great time," he says. On Tuesday, Flesch slept in until 11, then hit a few balls and briefly chipped and putted. On Wednesday he played in the pro-am but felt lethargic. Flesch scraped it around in 70 on Thursday. "I felt like a noodle out there," he says. "Usually I'm never physically exhausted, but after walking Augusta National for eight days, I was worn out. If I was mentally worn out, too, I would've shot an 80 from where I was hitting it."
On a positive note Flesch immediately discovered that his normally low profile had been raised considerably due to his play at Augusta. "It's amazing what a worldwide telecast can do when you're on for three days," he says. "People unloading their cars at the hotel said, 'Hey, nice going,' and I couldn't believe how many people recognized me on Monday night. They all said, 'Great Masters. I'm sure you didn't finish the way you wanted.' They didn't have to add the last part, but they meant it as a compliment."
On Friday, Flesch, a lefthander, fought through an alarming case of the rights with his irons, normally the strength of his game. He made a series of unlikely par saves, including one at the 13th hole after his hooked nine-iron shot caromed off greenside planking and nearly went into a hazard near the 14th tee. He pulled off an unbelievable pitch shot to eight feet and made the putt. He hooked a six-iron into the water at 14, and at 17 he hooked a five-iron up against the bleachers—he would've hit the six, but that club had experienced a fatal accident at the 14th tee. "I told my caddie after I made par on 18, 'Thank God we ran out of holes before we ran out of balls,'?" said Flesch, who salvaged a 71.
The problem, he realized, was a different kind of Masters hangover. He had changed his irons before the Masters, installing heavier shafts—too heavy and too stiff, forcing him to throw his hands through the shot. "Honestly, I didn't hit my irons that good in Augusta," he says. "I chipped and putted my butt off and drove it like crazy. I was fine with the eight- and nine-iron and wedges, but from seven-iron on down I was hooking it." At the Head he switched back to his regular shafts on Saturday, regained his touch and made four birdies on the front nine during a 70. Mystery solved, Flesch added another 70 on Sunday and finished 29th.
Although he never contended at Harbour Town, Flesch left Hilton Head feeling pretty chipper. April had already been a vintage month. His nine-year-old son, Griffin, caddied for him during the Masters Par-3 contest. (Griffin saw Dad hit one in the drink at the 8th hole, retee and hole out for par.) Flesch had made a serious run at a green jacket. (The top 16 are invited back.) And all of a sudden he was famous. (On Golf Channel a few years ago, he challenged several fans—and Michelle Wie—to pick out his picture in the Tour media guide. No one could.)
Harbour Town's signature red-and-white lighthouse loomed behind Flesch as he chatted near the 18th green. Boats bobbed lazily on Calibogue Sound, and the flags on yachts in the adjacent marina snapped in the spring breeze. The Masters was over. The healing had begun.
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