AUGUSTA, Ga. The ball glided low over the water, lost altitude, splashed three or four times and sank into what an old British TV commentator famously described as a watery grave.
The gallery ringing Augusta Nationals 16th hole on this sunny Tuesday groaned. A guy walked up holding a chicken sandwich and a beer and wearing a look of puzzlement and said, Who hit that? Looks like something a sportswriter would hit.
Who hit it was two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. Actually, he drowned two shots, but he was smiling. On Thursday, once the Masters has started, he would not be smiling. He would be eating his clubs and giving the golf gods a good Spanish cussing, but in the days leading up to the real thing, players play Skip It, trying to skip shots across the pond on the 16th hole and onto the green with low line drives. Its a tradition.
In other words, borrowing shots right out of Saturday morning at the muni and doing golfs equivalent of a parlor trick.
Theres an easy feeling in these hours leading up to the moment when Sandy Lyle fires the first official shot at 8 oclock Thursday, when every brow will be furrowed, every nerve twitching.
Spectators wander around looking for Tiger and Phil and Rory and gravitating to the spot from which Bubba Watson hit his famous hook shot out of the trees to win the championship in a playoff last year. Nobody seems to know exactly where the ball lay in the pine straw but they stand and look as if they were paying homage to Elvis.
Wednesday stays soft. More giggles. Theres a par-3 tournament on a beautiful little course. Its taken about as seriously as the Skip It shots. Some kids caddy for their famous dads and some get to take a whack at the ball, hitting shots that look like, yeah, go ahead and say it, something a sportswriter might hit, and everybody cheers.
Night falls. Still no hint of smoke, no beating the ground, no glaring at noisy birds.
Thursday dawns with a smile, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player coming down from Olympus to serve as honorary starters.
But then, as they exit the tee, the thunder rolls.
Ron Green Sr. is a retired Observer columnist
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