The last day of The Masters is truly one of the most special Sundays in golf. If you’re on that first tee, looking out over Tea Olive’s dogleg right, you know you’re in with a shout – if you’ve got this far, you’ve done the hard work, you know you’re up there with the best.
But the winning is not the only thing that’s going through your head – yes of course you want to beat everyone else but you also want to make sure you’re in that top 12 so you’ll get invited back the next year. It’s such an honour to be here, the prestige of Augusta makes four rounds of golf here that extra bit special. And by the time Sunday morning comes you just don’t want to lose that feeling – ever.
So that moment you put your tee in the ground and you gently balance the ball on top, that’s the moment you think, ‘Is this it? Is this my time? Is this shot going to change my life?’ Of course the next few hours are going to involve a huge amount of luck, and you need to hope the ball is going to roll in your favour. But it’s true what they say, you make your own luck. Courage is as important as talent, belief is more powerful than your clubs and confidence is everything. The confidence to know a bogey is just a blip and a birdie is just a birdie – it doesn’t mean the next hole will be easier. It just means you’re one more down. So confidence is vital, over-confidence potentially fatal.
And that final day is such an emotional rollercoaster, you need to keep the highs and lows in check, you need to have incredible self-discipline not to get carried away. There’s no point in thinking too far ahead to that stretch around the 11th, 12th and 13th, so-called Amen Corner. Too many have come undone by ‘Bogey Bend’ but if you’re already thinking about those and the rest of the back nine when you’re only on the 1st, you’re doomed.
Because that’s how the fear gets in and the way to combat that is to adopt a very un-British way of playing – have fun. If you’re good at something – anything, whatever your job or favourite past-time is – your performance comes from enjoying what you’re doing. It’s all in the head. So the stress of that final day can be conquered by saying to yourself: ‘Hey, enjoy yourself.’
It sounds easy to say that I know, and sometimes the sheer beauty of the course – the mirror-like lakes, the astonishing range of flora and fauna, the greens that are cut like no other on earth – can stop you enjoying yourself because you’re so taken aback by it all. But you need to make these things and the illustrious history of the place work to your advantage.
Sometimes on that Sunday morning all you can think about is Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, the guys who started this thing; Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, golfers who’ve had some of their greatest moments here. And then suddenly, it’s all about you, standing on the 1st, the hush of the respectful crowd making the birdsong even more intense. At that moment, you’re either inspired or intimidated. You can exceed your potential or you can make silly mistakes. You can deal with the fact that for the next few hours you could be the star of one of golf’s greatest global events or you can let the nerves get to you.
But really when it comes down to it, there’s one key piece of advice I’d give anyone: ‘For heaven’s sake, remember: it’s just a round of golf!’