Meet your virtual caddie
From Monday through Wednesday, the most serious, intense competitors at the Masters are not the players who walk the course, hitting pressure-free shots from wherever they please and rolling inconsequential putts from every imaginable angle.
No, the most focused guys out there are the caddies. They walk these grounds, one yard per step, looking for every hump and swale in the ground. Every change in the way every blade of the grass has been mowed. Every visual illusion there could possibly be that could leave a player saying, "I had no idea." And they write it all down. In the afternoon, it's not odd to see the men in white jumpsuits and green caps pacing the course alone with their notebooks and a pocket full of golf balls that they'll roll around on the greens.
There's no such thing as too much information. And it's funny, in a way, because to golf fans there's no more familiar track than Augusta National, so you'd think the players -- especially the veterans -- and the men who carry their bags would know this place like they know their own backyards. But the thing is, all it takes is the slightest change in the wind, or a little variation in the placement of a hole, or a change in the location of a tee box and the elite player, who relies on precision, is left feeling ill-informed or even lost.
So it's the caddie's job to make sure that never happens. On Tuesday afternoon, for example, A.J. Montecinos, the caddie for PGA Champion Y.E. Yang, was placing three tees into the green to simulate possible pin locations. Yang hit chips and pitches and rolled putts to those three tees, as well as to the flag location, as Montecinos observed.
"There's a pin on every green that is green light from everywhere on the fairway," says Australian Geoff Ogilvy, the world's No. 13-ranked player. "And then there's a pin that's red light from everywhere on the fairway on every hole, and everything in between. It can change from day to day, which makes it interesting."
Beginning Thursday morning, I am going to play the role of virtual caddie for each ESPN Insider. With the help of Augusta native and five-time Masters competitor Charles Howell III (who did not qualify for this year's competition), I will provide insight and analysis as to the course's setup for the day, and how things like weather and pin locations will affect player strategy. Where will there be green lights and "go for it" birdie opportunities? And where will there be red lights that say "Take your par?"
Says Howell: "This golf course also depends so much on the weather. If it is firm and fast it brings more people in the mix, because the par-fives become reachable for most guys. But if it rains on Thursday and gets cooler, then you have to favor a longer hitter, for sure."
We'll be there for you every day, letting you know how it all sets up.
All that will be missing is the white jumpsuit and green cap.
Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.