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Golf editor Keith Jackson enjoys the ultimate challenge, playing Augusta.

Keith Jackson on the 12th at Augusta National

Golf editor Keith Jackson describes the thrill of how a 10-handicapper takes on the ultimate dream challenge - 18 holes at Augusta National the day after the Masters.

As one-in-a-lifetime chances go, having the opportunity to play 18 holes at Augusta National is the ultimate goal for any golfer. The hallowed Georgian turf that has hosted the Masters 79 times is arguably the most familiar course in the world, yet it is also the most inaccessible to all but a select few.

But the morning after Jordan Spieth had been helped into a 42R Green Jacket by Bubba Watson, I joined the ranks of the “select few” and enjoyed the most memorable – and quickest - four hours of my golfing life.

I was one of 28 fortunate members of the media to have made the cut from a lottery drawn on Saturday morning. Once I had had a chance to calm down, my first objective was to procure a set of golf clubs. I had looked at mine before I left home and thought: “Nah, it’ll never happen!”

Augusta invite
Image: The dream ticket: Driving down Magnolia Lane was a huge privilege

Twitter can be the worst of places, but it can also serve a magnificent purpose. Ray Matthew put me in touch with Sandie Crowley, who in turn pointed me in the direction of Ian Richardson – an English ex-pat who has connections with both Wentworth and Woburn.

Ian was kind enough to drop off a set of high-quality TaylorMade clubs to my hotel on Monday morning, and off I went on the short drive to Augusta for my date with destiny. I had a 10.50am tee time, and was asked to arrive no longer than an hour beforehand.

I must emphasise that we were all treated as valued guests rather than unwelcome distractions. It wasn’t a case of “here’s your tee time, here’s your card, off you go”, we were given the full treatment.

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We were asked to arrive at Gate 3 – Magnolia Lane, the most famous road in golf. Driving at a snail’s pace down to Founders Circle, my head was in the clouds once again. I was met at the clubhouse by the valet, grabbed my golf shoes and was escorted inside and upstairs to the Champions Locker Room – yet another immense privilege.


Richard, a charming man with a strong Georgian accent who has been looking after the greats of the game in that room for 31 years, pointed out the locker I had been allocated to place my belongings. It was a locker shared by Sir Nick Faldo and Trevor Immelman.

Keith Jackson with caddie Casey at Augusta National
Image: My caddie, Casey. His mastery in reading the greens saved me plenty of shots

I politely declined the offer of breakfast and headed straight for the practice range, where I was reunited with my borrowed clubs and introduced to my caddie for the day, Casey. If his first priority was to put me at ease and make me feel welcome, he scored an A+.

The nerves really kicked in as I grabbed a pitching wedge and went through a few swings before toppling the pyramid of practice balls (Titleist Pro V1xs, obviously) and preparing to hit. I have suffered first tee nerves on many occasions, but it was a new experience to be shaking like a leaf on the range!

Fortunately, I made decent contact with the first blow and that was a huge relief. I clipped a few more away, moved up through the bag, reset the driver to my preference, and Casey was making all the right noises until he announced it was time to head to the first tee. I had been so keen to get my swing into a smooth rhythm, I had forgotten to factor in some time on the putting green.

After persuading myself I’d be fine when it came to wielding the flat stick, we arrived on the first tee, posed for a group photo, and it was time for the off. My playing partners, Ewan, Real and Andre, did the sensible thing and stood to one side while I waited with driver, ball and tee in hand.

5th hole at Augusta National
Image: Real ready for action: Tough tee shot at the fifth

“Off you go Keith if you’re ready,” said Ewan, seven words which immediately drained my legs of energy and coordination. I strolled forward, teed up and glanced ahead at the challenge in front of me. Wide fairway, pines right and left, and a large expanse of sand eating into the right of the landing area.

The opening blow

To be honest, all I wanted to do was get the ball airborne and in roughly the right direction. How I succeeded in doing that is anybody’s guess. I made great contact, starting the ball at the bunkers with a touch of draw, and picked up my tee with a casual-as-you-like: “I’ve hit worse”.

My three colleagues also laid plenty of clubface on balata and off we strolled up the fairway. By the time I got to my ball, Casey was already armed with the yardage to the front of the green and the pin (Sunday’s pin positions on all 18), as well as a positive opinion on the lie in the first cut. I hit a solid nine iron, pushed it a fraction, and narrowly missed the green to the right.

I played a decent bump-and-run onto the green to 15 feet and then set foot on the putting surface for the first time, and it was like stepping onto a billiard table. I have never felt anything like it underfoot on a golf course before. The prospect of getting a ball rolling and getting it to stop seemed almost impossible, but Casey again put my doubts to rest and told me to “give it a run, it’s uphill”.

I left it six feet short, and the putt for bogey lipped out. I suppose I would have taken a six on the tee, but I trudged to the second tee feeling a little hard done-by. Then I reminded myself what I was doing and where I was doing it, and all was well.

Ewan Murray on the seventh at Augusta National
Image: Ewan Murray on the seventh. Up at the green, we met Raymond Floyd

The second hole gave me my first insight into the incredible imagination required to conquer the Augusta greens. After a booming four iron between the bunkers guarding the front of the green, my ball failed to catch the slope and head for the hole like Louis Oosthuizen managed a couple of years ago.

I lined up my putt and read it as two feet outside the left, and quick. Casey wandered over to a point halfway to the hole, and four yards to the left. “Here’s your hole,” he said. “Just aim to stop the ball here, and you’ll end up pretty close.” I followed his lead, and it seemed to take an eternity before my ball came to rest a few inches from the cup. These guys are good!

Weather warning

One by one, the holes flashed by and I continued to hit it well in between a few anxious glances at the clouds. Thunderstorms had been forecast, and my main priority was to at least get to the 12th before the rough stuff arrived overhead.

I holed my first putt of note at the sixth, a 15-footer with three feet of break from the right which salvaged a welcome par and spurred me on to hit my best drive of the day, and possibly my life, straight down the pipe at seven. After clipping a wedge onto the front fringe, a familiar gentleman in a buggy appeared and introduced himself – it was Raymond Floyd, the 1976 Masters champion.

Keith Jackson on the 12th at Augusta National
Image: The iconic 12th. Only 155 yards, but an incredibly tough tee shot to a small landing area

After assuring him we were having an enjoyable day, we pressed on. Finding the pines with drives at eight and nine cost me a shot at each, and after blocking my second into a bunker at the 10th I stood at the very spot where Bubba played his astonishing 40-yard draw with a wedge in his play-off win over Oosthuizen in 2012. I tried to assess how he pulled that shot off, but it did not compute.

After negotiating the 11th, we headed slowly to the tee at Golden Bell, the 12th, the most revered par three on the planet. Naturally there was a bit of a wait as the groups ahead took their time and plenty of photographs, and I can say with all honesty that I’ve never been so happy to wait on any hole I’ve ever played.

It was a chance for reality to hit home before taking on the 155 yards of pure magnificence and theatre. We tried to work out how many people around the globe would give almost anything to be in our shoes. We settled on “millions”!

Keith Jackson on the 12th at Augusta National
Image: Over the Hogan Bridge en route to the green. The most inspiring walk in golf

I wanted to hit nine-iron, went for the safer eight-iron option, flushed it and ended up in the right, rear bunker, but I didn’t care – it was dry. It is hard to describe the feeling of crossing the Hogan Bridge while taking in the glorious surroundings, and even harder to do it justice. Suffice to say, nobody in our group was thinking about our second shots at that point.

No laying up

The less said about my second shot the better, but I’m not the first person to make a five there and I certainly won’t be the last. I cared not a jot as I biffed a decent drive away at 13 and immediately decided I was going for it in two to finish Amen Corner in a blaze of glory. It was close, but at least I can say I have donated a ball to Rae’s Creek.

After a good up-and-down at 14 I had better success at 15, where I hit the sweetest four-iron of my life to 12 feet. “Good club,” I said to Casey and skipped down the fairway trying to take in the fact that I was about to have a legitimate chance to make an eagle … at Augusta National. I left it short!

Keith Jackson on the 15th at Augusta National
Image: Sizing up the second to the 15th. Four-iron to 10 feet, left the eagle putt short!

I made a great three at 16, bogeyed 17, and then half-topped my drive at the last. I had come all this way without making a fool of myself, and I was determined not to take the gloss off at the final hole. I redeemed myself with a good hybrid and a well-struck wedge to 15 feet, and my putt would have been unlikely to stay on the green had my ball not hit the back of the cup and dropped.

I doffed my imaginary hat to the imaginary patrons surrounding the green in their thousands, plucked my ball out of the cup and marked my card. As a 10 handicapper, my target had been to break 90, and that putt at the last was my 86th shot of an incredible day, although it has to be said that without Casey’s knowledge of the greens, I would have been five or six shots higher.

It was a memorable end to a memorable day. I can remember every single shot I played on every single hole, and I’ve never said that about any round I’ve ever played, whatever the venue. It was a humbling experience, knowing that I had ticked off the biggest box on my golfing bucket list, and one which I never realistically expected to achieve.

Monday, April 13, 2015 will truly be a day I’ll never forget. It was the day I got to play Augusta National, and I got through it relatively unscathed. I suppose I’ve had worse weeks!

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