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Azaleas in bloom at Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. – We’re under way in Augusta. Sunshine, azaleas in bloom, temperatures in the eighties and grass that would make every lawn care professional on the planet ecstatic.

Yes, it is Augusta National, and the final practice day and Par-3 contest. Despite having been a regular on the CBS crew for the last 12 years, I still get excited on Wednesday when arriving at “The National.” Seeing old friends that have been on the crew here for up to 50 – yes 50 – years makes it extra special.

The obligatory trip to the Pro Shop was followed by a quick lunch and out on the Par-3 course “on cans” by 1:45. That means we have headsets on and are communicating with the producers. My regular assignment is the 7th hole, a 115-yard hole that plays slightly uphill to a green that slopes severely from back to front.

Many players hit the ball deliberately above the hole and let the slope and gravity bring it back. This causes numerous exciting pauses as the ball trickles downhill and tracks towards the hole. Unfortunately for the watching patrons, the ball usually rolls past the hole and to the flat front of the green.

Although a hole in one is what everyone wants, the closest shot to the hole also counts, and the Augusta members measure the closest shots, awarding crystal prizes to the winners. When I got to the green, Luke Donald had hit it closest so far with a shot that finished 24 inches from the hole. After I got there things got even better. Soon after, Ernie Els hit a shot that finished 22 inches from the hole, followed by Ted Potter Jr. hitting one 10 inches from the hole.

With only a few groups left, Ben Crenshaw arrived on the tee and hit a pitching wedge that bounced about 15 feet right and the same distance past the hole. The ball spun back a little and then started tracking down the slope. The roar that greeted its arrival in the cup was deafening, and the first hole in one I have seen over the past four years working on the hole.

Tomorrow they stick the tee peg in the ground in earnest and the 2013 Masters will be underway.

Ian Grant is a PGA teaching professional and a member of the teaching faculty of the PGA of America. He can be contacted at Oak Brook Golf Club 630-990-3032 in the summer and White Pines Golf Dome in Bensenville 630-422-1060 in the winter. You can contact Ian directly at 708-917-8951, or at

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