Golf

Wise guys teach during Masters' practice

Zach Johnson was asked about Kevin Kisner picking his brain on Monday.

"Just means I'm getting old," joked the keeper of the Claret Jug.

The Champion Golfer of the Year in 2015 labeled Davis Love, III, Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin and Jeff Sluman "wise guys." Since players visit Augusta National Golf Club (AGNC) every year, study and research are the 15th and 16th clubs in their bags. No penalty incurred.

The former Drake Bulldog was "always improving," and he attributed part of his advancement to his team and the clever brains he picked on the mini-tours, Web.Com and PGA Tour. The two-time major winner was quick to point out that he developed because of those "wise guys" who helped him along the way. At AGNC that sharing atmosphere blooms during the practice rounds.

Damon Hack said of Jordan Spieth, "Such a good student. Always learning." The defending champion talked about a putt on Hole 16 that Tiger Woods kept practicing. Spieth noticed the four-time champion hitting putts at a certain area, and sure enough Spieth paid attention to those putts and observed. During his win last year, the former National Champion Longhorn had a similar putt. That's head-of-the-class education.

"Practice rounds are so much fun there," said Golf Channel contributor John Cook. "Practice rounds at Augusta are unlike anywhere else."

PGA Tour players and the best amateurs in the world are always learning, and "wise guys" are always willing to help. Twenty first-timers will tee it up on Tea Olive today, and Monday through Wednesday, fans found them picking the brains of the best putters and past champions.

Chris DiMarco was runner-up in 2005, a victim of the infamous Swoosh that teased and eventually tumbled onto Redbud's flagstick and the into the hole. He studied.

"I tried to go with guys who had success here. Even at lunch. The players here are your resources," he added.

A knowledgeable Mark O'Meara won in 1998. He first competed in the 1980 Masters as the US Amateur Champion and shot 80-81, beating only two players.

"I was way out of my element," admitted O'Meara. "I was extremely nervous. I played with Fuzzy Zoeller the first day. He was tremendous with me." O'Meara learned from Zoeller that day and from others until his Masters victory 18 years later. That's what they do. The Help You Fraternity initiates players every year.

Bernhard Langer played with fellow German Martin Kaymer and England's Matt Fitzpatrick on Wednesday, and as I watched the 1985 and 1993 Masters Champion pitch a few difficult shots around the 18th green prior to his visit to the Par-3 Contest, I couldn't help but sense that his fellow competitors were circumspectly watching his every move.

Last week Langer was in Biloxi shooting 71-70-68 at Fallen Oak where the greens must be a suitable practice laboratory for the Hall of Famer's 33rd visit to The Masters.

This week, he was a wise guy who certainly drew a crowd of quick-studies when he talked about the greens and surrounds that offer a Green Jacket to those who can master their relentless firmness and daunting undulations.

Tommy Snell, golf coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, writes a column for the Sun Herald.

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