By Gary Player
Gary Player will share his thoughts from Augusta all week for Golf.com.
We had a great Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. It felt like there were 50 people in the room. I swear the table itself keeps growing every year. But it was wonderful to exchange stories with the greats. Each time, there is something new to hear. Like this year: Ben Crenshaw told me that, when Jones and MacKenzie built the course, they were playing on it four months after they first broke ground. That's unbelievable! I've never heard of a golf course being completed so quickly. But from the start, Augusta would never be an average golf course.
Each year at the Champions Dinner, people seem to go to the same chair. I sit next to Nick Faldo, and, since he earned his invitation, Charl Schwartzel. It's always the same group near us: Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, and Charles Coody. Last night, we talked about everything -- everything golf, that is. About how the course is in marvelous shape, about who we think will win, about the 14-year-old boy in the field this week, and the 15-year-old Lydia Ko who is the leading lady golfer in New Zealand. There are endless interesting subjects in this game of ours, and we tried to talk about as many as we could.
I have a wonderful meal planned for tonight as well. We'll have 100 people over to the house for our annual braai -- which means a South African cookout. We welcome guests from all over the globe: Peru, South Africa, Australia, China, India, Britain -- the list goes on. We'll have food from each of them, and, best of all, we'll have the foods from back home in South Africa. That means lots of grits (since we do eat grits in South Africa), lots of corn, and all sorts of meat. Bubba's menu can't compare. That's not his fault. He had to pick one meal for a bunch of guys; we have food from across the world-- a little bit of everything. It's the United Nations of eating. A great way to cap a lovely Wednesday.
Earlier this afternoon, I played in the Par 3 Contest with Jack and Arnold. It's a lighthearted event, as always, but I still wanted to win it. I had my grandson Sebastian on the bag caddying for me. My wife and I have 22 grandchildren, and now I've had 20 caddie for me in the Par 3. We've got two more to go. I can't wait to give them their chance, because it's such fun, and pure Augusta. Just to walk the grounds -- the Par 3 is in as good condition as the course itself -- and to see the enjoyment and excitement in those galleries. It follows the Masters tradition, with all the screaming and yelling, with guys getting birdies and eagles and hitting great shots. A couple of people had hole-in-ones today, and you could hear the shouts echo and build through the pines. Not like they will on Sunday -- not yet -- but not like any place else, either. What a wonderful introduction to the tournament itself.
Already there's a tremendous competitive energy in the air here. You can feel it, just being around the players. They know what they're going to have to do. They're going to have to beat Tiger Woods. And I think that's going to be very tough. If he wants to pass Nicklaus's record, he'll have to start winning majors again soon. But he's got healthy, healthy competition this year. I like Ernie Els; he hasn't been playing well since winning the British Open, but now I think the pressure is off him. I expect him to have a good showing. Then there's Rory McIlroy, who shot that good last round last week. (I met him and his girlfriend today -- what a beautiful girl! I couldn't help pulling his leg. "My goodness," I said to Rory, "No wonder you haven't been playing well lately!")
On Wednesday night, it's impossible to say who will win any one week. With guys this good, it's always wide open. All I can predict is that we'll have exciting golf, and that whoever gets the hottest putter will wear the green jacket come Sunday.
For the second year, I'll have the privilege of opening all the competition alongside Jack and Arnold tomorrow morning. As Honorary Starters, we'll hit the first shots off the first tee at 7:45 a.m. I wore white today because of the heat, but I think tomorrow I'll wear black. I'll need that power to match what's come before. I remember watching Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod hit that shot 57 years ago. And then I watched Sam Snead, and all the others after him. Now here we are, Jack, Arnold and I, and time goes by so quickly. Now we're the old geezers hitting off. Funny, how that works.
(Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)