Woody Austin’s consistency in his two Masters appearances — 1996 and 2008 — is something that stands out to him.
“I played just as bad both times,” said the 53-year-old Austin, who lives between Derby and Rose Hill.
He’s right about those Masters struggles.
Austin missed the cut by a wide margin in 1996, a year after his PGA Tour debut, shooting 79-74 in the first two rounds. And it was almost as bad in 2008, when Austin again missed the cut after shooting 79-73.
Still, he cherishes the opportunities as the tournament begins Thursday at Augusta National.
“The experience of getting to play in the Masters was unbelievable,” said Austin, who’s in his fourth year on the Champions Tour. “The tournament has such a history and it’s played in such a beautiful place.
“The first time I played was before all the changes that were made to the course and the second time was after. They affected the course a lot, especially for someone who is not a long-ball hitter.”
Austin is at his best when precision is required, and he has long lamented the fact that precision is more and more of a lost art on the PGA Tour, with its muscle-bound big hitters who have pretty much taken long- and middle-iron play out of the game. Austin has also perpetually struggled with putting, another Augusta downfall.
“I just struggle on really fast greens,” said Austin, who has made more than $16 million during his career and played in 21 majors on the PGA Tour. “And those greens are so fast. They scared the devil out of me.”
While the two rounds in 1996 are forgettable for Austin, the practice round he played on the Tuesday before the start of the Masters isn’t.
“I made sure my first practice round was with Arnold Palmer,” Austin said. “I asked him at Bay Hill that year if I could play a practice round with him and he told me that he plays on Tuesdays and that I should be ready. So I was.
“That was one of the best experiences of my life. Obviously, he’s one of the greatest players of all-time but he’s also an absolute great guy to be around and to talk to. It was so good to hear about the history of the course from him and how it had changed over the years that he played there. It was my first time to play Augusta, but probably Arnold’s 40th.”
Austin remembers another pre-major tournament practice round, in 1996 before the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich.
“Me, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger (Woods),” Austin said. “Me and Watson played Nicklaus and Tiger and that was a blast. I learned a lot about golf that day and about how to hit shots out of the rough. Nicklaus showed me how to get a 6-iron on the ball in the rough. At that time, I didn’t think you could use anything other than a wedge for that kind of a shot.”
Austin’s best finish in a major was a second-place finish in the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, where a late charge left him two shots behind Woods. Austin has finished in the top 25 in three other majors.
He won three Champions Tour events last year and made news in January when he shot a 59 in the Diamond Resorts Invitational, not an official tour event.
“This tour is growing on me,” said Austin, who once scoffed at the notion of playing on the tour. “I’ll probably never have the opportunity to play at Augusta again because I don’t know any of the members. And you don’t play there unless you know the members.”
Austin will, though, cross off another item on his golf bucket list next year, when the Senior British Open will be played at St. Andrews.
“That’s the one I’ve always wanted to play,” Austin said. “The home of golf and all of the history you’ve heard and read about over the years. I’ve never gotten to play that course in my regular tour career and I’m going to be really happy to finally play there next year.”
Austin said he’ll enjoy watching the Masters this week, even though he didn’t so much enjoy the results when he played at Augusta.
“It’s really a pretty normal place as you’re driving up,” Austin said. “It doesn’t look like there’s any way it could be such a special place until you get to that gate and pull in. And then when you’re driving down Magnolia Lane, that’s pretty special.”
Austin said he’d just like to use the practice facilities at Augusta, an 18-acre facility that opened in 2010.
“It looks unbelievable,” he said. “And it used to be a parking lot.”