Seasoned Masters Golf Watcher Sizes Up '94 Field

NICK SEITZ, the editor in chief of Golf Digest, has been attending the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., for nearly three decades. Like other veteran followers of this event, he is struck by the tasteful way in which the tournament is presented. He calls it ``an anachronism, but a live one.''

He sometimes is perplexed that the Augusta National Golf Club doesn't take a ``more professional attitude'' in public relations, but in virtually every other regard he considers it a paragon of organizational virtue. ``They have committees upon committees that critique everything to determine what they can make better next year,'' he says. ``Since they host the tournament every year, they can approach perfection - and they do.''

With his insider's familiarity with the Masters and golf generally, Seitz is well qualified to assess this joint subject. Here is part of a telephone interview with him in his Norwalk, Conn. office before the tournament.

The name John Daly is on many tongues these days. He recently came off a four-month disciplinary suspension from the PGA Tour and played well in his first tournament back, but has struggled since. Will we hear from him at the Masters?

He's the most popular guy in the game right now because of his power [he's the game's longest hitter] and maybe to some extent because he's been kind of a rebel. Last year he tied for third in only his second Masters. He's surprised people with a lot of finesse around the greens, which you have to have to score well at Augusta. I think he could contend.

What about Nick Price of Zimbabwe, who's also riding high?

He's probably playing the best in the game right now. He was at this time last year, too, and went into the Masters as a big favorite. But then he shot an 81 in the second round and missed the cut [which determines who plays in the final rounds on Saturday and Sunday]. In 1986, though, he shot a 63, which is the course record [for 18 holes].

What accounts for the success of European players, who have won five out of the last six years?

They're more accustomed to playing a variety of shots than [are] players on the American tour, where the courses have gotten very standardized. You don't chip the ball much on the American tour.... The Europeans seem to have better feel. They're good wind players, too, which can be a factor, because the Masters is held during the spring storm season.

You've played the course several times, what are your impressions?

It isn't that hard until you get to the greens; then you're liable to take 40 putts. You can three-putt or four-putt very easily. While it's a wide-open course, the greens kind of work back and influence everything you do, starting on the tee. Ben Crenshaw says the greens are the course's defense.

The organizers can't make the course that much longer, so the greens have to play fast, and there's so much slope in them. The whole concept at Augusta National is that everybody can play it until you get to the greens. The average guy shouldn't have to lose his ball. But the greens are going to get you. You take more strokes on the green than you do to get there. Depending on where they put the pins [holes], they can really keep the golf course tough.

If you get a putt on the wrong side of the hole you can't manage it [downhill putts are hard to stop near the hole]. Then you leave yourself a lot of 3-, 4-, 5-footers. They wear you down mentally. By the time you get to the back nine on the final day, you don't have enough [good putts] left in the quiver.

Is there anything else that adds to the tension?

Well, there's really not a ``let up'' hole on the course. There's something about every hole that makes it difficult if not tricky.

What do you like about it?

When I first went to the Masters years ago, the most exciting thing to me, apart from seeing the golf course, was getting to see past champions like Byron Nelson [1937, 1942] and Ben Hogan [1951, 1953] play. They weren't contending to win, but if you had never had a chance to see them in their prime, this was the only place in golf you could go to see them. That is a terrific part of the appeal.

Why wasn't Lee Trevino ever able to win the Masters?

I think he just didn't like the place.

What other players might people want to keep their eyes on this year?

Tom Kite has never won a Masters, but he had a number of high finishes. Corey Pavin is now saddled with being the best player who has not won a major championship, and he's played pretty well there. It will be interesting to see what Johnny Miller does. He's been a TV announcer for possibly 10 years, but he came out of retirement to win the Pebble Beach [Calif.] tournament in February. Nick Faldo did everything but win a major last year, so you still have to think about him.

There's a lot of support for Greg Norman. He's right near the top of the game. [Two weeks ago, he shot a blistering 24-under-par 264 to win the the Players Championship in one of the lowest scores in PGA history.]

And what about newcomers?

Ernie Els of South Africa looks like he's going to be an excellent player. He's a big, strong kid with good touch who has won some events on the European tour recently. He might surprise.

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