AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Jon Rahm arrived at the Masters on Wednesday, after not sleeping much or touching a club for the past few days.
Such is life for a first-time father.
Rahm and his wife, Kelley, welcomed their son — Kepa Cahill Rahm — on Friday, and it’s been a predictable whirlwind ever since for the world’s No. 3 player. Rahm had said he would leave the Masters if that was when the baby decided to arrive.
The baby is healthy. Rahm’s wife is healthy. And now, Rahm is ready to go at Augusta National.
“Coming here later than usual, but I’m here ready to compete,” Rahm said. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Most players have been at Augusta since Sunday or Monday at the latest. Many have found their way to the course in recent weeks for practice rounds. Rahm hasn’t, but he wondered if being in a different mindset could work to his advantage.
He said he’s never been this happy. That can’t hurt.
“Maybe haven’t prepared as much as I have in the past, but definitely mentally in a different state, right?” Rahm said. “A lot of times practicing for a major, you spend so much time thinking about golf, and for four or five days, it wasn’t even on my mind — which is kind of refreshing.”
His plan for Wednesday was simple: some swings on the range, then trying to get on the course for at least a few holes.
“I mean, the course hasn’t changed,” Rahm said. “I might need to spend a little bit of extra time today hitting lag putts and hitting some chips because the last time we played here it was a little softer and slower, but tee to green it doesn’t really change much. Luckily, I’ve played here before, and I always have a good vibe when I come here.”
Rahm has played the Masters four previous times and has three top-10 finishes. Rory McIlroy couldn’t resist throwing down what seemed like a bit of a challenge earlier this week.
“My first round as a dad, I shot 64,” McIlroy said to laughter. “So he’s got that to live up to.”
Golf’s governing bodies, worried players are hitting the ball farther than ever, are proposing changes to equipment and testing standards. Among those paying close attention is Masters Chairman Fred Ridley, who on Wednesday urged the USGA and R&A to “put forward thoughtful solutions as soon as possible.”
But that doesn’t include Augusta National doing something for the Masters. At least not yet.
“I know there’s been some talk in the past of possibly a Masters golf ball or something like that,” said Ridley, a former USGA president. “I would think that would be highly unlikely and would, in my view, be an absolute last resort.”
There also has been talk about Augusta National creating a new championship tee on the 13th, a par 5 that Bubba Watson once reached in two with a sand wedge. There was no talk of that on Wednesday, even though the club has purchased part of adjacent Augusta Country Club and has space to do that.
“Fortunately, we do have the ability to make any number of changes to protect the integrity of the course,” he said. “At the same time, we hope there will not come a day when the Masters or any golf championship will have to be played at 8,000 yards to achieve that objective.”
Ridley said Augusta National prefers to support the R&A and USGA, who set the rules and equipment standards.
“And then if there is no action taken, for whatever reason, then we need to look at other options,” he said.
The tradition of having honorary starters at the Masters goes back to 1963, when Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod did the initial honors. It has not been an annual occurrence; the Masters has opened on at least eight occasions since without an honorary starter.
Only nine men have taken those tournament-opening swings.
That list grows to 10 on Thursday.
Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will be back in their roles, and for the first time, they’ll be joined by Lee Elder — the first Black man to play the Masters, back in 1975.
Ridley at last year’s tournament announced a plan to honor Elder by establishing scholarships at Paine College — a historically Black school in Augusta — in his name and to have him join Nicklaus and Player in opening the Masters this year.
“I cannot wait to have the honor of introducing Lee,” Ridley said Wednesday.
Cameron Champ, who’ll be playing in his second Masters, said the addition of Elder to the honorary lineup was “huge.”
“What he had to go through as a human being to play the game and just to endure that for so long … it shows a lot about him and his character,” Champ said.
Besides Hutchison, McLeod, Nicklaus and Player, the list of past honorary starters includes Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Ken Venturi, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer.
Of the 88 players in the field, 46 hail from outside the U.S.
That, too, has become a Masters tradition.
Americans were the majority in the Masters fields for each of the first 70 editions. That changed for the first time in 2007 — and hasn’t changed back, making this the 15th consecutive Masters where there were more international players than American ones.
There was some polite applause when Phil Mickelson hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th to about 3 feet earlier this week, and more relatively quiet claps came a few minutes later when he made the birdie putt.
In between, he hit one off the surface of the water.
The patrons roared.
Among the practice-round traditions at Augusta National during Masters week is one where players sometimes will give in to patron pressure and try to skip a ball off the pond between the tee box and the green. Nobody is completely sure how or when this trend started; Ken Green told Golfweek in 2016 that he came up with the idea.
“My ball just bounced,” C.T. Pan said after he tried it early this week. “Had a low bounce straight into the bank again like last time I did. But I’m getting better at it.”
Rahm famously holed his off-the-water try last year. Martin Kaymer and Vijay Singh are among those who have also pulled off the off-the-water, into-the-cup trick in the past. Even the competitors in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur got into the skipping act last weekend.
“That’s an interesting hole,” Duke junior Gina Kim said after she played the 16th. “I mean, that was the first time I’ve ever skipped a ball across the water, so I found that pretty fun.”
Mickelson’s shot wound up ricocheting off the water’s surface once, then sailing over the rest of the pond and clearing the back of the green by probably 20 yards. A security guard went and retrieved the ball, not long before Mickelson went to his original tee shot and made the putt.
Starting Thursday, skipping won’t be happening. The shots all count when the tournament starts.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.
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