Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño

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Hi Everyone!

Allow me to start my blog entries backwards this week, so I'll begin by telling you all about Hilton Head, one of the regular tournaments of the PGA Tour that I was looking forward to playing this year. Everyone spoke so highly of the RBC Heritage: that it's a beautiful place (an island in South Carolina just 3 hours in car from Augusta), that the Harbour Town Links course is incredible (designed by Pete Dye which has nothing to do with what you normally see on the PGA Tour: short, narrow, in the middle of a forest right next to the ocean, with constant strong winds), that it's a very relaxed atmosphere after the Masters week, etc. Last year, even thought they invited me to play, I wasn't able to participate because it overlapped with the Spanish Open at El Saler, so there was lots of anticipation.

The truth is that they were right about everything they said, but unfortunately, the weather wasn't on our side last week, and the strong winds and torrential rain complicated things since we couldn't prepare for the tournament like we had hoped to: on Tuesday, I couldn't practice on the course due to heavy rains, and the only time I was able to finally golf a practice round was during the Monday pro-am.

The best part of the week was, without a doubt, the birdie on Friday on the infamous hole 18 of the Harbour Town Links course, ending up with a +3 and making the cut, and the round on Saturday that I ended up with a 67. Unfortunately, Sunday was a day to forget: the first nine holes were bad from tee to green, only saved by the short game and putt, and on the back nine, I had much better shots, but then my short game was completely off. I finished in 53rd place, which left a very bad taste in my mouth.

The week of the Masters was amazing, just like every year. When you're a kid, you wait impatiently for vacations or for Christmas. When you're a professional golfer, the equivalent would be The Masters.

Thursday isn't my favorite day, nervous for the individual tee-off, nor Wednesday with the famous par-3 contest. My favorite day at Augusta is, without a doubt, the Sunday before the tournament. A day in which you can enjoy the Augusta National in all its glory. The doors are still closed to the public (they don't open until Monday) which means there are only members and other fellow pros on the course. And the previous winners can invite someone to play with them on that day as well. This year, for example, Bubba Watson played ahead of us with his wife, and it seems like the strategy worked well for him.

For those of us who haven't won the Masters (yet), the only privilege on the Sunday prior to the tournament is that you can bring a guest inside the ropes (apart from your caddie), which is not allowed the rest of the days of practice and competition. In my case, I took Dave Stockton, my putting coach, although I still remember fondly the time in 2012 when I set foot on the Amen Corner for the first time with my father.

This year, the atmosphere on the Sunday before the tournament was a bit different because they were celebrating the kids' Drive, Chip and Putt that day. The area around the clubhouse was packed, and didn't empty out until around 2 in the afternoon once the event was finished. I have to say that it's a great idea and a good way to encourage golf as a sport among kids. Very fun to see on TV, where you realize it's more the parents who were most excited about being at the Augusta National. And the weather was better than expected, so we were able to enjoy a very Spanish game with Olazábal and Jiménez without getting wet. A game we repeated later in the week, including in the par-3 contest.

If there's just one way to describe the practice rounds on Augusta, it's how long they are. The players spend a lot of time on the greens, practicing from every angle and every corner, to the more habitual positions of the tournament as well, attempting to uncover the secrets of each green. The rounds seem eternal, which can last up to approximately 3 hours for every 9 holes, so the best is to pace yourself and try not to get too burned out for the weekend.

The only 'but' about the week was the storm on Monday that only allowed Manassero and I to play 6 holes before they completely closed the course for the day. I felt bad for the fans that were there, especially for my friends, that on their first day at Augusta, they could only enjoy a few hours of golf. They gave the patrons (which is what they call the crowds at Augusta) two options: to refund their money or exchange their tickets for Monday of the following year.

The storm passed just in time to be able to celebrate the traditional Argentinian barbecue at my house, put on by my good friend Gustavo Benvenuto (the only family/friend who has come to all three Masters I've played apart from my caddie, Jeff) which brought in almost 100 people this year, among friends, players, sponsors, managers, journalists and other officials. A very fun, relaxing night that ended pretty late because of the college basketball finals, to the point where I had to kick people out so I could sleep!

On Tuesday, we played with my friend Hideki Matsuyama, who had to leave after 9 due to pain in his right wrist. The best part of that day, the looks of astonishment on all my friends' faces after seeing Augusta for the first time. They all agree on one thing: it exceeds your expectations. Another thing that goes above and beyond your expectations is the amount and variety of things you can buy in the pro shop, incredible! And the amounts you can spend too!

Wednesday is always the day when the most people come to watch at Augusta, and it's the par-3 contest's fault. Thousands of people crowd together for those small, but spectacular 9 holes, and the ambiance is amazing, the most special moment being when Palmer, Nicklaus and Player come out to play. The big news of that day came at the tee of hole 6, one of the very few women at Augusta, Condoleezza Rice, ex US Secretary of State, and we started talking about politics. And you all know how much I love teasing Jiménez with politics!

As far as the tournament, I'm sure you all followed. The first day of play was horrible, where we barely came out alive with a 75 (+3). After a good practice session on Thursday evening, second round was a much better 69 (-3) that included my first par on hole 18 after 10 entire rounds (Halleluiah!), which secured me a spot in the tournament for the weekend.

If there's something that really impresses me about Augusta, it's the capacity the organization has for changing the course from one day to the next. This year, it happened on Saturday when the greens were harder and faster than the other days. My fellow golfer, Louis Oosthuizen, and I already looked over at each other on the green of the 5th hole, knowing it would be the beginning of an interesting day. And that it was, although my tee to green game wasn't bad, I went home with a 74 (+2), but only having been bumped down four positions in the leaderboards. Sunday, on the other hand, the course was much more accessible, but my short game disappeared once again. Another 74 (+2) in the end, and the disappointment of not having reached the goal of top 12 in order to secure my return to Magnolia Lane the following year.

After the initial disappointment wears off, it's best to stick with the good moments that happened throughout the week, which now that I'm writing this post, I realize there were many, and really great ones at that, and I'm grateful that was able to share it with close friends and family. So now it's time to 'roll up our sleeves' and carry on, to start working hard to secure my return to the Augusta National next year, the second week of April 2015, to be able to enjoy another unforgettable week.

Now, time to rest for a few days at home before playing at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, the Players at Ponte Vedra Beach and of course, the fifth major tournament of the season, the Spanish Open in CataluÑa.

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