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Young Masters rookies confident

AUGUSTA, Ga. —Since 1935, only one golfer has won the Masters in his first appearance: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

The reason? It takes years of experience to unlock Augusta National's secrets: the best angles into greens, the subtle pull of Rae's Creek on putts, the places to miss shots and still have a chance to save par, the swirling wind in Amen Corner.

That's why first-time Masters participants wind up in straitjackets, not green jackets. Usually, they leave the place shaking their heads — often after 36 holes — after struggling with the nuances of the course and the magnitude of the occasion.

At least, that's the conventional wisdom, reinforced by the Fuzzy stat.

But pro golf is skewing younger and younger. The kids are better prepared coming out of college, hit the ball a mile and do not quake in their spikes when Tiger Woods walks by.

A record 24 first-time Masters participants tee it up in the first round today, but several already are PGA Tour winners and four are ranked among the top 25 in the world. Each is thinking the same thing: "Why not me?"

"It's getting younger," said Jordan Spieth, 20 and in his first Masters, and who last summer became the youngest tour winner since the Depression before he turned 20 in July.

"The game is getting better, younger, and vastly spreading to different and more places. I think that we'll continue to see younger and younger players step up and be able to win early, such as we have."

In the not-too-distant past, a young golfer would show up at Augusta National unprepared for the challenge that awaited him. It was up to him and his caddie to figure out the course.

Now, golfers show up with teams. Their practice is choreographed to the minute. They huddle with nurturing advisers. They get positive feedback. No one around them tells them they're too young or inexperienced to play well.

"These days, kids have a mental coach, a strength coach, a swing coach, maybe a short-game coach," said Jason Day, a grizzled veteran of 26. "They have so many people around them that are in place to make sure they are improving and competing.

"These kids are coming out confident. They're coming out stronger, faster. Their games are a lot tighter and every year that goes by they are just coming out tougher to compete and play against."

Patrick Reed, 23, is as confident as anyone. He has won three times in seven months going back to last season, including a World Golf Championships event in which he declared on national television that he already feels like one of the top five players in the world.

The Masters is his first major.

"It doesn't matter if you've played here once or if you've played here 50 times," Reed said. "When it comes down to it, it's just going to be one of those things that whoever is playing the best is going to walk away with the trophy."

Young Masters rookies confident 04/09/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:01pm]
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