Jim Colton, 2008 Masters Champion?

Watching the bloodbath that was Saturday at Augusta this year, I couldn't help but ask myself the same question that was going through many viewer's minds that day: 'If these guys are barely breaking 80, what the heck would I shoot out there?' It's a scary question with probably an even scarier answer.

Ever since Tiger decimated the course in 1997, the powers that be have been tweaking the course almost every year to make it tougher. New tee boxes here, add some pine trees there, grow in a little rough...sorry, second cut, and you have a completely different golf course. The net result is that you will go to your grave and no one will have even sneezed at Tiger's -18 record, not even Eldrick himself.

Although they've been making these changes over the last 10 years, nearly every year the tournament has seen some rain and the course has never showed it's true colors. We've never seen how hard the course could play under firm, fast and windy conditions. That was until 2007. And we all know how that turned out. Is this the Masters or the US Open?

Usually when a change occurs as a reaction to some extreme event (Tiger in 1997), the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. I suspect that they will make some changes to make the course a little more playable...probably by removing some trees. Part of what makes the Masters so great are the birdie/eagle opportunities coming down the stretch at 13 and 15. But it certainly seemed like far fewer golfers were going for those greens in two. The right balance for a good par 5 is a drive that puts the golfer right in that go/no-go range, where he's forced to make a tough risk-reward decision.

The reason I bring up Augusta is because as of yesterday, the wheels have been put in motion. There is a chance that I could be playing in the 2008 Masters.

A trillion-to-one chance. But a chance nonetheless.

You see, yesterday my buddy Jefe and I sent in our applications to play in the 2007 USGA Mid-Amateur, which is this September at Bandon Dunes. The winner of the Mid-Am (as well as the winners of the USGA Pub Links, British Amateur and finalists in the US Amateur) gets an invite to the Masters the following year. Perhaps you may have noticed Dave Womack and his 84-81 flash across the screen during this year's telecast. He was the 2006 Mid-Am champion.

So all I have to do is finish in the top 4 or 5 out of approximately 140 at my sectional qualifying site, finish in the top 64 for 36 holes against 240 of the best 25-and-over amateur golfers in the country, then win six grueling match-play matches. Like I said...trillion-to-one. But that's one-trillionth better than if I hadn't entered at all.

In all honesty, the primary reason that I've signed up for the Mid-Am is not for the (extremely remote) chance to play Augusta, it's for (definite) chance to play Rich Harvest Links, the site of the sectional qualifying. This ultra-private course was once the personal playground to ultra-rich Jerry Rich, and is now open to a handful of members (Michael Jordan is one of them). Rich Harvest was recently named the host of the 2009 Solheim Cup. I've been dying to get a chance to play there.

Most of what I've gathered about Rich Harvest is half-fact, half-folklore. Conditioning on par or better to Augusta. Holes that can play as par 3's, 4's, or 5's. Very few have seen the course, far fewer have had the opportunity to actually play it. My buddy Jimbo (Jefe's brother) was actually considering taking a job as the psuedo-caddie master out there this summer. It eventually didn't pan out, but last weekend he looped out there. His summation...Jefe and I would have a hard time breaking 100! Here's Jimbo's own words:

"The one course that I would compare Rich Harvest to, and I know you guys will drool over this comparion, is The River Course at Blackwolf Run. Rich Harvest is basically 18 holes of sensory overload. Every hole has a lot going on; lakes, ponds, doglegs, narrow shoots through trees, covered bridges, arching bridges, streams, bunkers, alternate tee boxes, alternate fairways, split fairways, multiple holes that can be played as par 4's or par 5's. There is not one hole I can think of that is a breather hole. The course is unrelenting, from start to finish. The MIDDLE TEES are at 7000 yards. There is only one par 4 under 400 yards. I thought there was a lot of Pete Dye in the course.

The main defense of the course is asking the player to hit long, very accurate tee shots. To score here you MUST drive the ball exceptionally well. Yes the course is wooded and many holes are cut through the trees. But there are many open holes out of the forest as well. Almost all of the landing areas are pinched by bunkers or trees or water. There are a couple of forced carries and one or two blind shots, but for the most part the course is right there in front of you. What makes the course so demanding off the tee is the rough. The rough was the most penal rough I HAVE EVER SEEN.. It wasn't even that tall, maybe 4 inches. But it was incredibly thick. Usually the ball would sink down to the bottom of the rough. Multiple times during the round I tracked my players ball into the rough, got to the point where I thought it was, then spent 3 minutes looking for it. You basically had to be right on top of the ball in order to see it. A caddie I was working with who was in his 7th season had the same problems finding balls in the rough.

The greens are fronted by either bunkers or water. You cannot run the ball up on the green. You must carry the ball to the green on most holes. The greens are both small and huge. They have a ton of slope and have very subtle breaks. They are ULTRA FAST. They are also incredibly true.

The course is not tricked up, there are no gimmicks. You just have to hit quality golf shot after quality golf shot. It is just a very hard golf course. It is also not an easy couse to walk. Many tee boxes are are long walk off from the previous green. There is not a lot of flow to the course, the layout is broken up. One hole is here, another a half mile over there, etc. The course is in incredible shape. Every part of the course was super conditioned.

You might think I am overstating the brutality the course. I am not. I have no idea what the USGA will do to it or how they will set it up, but they can make it as mean as they want to."

Yikes! Maybe a trillion-to-one is overly optimistic. Still, Jim Colton, 2008 Masters Champion has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? And if it were to somehow happen, I think it would be the first time Jim Nantz was left speechless. And you thought Zach Johnson was a no-namer.

Don't hold your breath, but stay tuned. It should be an interesting summer as I try to get my game in shape to perform well this September. And just for the jacket size is 42 Long, and we'd be having Portillo's at the Champions Dinner.


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