Brian Gay gets second chance at Masters
After waiting until he was 38 to make his Masters Tournament debut, what’s a few more years to get back to Augusta for Brian Gay?
The former Georgia resident, who missed the cut in the 2010 Masters, earned his ticket back to Augusta National Golf Club by winning the Humana Challenge in January. It was his fourth PGA Tour victory, but first in the opening leg of a season.
“I’ve been wanting to get back there,” Gay said of Augusta National.
Behind a final-round 63 at the Humana, Gay rallied from six shots off the lead, then won a sudden-death playoff over Augusta native Charles Howell and David Lingmerth to earn a spot in this year’s Masters field.
“It didn’t cross my mind, and
I’m glad I didn’t think of it,” Gay said of the automatic Masters invitation that goes to PGA Tour winners.
Gay spent part of his early childhood in Louisville, Ga., a town with a population of 2,486 located 46 miles southwest of Augusta National’s gates. His parents and other relatives still live there and will be out in force as Gay gets his second shot at Augusta National.
They didn’t see Gay for very long the last time he played in the Masters. Gay, who shot 74-77 to miss the cut by four shots in 2010, expects smoother sailing at Augusta National this time.
“At least now I feel like I know a little bit about what’s going on,” he said. “I feel like I’ll be a little more prepared this time. I won’t feel so overwhelmed.
“It was tough playing the first time,” he said. “There was a lot to learn. The course changed a lot from Tuesday and Wednesday to the tournament. Mostly, the greens are what changed the most, the speed of the greens. It was a big adjustment to have to make, having never experienced it.”
At the time, Gay was one of the shorter hitters on the PGA Tour. He was also battling a neck injury that week at the Masters.
“It never helps if you’re not feeling good,” Gay said. “My neck was a little junked up that week. I was hitting it a little shorter that week and I remember the fairways weren’t running as much. I was laying up on the par-5s. I think I went for 13 once. No. 15 was into the wind, I never could go for it and it’s a tough wedge shot in there, off a sidehill lie going into that green.”
In one round, Gay found himself hitting a fairway wood into the 505-yard par-4 11th hole.
“I couldn’t even see the green,” he said. “It was a blind shot. I had to walk up to see where to aim. I think it was a little bit into the wind. I hit a decent drive in the fairway and I had forever in there. I had like 230 or something.”
Thanks to work he’s done in the past 14 months with instructors Grant Waite and Joe Mayo on hitting it longer off the tee, Gay doesn’t expect to be in that kind of situation again.
According to this year’s PGA Tour stats, which measure two holes at each event, Gay is averaging more than 283 yards off the tee. That’s in contrast to 277.8 in 2012 and 269.8 in 2011, before he started working with Waite and Mayo.
Gay thinks he’s hitting it more like 10 or 15 yards longer in the air; Waite says it could be 15 to 20.
At any rate, the added length will be an advantage at the 7,435-yard Augusta National.
“There are some holes where you can reach some down slopes and get some added distance on top of the carry,” Gay said. “Just the fact I could go into the greens with less club, to hit a higher shot with more spin on approach shots can help me on the par-5s. Last time if I was marginal (on going for the green in two shots) on 13 and 15, now I might be in a spot where I can knock it on the green comfortably.”
Gay’s added yardage off the tee, Waite said, “can mean the difference between 2 or 3 clubs into a green. We know he can putt and chip.”
It will also help that Gay draws the ball (a right-to-left shot), which is the shot of choice on most holes at Augusta National.
“It’s going to help him on 2, 5, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 17,” Waite said. “Those all potentially make it for him to be competitive there. When it comes to Augusta National, you have to be really good, you have to time out when you’re playing well and you have to be a little lucky. At least I feel like he’s got an opportunity now to compete.
“It’s still going to come down to decision making and making some putts, but it’s certainly going to give him an opportunity if he’s playing well to now be competitive on a golf course that certainly favors those who can hit it farther.”
Players with Augusta-area ties who have competed in the Masters:
|Ed Dudley||Augusta National pro||14||1934-50||3 (1937)|
|David Ogilvie Jr.||Augusta Country Club pro||1||1934||T38 (1934)|
|Orville White||Midland Valley pro||2||1935-36||T15 (1936)|
|Bobby Knowles||Aiken resident||2||1951-52||T42 (1952)|
|Walker Inman Jr.||Augusta native||1||1956||T29 (1956)|
|Larry Mize||Augusta native||29||1984-2012||1 (1987)|
|Charles Howell||Augusta native||8||2002-12||T13 (2004)|
|Vaughn Taylor||Grew up in Augusta, played at Augusta State||3||2006-08||T10 (2007)|
|Oliver Wilson||Augusta State golfer||2||2009-10||MC|