Lots of college students take exciting trips during Spring Break. Not very many, however, take trips to Augusta National for a practice round before playing in the Masters. But that’s the situation Virginia’s Derek Bard found himself in earlier this month. The Cavalier junior qualified for this year’s Masters Tournament by finishing second in the U.S. Amateur last summer. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for a young golfer like Bard, and he’s not backing down from the challenge.
"The competitor in me wants to go there and play my best golf," Bard told reporters on Thursday. "And maybe, who knows, have a chance on Sunday."
Bard will be one of six amateurs teeing it up at Augusta National beginning next Thursday. He planned to head down to Georgia yesterday evening in order to begin his on-site practice on Friday. He told reporters that he’ll spend most of his time "getting comfortable" on Augusta’s world-famous putting greens.
The Masters is full of traditions, and Bard will partake in one of the more interesting ones. All amateurs playing in the tournament are invited to stay in the "Crow’s Nest," a common lodging area at the top of the clubhouse. It’s actually one big room, according to Bard, with the beds separated by "little walls." He said he likes the simplicity of it…not to mention the history that permeates the place.
Bard will stay at the "Crow’s Nest" until Sunday, when he’ll join his family and friends at a house they rented nearby. Players bringing their family and friends for the week is another informal Masters tradition. Bard estimated his group will have 18 folks in total.
"It'll be quite the crowd," he said.
As far as the course itself, Bard said he’s played it three times. In addition to the round during Spring Break, he played twice in November before thanksgiving. What continues to stand out to him is how deceivingly undulating the course is.
"TV doesn’t do it justice," Bard said. "On TV it kind of looks flat, but you get there and there are so many elevation changes from hole to hole and even on the same hole. A lot of holes are a lot more uphill than they seem on TV and a lot of holes were more downhill than they seem on TV."
While many professional players will sport in-demand caddies to help them throughout the week (Australian star Adam Scott even convinced his former caddie Steve Williams to come out of retirement), Bard will count on a more familiar touch. His younger brother Alec will be on his bag, just as he was during the U.S. Amateur.
"He knows my game really well," Bard said. "To have someone who’s on that level with me is an advantage itself. But the main thing is that it will be such a special moment to be with him every step of the way. I have to give him a lot of credit for the position that I’m in."
To prepare himself for the course, Bard noted that he’s spent time honing a different tee shot. He prefers to hit a fade, which moves the ball from left to right. But he noted that a number of holes require a right-to-left shot shape, so he’s been practicing a draw. He’s been tinkering with his alignment and swing plane a bit, and says he’s now comfortable working the ball both ways.
If Bard performs well enough to make the cut, he’ll join some pretty elite company. Current professional golfers Ryan Moore, Matt Kuchar, and Tiger Woods all played Augusta as college amateurs. Each won the low amateur award (Woods tied for it), and Moore finished -1 in 2005.
From a UVA standpoint, Bard’s appearance at Augusta is a boon to the men’s golf program under Bowen Sargent. Bard told reporters that his teammates have "all been extremely supportive. They’re all happy and excited for me." No doubt they’ll be cheering loudly for him from Charlottesville.