Kragthorpe: Masters rookie Daniel Summerhays almost aces his revered No. 12

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:52 pm

Augusta, Ga.

Daniel Summerhays' golf ball trickled backward down the slope of the No. 12 green, stopping 4 inches to the left of the hole. He turned to the gallery and grinned broadly, patting his chest to illustrate the heart-racing thrill that stemmed from the best shot of his Masters debut.

For a precious moment, the former Davis High School and BYU golfer pictured himself becoming only the fourth Masters contestant ever to make a hole-in-one at No. 12, a fabled hole that plays over Rae's Creek in the middle of Augusta National Golf Club's Amen Corner.

"I'll definitely remember that shot the rest of my life," he said after posting a 2-over-par 74 in Thursday's first round and giving himself a good chance of making Friday's cut.

Former champion Mike Weir of Sandy said No. 12 posed the most difficult challenge of any shot on the course Thursday, with such a narrow landing area and a dilemma about the choice of clubs. Summerhays was unfazed. Amid the swirling winds, his 8-iron shot landed about 9 feet behind the hole and worked its way back as the volume of cheers increased.

The No. 12 green is the only one that's inaccessible to spectators, but everybody could tell from 160-plus yards away that Summerhays came close to acing the hole — a feat last performed in the Masters by Curtis Strange in 1988.

And he loved it, having once declared No. 12 "my reverent spot" after visiting Augusta National during the final round in 2006, the day before his BYU teammates played in a tournament in Georgia.

In that setting, with a grandstand full of people behind the tee, "You want to put on a good show," said Summerhays, who likened the scene to No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona.

His comparison to that raucous environment in the Waste Management Phoenix Open probably won't be used in future Masters promotional material. Regardless, he delivered one of the most memorable shots by anyone in the 2017 opening round, responding well to a feeling of nervous excitement in playing the shot "instead of a fearful nervousness," he said.

Just when his round seemed to be falling apart, Summerhays almost birdied his way through Amen Corner. His recovery actually started on No. 10, where he hit a provisional drive after worrying that he may have lost his ball in the trees to the left. But he found it in reasonable position in the rough, saved a par with a nice chip and proceeded to nearly birdie Nos. 11 and 13, before and after the spectacular shot on No. 12.

Summerhays then birdied No. 14 from the back fringe to get back to even par for the day, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 left him mildly disappointed.

He could have used Weir's steady finish. The 2003 champion, making a rare start with limited PGA Tour status at age 46, parred the last seven holes to shoot a 76. Then they both played good defense against the field, with considerable help from the wind. They profited from early tee times before the conditions became brutally tough.

Summerhays enjoyed hitting the first official shot of the tournament mainly because that role enabled him to watch Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player launch honorary drives just before he teed off. The ceremony included a tribute to Arnold Palmer, who died in September.

"No matter how nervous we are on the biggest stages, it's all about relationships," Summerhays said. "You could feel Jack Nicklaus' love for Arnold Palmer in that moment."

Summerhays, who named his first child Jack, observed how Nicklaus "could barely see the golf ball" amid his tears, "but he striped it down the middle."

Summerhays then found the fairway himself on the opening hole and went off in search of his own 2017 Masters memory. It came a few hours later in a remote corner of the course.


Twitter: @tribkurt