Nick Taylor making most of Masters debut despite unique circumstances

Spencer McIlmoyle joined Follow The Money and gave his take on whether or not Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson would make the cut at The Masters.

Nick Taylor won’t be able to take advantage of all that makes up a first-time Masters appearance, but he’ll be embracing the opportunity to walk the fairways of legends at Augusta National – and like any first-timer, he’s going to have his credit card at the ready.

“I have a lot of people at home eager for some Masters swag,” Taylor told Sportsnet, with a laugh, before heading to Augusta National for the first time this week.

Taylor, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February – taking down Phil Mickelson in the process on Sunday – is one of four Canadians in the 2020 Masters field. He’s the only Canadian rookie (one of 26 golfers who are making their Masters debut – a record) as Corey Conners and Adam Hadwin are both playing their third Masters and Mike Weir, the 2003 Green Jacket winner, is in the field for the 21st time.

But this is a Masters unlike any other. Taylor admitted it’s “going to hurt” he can’t have members of his inner circle in attendance – his parents, of course, his brother, and his wife Andie’s parents in particular. They’ve all been instrumental in Taylor’s professional golf journey. He’s now a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and in all likelihood, a future Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member.

Still, he’s just happy he gets to play the Masters at all in 2020.

“I’ve never been to Augusta, the town, let alone on the grounds. Everything will be a first for me. That’s what I’m excited for. I always envisioned my first time being there would be when I was playing the Masters. I just didn’t really picture it being in November,” said Taylor, who got in some work Monday and will be part of the Canadian foursome playing a warm-up game together on Tuesday.

Taylor said he’s long thought about making his Masters debut and what that could mean. His first victory on the PGA Tour, the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2014 was, at the time, an opposite-field event. While he got numerous perks – most importantly a two-year exemption on Tour – he did not get a spot in the Masters. That came with his victory in California earlier this year, however.

Prior to Masters week, Taylor was watching TV and the commercials would get him even more excited for the event.

“Before (the commercials) got me excited just for watching it,” said Taylor. “And now that I’m actually going to be there a lot of those really-excited feelings I had right after I won and I knew I was going to be there came back.”

The plan, Taylor said, is to make the best of the week. He’d love, of course, to have his young son Charlie bopping around with him during the Par-3 Contest, but he said missing out on some of the special parts of Masters week just gets him more excited to return in a ‘normal’ year.

“It just would have been an amazing experience for everybody but the motivation is there to get back to Augusta for multiple years going forward,” said Taylor.

Weir has, of course, been returning for multiple years since his 2003 victory and will lead the Canadian foursome in its practice round Tuesday. Taylor said he’d be picking Weir’s brain as much as he can around the course as the pair has similar-type games. The key would be learning shots from Weir both on and around the greens and try not to get caught up in the moment.

“I remember watching (Weir) in my basement, him winning, and now I get to play with him (at Augusta National),” said Taylor, “and it will be really cool walking around that place together.”

This will be the first time there will be four Canadians in the field at the Masters (the most ever was five, in 1961). While Taylor makes his debut both Conners and Hadwin are becoming hardened Augusta National veterans. Hadwin has made the cut at both of his previous Masters starts (T36-T24 in 2017 and 2018, respectively) while Conners has always had interesting circumstances for his drive down Magnolia Lane.

Conners made his Masters debut as an amateur in 2015 after finishing runner-up at the U.S. Amateur the year prior, and in 2019 he was the last golfer in the field after winning the Valero Texas Open the week before the event. This year the event is in November.

“Last year there was a lot of adrenaline pumping the whole week, coming off my first win, so my mind was all over the place,” Conners told Sportsnet. “It’s going to be a special week. I’m just going to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Conners has been long considered one of the best iron players on the PGA Tour, and his tee-to-green game will be put to the test at Augusta National. He’ll live and die by his putting this week. Around the greens, he said, would be his biggest key for success. Hadwin, meanwhile, is no longer working with his longtime coach Ralph Bauer and is figuring things out on his own these days. But, he’s missed just one cut since the PGA Tour returned from its COVID-19 break – a sign of progress. Taylor will have a crash-course in Augusta National, looking to become the first Masters rookie since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to don the Green Jacket at week’s end. And of course, Weir, the elder statesman, will look to rekindle some old magic and continue the momentum from a fine PGA Tour Champions season.

Regardless of what shines through most at the end of the week – Weir’s experience, Conners’ steadiness, Hadwin’s determination, or Taylor’s bright-eyed excitement – one thing is for sure: this is a special week for Canadian golf.

“It’s amazing, obviously,” said Conners. “Canadian golf has been trending upwards for the last number of years and it’s been fun to be part of.”

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