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March 1, 2018

The Price is Right

Looking back on Nick Price’s record setting round at Augusta

BY GARRETT JOHNSTON

There are a few places where sharing the course record means you’re immortalized in the halls of golf. Augusta National is undoubtedly one of them.

It was 1986 when a young Zimbabwean earned a spot in the Masters for the second time in his career. The 26-year-old Nick Price had played well in majors up to that point, having finished second at the 1982 Open Championship and fifth at the 1985 PGA Championship – but that week he would deliver a historic major performance. In the third round, Price set the course record at Augusta with a round of 63 (Greg Norman would later tie it in 1996).

Looking back on it, Price said he prepared for the round the same way he did at every stage of his playing career, by hitting shots he expected to see on the course that day. In the case of Augusta National, he’d prepare on the range with his draw for some of the par 5‘s like Nos. 2 and 13. However, during the third round when he posted the historic number, he remembers never going for the green in two on the par 5s.

Instead, Price would lay up to 95 yards. What he called his “comfort zone.”

Price surprisingly started his record round with a bogey on the first, but bounced back quickly. “What happened the next 17 holes was a sign of pent up frustration and proving to myself that I wasn’t scared of the big moment,” he says.

Price had some close calls in the majors before then, and though he didn’t end up closing this one out (a certain guy named Nicklaus won his 18th major that year), Price still felt he found a nice rhythm with his game. The only difference he saw between his second round 69 and the 63 were a few made putts.

“I hit the ball just as well as I did that Friday,” Price says. “It’s a funny thing.”

There was one moment, however, when Price became aware of what he was chasing.

“I was 7-under and my caddie, David McNeilly, and I were walking up 14 and I said ‘do you know what the course record is here?’ and he said ‘Yes, we’re going for it.’”

And the rest resides in Augusta’s history books. The humble Price credits equipment and the significant difference between the persimmon and metal driver with much of the results. Though Norman tied it in 1996, the 63 has not been beaten, even with today’s distance and technology.

Practice for Price
Price practiced for seven to eight hours on non-competition days, and those usually began with range sessions that would last up to 90 minutes.

“I had an hour of good concentration in me. It wasn’t about the quantity of balls that I hit, it was about how long am I focused for,” Price says. He would move on to bunker practice once that focus ran out on his long game. “Once you lose that focus you might as well get out, you’re wasting your time.

“For amateurs as well, to stand on the range and unconsciously hit balls is not good for anyone,” he continues.

The three-time International Presidents Cup Captain would then play a practice round and then head back to the range and practice green to finish his day.

Price felt fortunate to be coached for many years by David Leadbetter, who utilized the video camera religiously with his students. Price would watch his swing on video with Leadbetter for immediate feedback, and he encourages golfers to find the key takeaways from the entire movement, not just one position.

“As teaching pros, you must help your students find what good rhythm and good tempo is for their swing,” Price says. “Because it’s not about static positions.”

Price sees this as one of the biggest challenges golfers face when taking their swing from the range to the course. He understands that it’s easy to get over-focused on technique in your preparation and play.

“Do not think about positions so much, just go and play,” Price offers. “If you want to work on your golf swing, you do that on the range. When you get onto the first tee you have to be 100 percent into the golf hole that you’re playing.

“If golfers focus on targets on the course and less into method, they will play a lot better,” Price says, and then he chuckles. “Easier said than done!”

Known as a self-proclaimed feel player, Price says his pre-round warm-up would usually lasts an hour in length. Before tournament rounds he would practice with even clubs one day and then odd the next.

“I would hit 10 balls with each club,” Price says. “The ball-striking regimen lasted about 30- 40 minutes, the other 20 minutes was a combination of chipping and putting. Sometimes if I was hitting the ball well on the range I would try and mix it up.”

Price would make changes based on the weather. In colder conditions he would chip and putt first and then hit balls to ensure he would be warm on the first tee.

In warmer weather, Price would take a five-minute break in the locker room after his hour-long routine just before tee time, to conserve as much energy as possible.

With a career of three majors, 48 worldwide wins and a shared course record (63) at Augusta National, the competitive nature of the 61-year-old from Zimbabwe is only matched by his amicable and engaging personality.

The man has a great passion for the game and now that he’s past his playing days (he ended his nine-year PGA Tour Champions career in 2015) he’s been elected to serve on the USGA’s Executive Committee as of February.

“It will be really cool,” Price says of the opportunity, knowing that CEO Mike Davis and the Competitions Staff will lean on him for his experience as a former world No. 1 player in setting up U.S. Open venues. “That’s hopefully where I can contribute.”

This is a unique shift for Price who openly criticized the USGA during the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage. In his frustration at Bethpage Price said the USGA was threatening to “take the fun out of the game” by only allowing longer hitters to win. He went on to tie for eighth.

But 16 years later Price hopes to give the USGA a major presence with his knowledge. “One thing about the USGA is they do 98 percent of the things right, but they get so much criticism for the 2 percent that is wrong,” Price says. “Hopefully for me, I will be able to help with that.”