England ace Long living the Augusta dream

Four practice rounds at Augusta National in the last fortnight have whetted the appetite of England men’s squad player Joe Long.

Golfing trips to East Lake, home of the PGA Tour’s annual FedEx Cup finale, and Peachtree, inspired by Bobby Jones and built by namesake Robert Trent Jones, were also a bit tasty.

And a chance meeting with two-time Superbowl winner and American football legend Peyton Manning in the Augusta clubhouse was another special moment to digest.

But these memorable events are just for starters.

Long, the reigning Amateur Champion, is now ready to get his teeth into the main course – the 85th Masters at Augusta.

For Gloucestershire’s Long, an invitation to the first men’s major of the season is the stuff of golfing dreams.

Ever since he won The R&A’s Amateur crown last August at Royal Birkdale (pictured below) , Long has known this event was in his diary.

But it was only when he passed security at the gates and drove up Magnolia Lane for the first time two weeks ago, did he truly believe it was happening.

Joe’s dad Ian has now flown in to complete ‘Team Long’ and the 23-year-old is itching for Thursday’s tee-time.

“When I first approached Augusta National, got through the gates and drove up towards the clubhouse the ‘wow’ factor was definitely in play,” admitted Long.

“It is everything you dreamed it might be – they treat you like royalty and the course is as pure as it gets.

“I was lucky enough to have four practice rounds booked and experienced each round with the same local caddie who was able to pass on decades of knowledge.

“Those visits have helped me get used to the place and now the main thing is to focus on my process and try and de-clutter my mind.

“It would be very easy to have your head filled with junk worrying about this or that.

“I have lots of notes, but I want to simplify them and make it as clear as possible.

“Chris Wood is a friend of mine and has played here a good few times and he has helped me on this front.

“I want to have clear targets to aim at and then be as aggressive as I can going for these targets. There’s no point shying away from it.

“The course is a brutal test. It’s about  six miles to walk it so conserving energy in the run-up to Thursday is also important.

“For me the key is putting yourself in the right position on fairways.

“By landing in the right spot you can aim for targets that you know will leave you with the best putting option.

“If you get caught wrong side of any hole it’s like putting on glass.”

Long has been grafting over the winter having travelled to South Africa for some warm-weather training.

A freak injury picked up while surfing has now cleared up after some initial worries.

“I was pretty concerned,” admitted Long

“I thought I’d torn the muscle, and I had – it was a mild tear. It was just the wave chewed me up, I tensed my body and it tore.

“I was struggling to walk and spoke to Dan Coughlan (strength and conditioning coach). He said that it sounded like nothing too serious and that the max time to heal was four-six weeks.

“At that point the Masters was six weeks away and I was a bit concerned.

“But everything happens for a reason. I accept it. I wanted to get away and enjoy other sports – you can’t wrap yourself up in a bubble. Things just happen. That’s the way it is.

“I had two or three weeks off – not fully off as I carried on chipping and putting – but a well-needed rest.

“I feel as if my body is in good shape. I won’t be going near the beach any time soon!”

Long is excited to be part of the field at Augusta – until now a venue that only existed in his mind as a place he’d witnessed on TV.

As a youngster, Long recalls watching Rory McIlroy come unstuck in his quest to win the 2011 Masters.

A year later, he marvelled at Bubba Watson playing one of the greatest shots of all time from the trees on the right of the 10th fairway to win his first green jacket.

Long is refusing to set targets or expectations – as he feels that will only put undue pressure on his shoulders.

Instead, he will try and live in the moment and hope that his tactics allow him to make the most of the experience.

Long added: “I feel like If I set out to make the cut or win the low amateur prize it puts pressure and leads to expectation.

“If I do that, I’ll get frustrated. I want to absorb every moment and do my thing. One shot at a time and follow process.

“If I can keep my mind on the right track I’ll be pleased regardless of the result.”

Tee times

Thursday 1.48 pm, Friday 4.54pm  (BST) – Bernhard Langer, Will Zalatoris, Joe Long 

Follow Joe’s progress from Thursday on the England Golf social media platforms, at www.masters.com and live on Sky Sports Golf.

 

Photography credit: Leaderboard/The R&A