At some point Friday night, Brendon de Jonge reflected on his twenty year journey to this point. From the night where Zimbabwe Cricket Development coach Andy Pycroft offered the 17-year old son of Rick and Rose de Jonge the opportunity to play Test cricket for his home country, a career path decision loomed. He was such a talented cricket player, and having earned his place as a leading member of various age-group teams a difficult choice had to be made while attending St. Johns College not far from his Peacehaven home in Avondale where he wore his first green jacket. Who could guess an incredibly well-written essay on Tiger Woods would be a career defining moment for the future son of Zimbabwe golf. In the blink of an eye, this 20 year roller coaster ride has all led to this weekend, and it had come time to reach out for dreams and goals not yet accomplished.
Brendon's partner, Austrailian Steven Bowditch, is another Masters rookie finding himself on a rapid, if not highly lucky, rise up the PGA Tour charts. He was ranked just 336th in the world before his winning week at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio two weeks ago. The 30-year old rookie can exhale with his two year exemption, knowing he's safe out here and is simply looking to make the most of his Masters debut as well. Even though golfers are in their own little world out here, a good pairing wears far better than a bad pairing, and the positive energy and momentum the pair were generating always makes for good golf. Dozens of story lines were in play on day three of the 78th edition of The Masters - Bubba Watson's search for a second green jacket, Freddie Couples trying to turn back the clock one more time, along with Master's rookie Jordan Speith's attempt to be the youngest winner ever, and would Rory McIlroy recover from his brain fade on Friday.
The opportunity to potentially take it deep into red figures today was not realized as Brendon de Jonge never appeared very comfortable out there on his maiden Moving Day at The Masters. True to form, consistent play from tee to green with an occasional up and down brought him to the difficult par four fifth hole where he made a great birdie. Only to turn around and give it back on the devilish par-four seventh hole. It was there that De Jonge made his third double bogey of the tournament. The one thing rookies don't bring to The Masters is the confidence of playing the course under tournament conditions which only comes from years of experience. Even though you stand on those luscious fairway knowing exactly where to hit it, how to hit it and what is "should" feel like, the point is you haven't executed THAT shot under pressure at The Masters before. It's just different! Different than the Xerox Classic, different than The President's Cup different than the 19 shot victory at The Zimbabwe Amateur.
Transforming confidence into success is a process that takes time though. He exited Amen Corner at +2 for the day and +4 for the tournament. Though he continued to hit 87% of the fairways, driver accuracy with the woods and the shorter irons has not been the problem. With just 58% of greens hit in regulation this weekend, he has put pressure on other parts of his game that haven't been tested at this high of a level until this week. Going 0 for 6 out of the bunkers, albeit he was hosed on the 7th hole with an awful lie under the lip, and a lackluster putting performance has left de Jonge with a frustrating taste in his mouth, as he has essentially given away 5-6 shots through 54 holes. He's also been fortunate to pick just up as many favorable shots through his first 36 holes. That's what The Masters does to you - it humbles you. It exposes your game like no other course and no other tournament. The gameplan he will implement to bring it back on the remaining holes will be no different than how he did it at Honda with the rib injury, no different than he has countless times before. There are 14 Masters victories down the leaderboard below him, but that's of little consolation to our All American, and this is not the time for moral victories.
The course is maddening as Lady Luck shone brightly on Steven Bowditch as he scraped his approach on 15 so poorly that it actually stayed on the bank. Unlike de Jonge's quality approach yesterday that landed 15 feet pin high left and still wound up 15 inches deep in the water of Rae's Creek. Today on 15, Brendon hit a sand wedge from 89 yards and landed it 25 feet right of the pin; taking advantage of the slope, as his ball nestled down less than 10 feet from the pin, only to make par as his left to right breaking putt burns the edge of the cup. The pin on the 16th hole was located in its traditional Thursday placement just eight paces over the front right bunker. Brendon hit a nice 8-iron from the short tee and cut it just to the right of the flag onto the fringe where the only uphill putt exists on this part of the hole and only managed to come up with another par. Running out of holes, de Jonge needed a couple birdies to bring it back to where he started on the day.
De Jonge never gained any traction today, and in fighting the course, probably put himself out of contention for a green jacket. The wheels never came off though, and if he can finish strong tomorrow having played four very competitive rounds, Brendon can take pride in his initial foray onto golf's biggest stage. Call it confidence, call it swagger, IT can only be experienced by walking the grounds of Augusta National, by wearing the collar of pressure and self expectation and by performing to one's own level of self awareness. It cannot be practiced. It can only be earned and on Moving Day at The Masters, Brendon de Jonge made his own noise that will serve him well tomorrow and for many years to come.