Boom boom: Patrick Cantlay spends Monday at the Masters getting inside info from Fred Couples

The 29-year-old and the veteran kicked off the big week at Augusta National with a defeat of their fellow Californians Xander Schauffele and Max Homa.

Aspiring artists and contenders at Augusta National have something in common: they know that the old Masters provide the best lessons.

Severiano Ballesteros knew it.

He played the final round of the 1978 tournament alongside Gary Player, his eyes alert to every nuance as the South African turned fury at what he perceived to be a snub by the patrons into a righteous back nine charge to victory.

"You have shown me how to win," he told Player on the final green and two years later he proved it, slipping his arms into a first Green Jacket.

Eight years later Sandy Lyle had the best seat in the house as Jack Nicklaus stormed to his sensational final major championship triumph and the Scot's autobiography reveals how the details of that day were seared into his mind: the ability to deal with errors, the focus on the back nine, the readiness to strike when others stumbled.

He'd been schooled and in 1989 the pupil joined the Master at the Champion's Dinner.

On Monday at Augusta National, Patrick Cantlay also sought advice from a Master - his former neighbour in Newport, California and the winner of the 1992 Green Jacket, Fred Couples.

"We beat up Xander Schauffele and Max Homa," Cantlay said with a smile. "Not surprising because Fred birdied 16 and 18. We had a great time."

The 29-year-old is no rookie at Augusta – he first played the course in 2012, making the cut on his way to winning low amateur honours.

Two years ago he carded 64-68 at the weekend to log a first top 10 finish and he even briefly held the lead on the back nine Sunday.

Johnson and Cantlay walking the Augusta fairways.
Johnson and Cantlay walking the Augusta fairways.

Last November he played the first 54 holes of the week alongside the eventual champion Dustin Johnson, another opportunity to educate himself on what it takes to end the week at the top of the leaderboard.

In particular, he noted that Johnson wasn't afraid of flouting the apparent rule that a fade doesn't work at Augusta.

"He drove the ball really well and he didn't try to ever turn it right-to-left," he said. "He always hit that little cut that he plays all the time."

Cantlay, best price 22/1 with BetFred this week, is a winner on the lightning-fast greens at Muirfield Village and also defeated a strong field in the Zozo Championship last October.

Major championship success is the natural next step and his thoughts on the course reveal an intelligent golfer who hasn't skipped his homework.

Traffic lights

"I think this place is a series of red, yellow and green lights," he told the media, avoiding the charge of Accidental Partridge by explaining his thinking was actually crystal clear.

"There's not as many yellows as red or greens, but when you do get on a red hole location, like back left hole location on the sixth hole, guys just aren't making birdie there, especially if it's firm.

"So it frees you up to hit it bottom left and leave yourself 40-feet up the hill. It's the correct spot, a good play. You're not thinking 'I didn't get it up on that top shelf' because you were expecting 40-feet.

"It's about feeling comfortable with the place and getting a good picture in your head when you have to hit those certain shots.

"Confidence builds on itself around here. You hit those shots really well a few times in pressure situations, it reinforces the picture, and you just take that every year going forward."

Shape-shifting

It's not only the first-hand experience of playing with Johnson that has created a shift in Cantlay's thinking - the more he's played Augusta, the more he's come to appreciate the lie of the land.

"I almost imagined being a shot-maker too much," he explained. "But the golf course is so big that there's a lot of space for your stock shot.

"It really is a big ballpark. You've got to hit your line on 18, but other than that you can hit almost whatever shape off the tee you want."

Cantlay then unveiled a series of Augusta life hacks.

"The 10th hole. The first time I saw it as an amateur I wanted to hit a driver and get a short club in there, but 3-wood goes almost to the same spot and it's so much easier to hit in the fairway.

Cantlay has got a strategy from every tee.
Cantlay has got a strategy from every tee.

"The tee shot on No. 7 is kind of tough. The hole looks like a fade to me, but whenever I try and hit the fade, I always pull it in the left trees, so I just try and hit a draw down there, my normal swing.

"You can get trapped into thinking you need to play a fade in the 13th fairway. But with the ball being above your feet, it's more side-hill, it's hard to hit a fade.

"It's all just realising that you don't need to curve the ball as much as you would imagine growing up watching it on TV."

Boom Boom's brains

Couples is a Masters legend who not only won the tournament in 1992, he also landed another 10 top-10 finishes, three of them in his 50s.

Little wonder Cantlay has been picking his brains.

"Fred's really good at hitting shots at the right weight, and where does that talent come from, it's a good question," he said.

"I've been talking with him about that lately. He instinctively picks the right shot a lot and he'll pick the right club more often than other people, too.

"But he's much more cerebral than maybe you would imagine. I mean, people think, oh, he's a freak, he just hits it close because he can feel it from 175.

"But I think he puts the right input into his brain where I can swing really full and free because he's got the right club, so at worst it's going to go 10 or 12 feet past."

Speedy

Cantlay is excited that this year's tournament will witness a return to typical April conditions, after the softer and slower delayed tournament last year.

"I expect it to get really firm and fast," he said. "That's when this golf course shines.

"Everyone loves seeing the chips and putts that seem to trickle out and take forever to get to the hole. That really brings out the great design this is.

"I'm looking forward to that challenge. It puts a premium on controlling your golf ball and playing smart, which I think is one of my strengths.

"And then I love fast, old-school putting greens and this is the apex of that. It's the most undulated, fastest greens we play all year.

"It feels easier for me to make putts when it's like that. I look forward to that every time I come here."

Cantlay is available at 22/1 with BetFred.

READ MORE: The Masters: An in-depth look at the leading contenders for Augusta National glory

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