AUGUSTA, Ga. — Former Davis High standout Nick Watney had some people over to his rented house in Augusta, Ga., on Wednesday, the night before Round 1 of The Masters.
The get-together included Watney’s close friend Bill Haas, another PGA Tour pro, and his wife Julie and the two golfers even teamed up for a game of ping pong against Watney’s trainer Kyler Brown and Jason Fray, one of the former Blue Devil’s old Davis Muni buddies.
On Thursday, Watney shot an even0par 72 in the first round at Augusta National, to trail the first round leader by three strokes. That leader? Watney’s buddy Haas, who fired a 4-under 68 on Day 1.
“Billy and I were on a team and we were undefeated (at ping pong) so maybe if he comes over again, maybe a little of that can rub off on me, that 68,” Watney said. “But, yeah, I love Bill. He came over and we had a good time.”
Fray graduated from Woodland High in 2000, one year after Watney finished up at DHS, and the two were mainstays on the Davis Municipal Golf Course during those days. And being on opposing prep golf teams meant they got in their fair share of duels.
“You have no idea how much I miss those days,” Fray said.
Fray remembers Watney hitting up to 500 balls most days on the range and he felt that they spent ‘every waking moment’ of their formative years at that golf course.
Davis Muni also was represented at the Masters Thursday by its current PGA apprentice Chris Mapalo, who also competed against Watney in high school, and Ben LeFebvre, one of Watney’s former Blue Devil teammates.
“I remember when we used to all watch the Masters together and now we’re out here watching (Watney) play against the best players in the world,” LeFebvre said. “It’s pretty unreal.”
Unreal indeed for the local trio as it is their first time taking in Augusta National’s majestic views. They arrived on Monday and are leaving Friday, time to get back to reality after a few days at one of golf’s meccas.
“We used to imagine being here so now that they’re here supporting me it’s fun,” Watney said. “It’s cool to see them because they’ve been with me every step so it’s been great.”
Watney’s been battling a sore back recently and took a cortisone shot 10 days ago for it. The back began to flare up before his final round last month at the Cadillac Championship in Miami, forcing him to withdraw.
Watney said it was “feeling good” after his round on Thursday.
After missing his first four greens and going 2-over par through that stretch, Watney collected himself and rallied with back-to-back birdies on No. 6 and No. 7. A late birdie on 17, from 25 feet away, took every bit of Watney’s body English to go in.
The 32-year-old was looking to be a bit more aggressive when his second round got going Friday morning.
“This course is such a fine line between (being) conservative and sometimes that gets you into more trouble,” Watney said. “I just need to swing away and enjoy it (Friday).”
Also unique to this week is the presence of Watney’s first child. Four-week-old Harper Watney is at her first tournament this week and her father is soaking it in.
“It’s surreal to say my daughter is at the Masters,” Watney said. “So we’re having a lot of fun with it. Hopefully, she behaves herself out here.”
So how does Watney feel about being a father for the first time?
“It’s hard to put into words, I feel like she’s changed so much even though she only weighs about seven pounds,” Watney said. “Every day it’s something new for her. So we’re enjoying it. My wife (Amber) might not be enjoying the nights so much, but we’re loving the daytime.”
— Garrett Johnston is a freelance golf writer based in Sacramento. He has been covering the PGA Tour for the past nine years, and has followed Watney closely for the past four.