English amateur Laird Shepherd is gearing up for the biggest week of his career as he tees it up at Augusta National next week.
Shepherd, originally from Sussex, is preparing for his second major championship, after playing in last year’s Open at Royal St George’s. It was his dramatic victory in the Amateur Championship at Nairn, where he came overcame an eight-hole deficit to win, which secured the 24-year-old’s invites to not just the Open and the Masters, but also this year’s US Open.
“It’s just really special,” said the Stirling University graduate.
“Driving up Magnolia Lane, you’re just so excited about getting there and getting going.
“You turn up at the gate and they know who you are and they let you straight in. It’s really historic and honestly, it’s beautiful. It’s going to be a lot of fun during the week,” Shepherd told bunkered.co.uk.
Shepherd, along with his caddie, Andrew Davidson, completed a practice round on Thursday, in an effort to get to grips with Augusta National’s dramatic layout.
“It was exciting, there was a lot going on on-site, it was a lot of fun to get there and see what it was going to play like in the tournament. I played by myself just to suss everything out, but I’ll try and get some big names to play practice rounds during the week, that will be a big help when it comes to Thursday.
“The more you play it the more you realise there’s quite a lot of complexities. You really need to have a solid game plan, especially around the greens.”
It wasn’t Shepherd’s first visit to Augusta though, he spent three days there in January, when he was given a full tour of the property.
“I got a full tour of the Augusta National and it’s like Narnia. You don’t realise they have all this space tucked away in different places. There’s just nothing out of place at all.
“It was good to get that initial ‘wow factor’ out of the way in January and get more comfortable, but the course wasn’t really playing similar to what it will in the tournament.”
Shepherd is part of a six-strong amateur contingent in the field, with the top amateur receiving a Silver Cup on Sunday. Not only that, but they will sit in the Butler Cabin with the tournament champion on Sunday night, a ceremony Shepherd hopes to take part in.
“In terms of how they’ve treated myself and the other amateurs, you get the feeling they really want you to do well,” he said. “They try and help you as much as possible to prepare for the event. They really couldn’t do much more to help us.
“It gives you a focus, knowing that you can be in the Butler Cabin on Sunday.”
Shepherd is no stranger to fast greens, but the putting surfaces at Augusta National are a challenge not even he has experienced before.
“It’s just the slopes on the greens. When you watch on TV you think ‘how has he done that,’ but you realise why when you get there. There are certain spaces on the greens that, because they’re so fast, the ball just won’t stay still.
“That’s been the main challenge, especially putting downhill. It’s like putting down your staircase. I’m sure we’ll have a few tough three-footers to contend with. There’s a bunch of slopes that you just can’t appreciate how severe they are, but we’ll figure it out.”