AUGUSTA, Ga. — During a practice round Monday, Kevin Streelman walked to the back-right fringe off the 18th green and threw down a few balls. It looked a bit like an act of frustration, but it actually represented a Masters learning curve.
The Winfield native said he would not have known to test the surface before his first Masters in 2011.
"I was replicating a shot coming in; I wanted to see the bounce," Streelman said. "But they're smart here. They don't cut them as tight as they will Thursday morning."
Streelman's first Masters experience ended predictably, with a Friday afternoon ticket home. By the time he had completed two rounds of 75, he was gassed.
He and wife Courtney rented a house that doubled as an entertainment hub for their 15 friends and relatives.
"Kevin was always 'on,' " Courtney recalled. "This year, we got a really quiet place just for us. We go to our family's house to visit."
Streelman said he thought he was "prepared for the chaos" in 2011.
"It was very overwhelming," he said. "It's still kind of overwhelming, but at least you know what to expect. This year we can get away from the barrage of people needing your time and attention."
Streelman hopes to see the same kind of surge from first to second Masters that a plethora of players enjoyed, namely Raymond Floyd (missed cut to tie for 8th), Peter Hanson (MC to T-3), Jack Nicklaus (MC to T-13), Charl Schwartzel (T-30 to win), Brandt Snedeker (T-41 to T-3), Bo Van Pelt (MC to T-8) and Tom Watson (MC to T-8).
Nicklaus said he learned in his debut in 1959 that he "didn't know how to putt these greens."
Snedeker realized that at Augusta National, you can't think tee-to-green.
"Knowing where the pin is on the first hole is going to dictate what you are going to hit off the tee," he said. "That's something I learned after the first year — to think your way from the green backward."
Streelman, 34, who earned his Masters ticket last month by winning the PGA Tour's Tampa Bay Championship, also has a new caddie this time. Like his boss, A.J. Montecinos has Chicago roots. He was born in Glen Ellyn and considers himself a "Chicago boy" despite moving to Texas at 6.
Streelman and Montecinos like the same teams: the Bears, Cubs and Bulls.
"I just enjoy walking with him," Streelman said. "He's very calming. And incredibly strong mentally."
The two hooked up in October, about two years after Montecinos parted ways with 2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang.
Streelman caddied at Wheaton's Chicago Golf Club during summers as a Duke student and at Whisper Rock in Arizona in his 20s.
"He appreciates the hard work I put in — and that makes you work that much harder," Montecinos said.
Said Courtney: "It's a great fit. When Kevin needs to be pulled out of grumpy mode, he does. When Kevin second-guesses a club, he's really good at reconfirming the decision and putting confidence in him."
Streelman had a two-shot lead on the 18th tee at Innisbrook Resort outside Tampa. After Streelman inquired about his club choice, Montecinos reminded him how well he'd been driving that week.
"Take this driver and rip it up the middle," Montecinos said.
Streelman did that, made par and won for the first time on tour in 153 starts.