Such was the rushed nature of his arrival seven years ago it is understandable that Matt Jones’s most vivid memories of his first start at The Masters are different to the norm.
Fresh from a breakthrough victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open where he chipped in from 40 yards to defeat Matt Kuchar in a playoff, Jones rushed that Sunday night in the afterglow of triumph straight to Augusta, Georgia. The realisation of a boyhood dream on constant loop suddenly put on fast forward.
Returning seven years later courtesy of his second PGA TOUR title at The Honda Classic only two weeks ago, the 40-year-old reflected on his only previous appearance and the moments that remain etched in his mind.
“Won the week before, flew in that night, had nowhere to stay, stayed on Kevin Stadler’s couch,” Jones summed up as rapidly as that day itself unfolded.
“Monday was a wash-out, so I didn’t get to go out on the golf course, and then I got to see the golf course. Eighteen on Tuesday, nine on Wednesday, and then I’ve got the par-3 (contest). It was a blur.
“I do remember having a hole-in-one on the par-3 (Jones aced the 85-metre third hole). That was probably one of my fondest memories in golf, having my 2-year-old daughter get the ball out of the hole.
“It is tough to describe. It’s amazing how tough of a walk it is. It’s very hilly. The greens are very undulating and very fast. But the greenness, the vastness of how much green there is is amazing.
“I remember walking out for the first time in ‘14 and I had no idea there was so much green, that you could actually see so much of the golf course out there.”
Much has changed for Jones since he last drove down Magnolia Lane.
He has claimed the Australian Open on two occasions – both at The Australian Golf Club where he played as a junior – and he has twice had to fight back through the Korn Ferry Tour finals to maintain his full status on the PGA TOUR.
Last year’s suspension of the TOUR gave Jones cause to consider how long he would continue at the highest level but a top-10 at the Genesis Invitational in February and victory a month later sees him enter The Masters with his game sharp and confidence levels high.
“There’s a lot of holes out here that suit my ball flight. It’s a golf course that should visually suit my eye,” said Jones.
“Of course, winning is the goal. We know how hard it is to win. I’ve won twice on TOUR, so to win two in four weeks would be impressive, but it’s going to be tough.
“You’ve got to do everything well out here. You can’t be off on anything. If I was lucky enough to hit it like I did at the Honda, I’d be a chance.
“I haven’t done a lot since I won actually. I came out here for a couple of days. That was the first time I would have touched a club, last week, and then I did a little bit of work at home the last few days.
“I’m trying to treat it like I would a regular prep for a tournament. I’m not trying to over-prep because I think you can become too obsessed with trying to do things right out here.
“I’m just going to try and play golf and do what I can.
“I came out last week for a couple of practice rounds but it’s a little different than it was last week already. The surrounds have tightened up a lot, and the green speeds picked up one or two feet easily.
“It’s a very good golf course for Australians. The firmness, the fastness, bump and runs into greens. If it plays firm and fast, which it looks like it will, I would suspect Aussies would do well, which they have in the past.”