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Graham, DeLaet, of Canada, lets go of his golf club after hitting his tee shot at the 15th hole during the final round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)
Graham, DeLaet, of Canada, lets go of his golf club after hitting his tee shot at the 15th hole during the final round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)

MacGregor: DeLaet loves to watch, but playing at the Masters is surreal Add to ...

The images are simply too rich to avoid.

Bubba Watson tearing into a tub of poutine.

Jack Nicklaus wondering whether he should put ketchup or maple syrup on pierogies … Gary Player playing “roll up the rim” after downing a Tim Hortons double double … Phil Mickelson trying to figure out exactly what’s in a tourtière … Arnold Palmer asking for a second Pogo … Tiger Woods having to choose between a butter tart or beaver tail for dessert – or should he just wait for the S’mores at the campfire down behind Butler Cabin?

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Yes, Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., is off to the Masters.

And though in golf’s modern era only one champion – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 – won the green jacket on his first attempt, DeLaet is not discounting the possibility that he can do it, too.

That jacket is only one Masters ritual. Another is the “Champions’ Dinner,” where the reigning winner gets to choose the menu – usually something that would reflect his nationality.

“I have,” the 32-year-old Saskatchewan native answers when asked if he has dared think ahead to the menu. “I’m going to keep that to myself.”

Until recently, DeLaet had no trouble keeping whatever he wished to himself, because no one was much interested in a journeyman pro golfer from the Prairies. All that changed last fall when he had a sensational performance for the international side at the 2013 Presidents Cup. He was brilliant in every match, though in the end the U.S. team claimed victory.

In the 2013-14 PGA season, he has already finished second twice and, on April 10, will stand on the first tee of Augusta National, invited to play in the tournament that anyone who has ever swung a 5-iron has dreamed of winning.

“He could easily contend there on his first time,” says Mike Weir, who won the Masters in 2003 on his third invitation to Augusta and remains the only Canadian to wear the green jacket.

Weir, who was DeLaet’s idol growing up, believes that the first-timer’s game – long, long off the tee, likes a slight fade, good around the greens – is ideally suited for the famous course.

DeLaet’s greatest challenge, Weir says, will be in overcoming that “surreal feeling” one gets from seeing such a famous course where so many of golf’s legends have been born. “You have to get past that,” Weir says.

DeLaet knows this to be so. He watched so many Masters tournaments on television while growing up in Weyburn that he feels he knows the course inside out – but it is still not the same thing as actually being there.

A week ago he went to Augusta for two days in order to “get the ‘wow’ factor out of the way.”

At 8 a.m. he, his regular caddy and an Augusta caddy, were standing on the first tee without the loudspeakers, without the buzzing crowds, without the butterflies that batter around his stomach before every tournament he has ever played.

The temperature was 1C, drizzling and cold. He feared he might injure himself if he dared take a full swing, so he grabbed some wedges, his putter and a few balls and the three of them set out on a cold crusade to walk the course and at least get the “feel” of it.

“It was all I could imagine and expect it could be,” he said on a Wednesday conference call.

There were times, he said, when the course “seemed fake” – not real. Like he was meeting his favourite celebrity, which is actually pretty much true. He was a student at Boise State University back in ’03 and playing in a college tournament when he and his father, Norm, happened to wander into the clubhouse just as Weir dropped the putt on the 18th hole that put him into the playoff he would win. Father and son shouted and high-fived each other – and could never have imagined that in two weeks Norm and Marilyn DeLaet will take over a home in Augusta with their son and his wife and spend four consecutive days watching him trying to repeat what, so far, only Weir has managed.

Before the actual competition begins, however, the plan is to play a practice round or two with Weir, who has struggled mightily in recent years, and pick Weir’s brain about where he should try to be and where he must avoid being on Augusta National.

“I do think that it suits my game pretty well,” he says. “It’s long. It’s a beast of a golf course. Having some length is a huge advantage around that place.”

It will feel odd, he says, to be playing the course rather than what he has traditionally done each April: spend four solid days watching every minute of the Masters on television.

“It’s my favourite sporting event to watch,” he says. Even more than the Super Bowl or – blasphemy – “Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of and worked for for a long time.

“I can’t wait to get down there and tee it up.”

 

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