Masters prep started in November

Hello, everyone. My name is Ryuji Imada, and I'll be checking in all week with my thoughts on my first Masters experience. To say I'm excited to be here this week would be an understatement.

For those of you who don't know me very well, I moved from Japan to the United States at the age of 14 to pursue my golf dreams. Some of my first memories of and motivations in golf were watching the Masters on TV in Japan. I attended the University of Georgia and was fortunate enough to have the chance to play Augusta National twice while I was in school (1998-99).

I loved the golf course then, and it's my favorite anywhere in the world. I qualified for this year's event when I won my first PGA Tour event at the AT&T Classic in Atlanta last season. Knowing the invitation was coming was one of the first things that went through my mind after my playoff victory.

The Masters is a tournament unlike any other, and Augusta National is a golf course unlike any other. The club is very gracious and allows those competitors who have qualified the opportunity to visit the club for a few days at a time throughout the winter and spring (you can't bring guests, and you must use a local caddie).

My preparation for this week began in November, when I came to Augusta and played 36 holes. Even though I had played the course in college, I knew there had been some serious changes, and I wanted to get an early look before my offseason began.

As for the condition of the golf course, I knew the setup in November wouldn't resemble what I would see this week. My focus was on getting familiar with the routing of the course, the sight lines on the tee shots and the contours of the greens.

As I expected, the course had grown quite a bit, and it was cold and wet. When I left, I knew that getting as comfortable as possible on the greens would be a big key to playing well.

I returned to Augusta right before the WGC-CA Championship at Doral a few weeks ago for another two-day session. I had found the local caddie I had in November, Robert Long, was very helpful and decided I wanted to have him carry for me until my regular caddie, Casey Kellogg, would be allowed on the grounds this past Saturday, per Augusta National club rules.

The golf course had changed a good bit from November to March and was playing a bit faster. There also were a few other players coming in within the few weeks I was there, Trevor Immelman and Oliver Wilson among them.

Being a Masters rookie, I'm aware of the stigma that guys with experience play better here and the fact that course familiarity is crucial. I focused on trying to get as much out of my time as possible, and that meant some seven-hour rounds, mostly focused on getting more and more comfortable with the greens. It was after that visit that I decided I needed to come into town the week before Masters week to give myself more time to adapt; I arrived this past Thursday.

I played my last event at the Arnold Palmer Invitational a couple of weeks ago, where I was in the second-to-last group the last two days and played fairly well all week. A few poor holes coming in hurt my finish, but I was excited to get some momentum going into my prep for Augusta.

I played this past Friday at Augusta with Adam Scott and Ryo Ishikawa. Many of you have heard of Ryo, and his talent level for a 17-year-old is incredible. He's got a lot of game, and he has the chance to be a very special player.

The three of us had a great time. Ryo and I obviously have a connection because we both are from Japan and we both are Masters rookies.

One thing to keep in mind about the Masters and the golf course is that there are a lot of players who have played here quite often, yet there are many veterans who have had to refamiliarize themselves with the changes.

I'm a rookie here, but the changes made in the past few years make it new and different for everybody. As for "reaching out" to other players for advice, I have chatted with a few guys but really haven't gone out of my way to secure additional information. Golf is a funny game, and sometimes you can handle only so much input. I believe the best way for me to learn the subtleties of the golf course is to play and see how it affects my tendencies and my game.

Yet another nuance of the Masters is the ability to get in so much prep before Monday of Masters week. Normally for a major, I won't see the golf course until the Sunday prior. I'll probably play 18 holes one day and nine the other two and not really have to grind too much on the course in terms of learning anything new. I will be spending a lot of time on the putting green because the guy who is the best from inside 10 feet will have a really good chance this week.

I played 18 holes Saturday and Sunday, and the golf course is immaculate and getting quicker by the day. It's remarkable to see the progress and work done from November to now. It's clear there is a plan in place for getting this golf course ready for this event, and the crew here does a remarkable job. I feel really good about the progress I'm making and my comfort factor with the greens. The golf course is completely different than when I first pegged it in November.

Augusta has been getting some wet weather, and that will be a very important variable this week. If it's firm and fast, it could favor the shorter hitters, and a slow and wet golf course plays into the hands of the bombers. There were a good number of players at the course the past few days getting in more work, like myself, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Immelman to name a few. I'm planning on scaling it back the next few days so I'm fresh physically and mentally.

My first Masters week officially kicks off Monday. I'm excited, and I'll be checking back in with all of you before play begins Thursday.

Ryuji Imada joined the PGA Tour in 2005. You can visit his official Web site for more information.