AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Dan Forsman is a human contradiction. A professional golfer with a poet's soul.
After shooting a shimmering 66 in the second round of the Masters yesterday, he arched an eyebrow and explained, "You don't sharpen a sword on velvet."
The rumpled smarties in the press room were stumped, for once. Was that a famous quote? Yeats? Proust? Weiskopf?
"What do you mean, Dan?" someone finally spluttered.
A tall, lanky 35-year-old who lists reading among his hobbies, Forsman smiled. "I mean there's no substitute for real experience," he said.
Of course. Sure. And to drive home the point, he handled the 12th hole yesterday as though it were the devil painted green.
The pin on the infamous par-3 was set in the right front quadrant
of the green, treacherously close to the water -- almost precisely the same spot as in last year's final round, when Forsman, finding himself just a stroke off the lead, took a gamble, pointed a 7-iron for the hole and watched his ball (and chances of winning) make a miserable splash.
He then followed that with a second ker-plunk, his very public blowup not only giving him a place in Masters history alongside Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Curtis Strange -- others beaten by the sweet-looking, round-killing 12th -- but also giving him what a solid career encompassing four wins and $2 million in earnings had not: an identity.
"I guess a lot of people saw it," Forsman said. "I heard about it off and on [during the year]. My wife heard people in galleries saying: 'That's the one, the choke artist, the one who threw it away at the 12th.' But a lot of people were encouraging, too."
The mistake didn't haunt Forsman because he is that rare golfer with perspective -- "this is golf, not life and death" -- but when he did take the time to reflect on it, he could see his mistake.
"I wasn't supposed to be in contention. The crowd was going crazy on the tee, and I got too emotional, too caught up in it," he said. "I went for the hole, for the drama, instead of playing it safe."
A year later, he made his return to Augusta this week and played three practice rounds before the tournament. And he had to laugh.
"Every time I came to the 12th tee, I sensed that everyone was saying, 'Well, there he is,' " he said. "All year, people had said how hard it was going to be to go back to the place where I had suffered such a horrendous blow, but I always said I just hoped I got a second chance."
He played the hole without incident in the practice rounds, then did so again with a par in Thursday's first round.
"The emotion I feel isn't fear or nerves, but more respect for the hole now," he said. "I walk that bridge [to the green] a little softer. I walk around the corner [of the bridge] a little quieter. And when I walk off that green, I bow and pay homage to a great hole. It sounds corny, but I tell you, anyone who has had the same experience feels the same way."
The true test of his mettle came yesterday. He toured the first 11 holes in 3-under, beginning to draw near the leaders. And then, there at last, was the pin placement he had known was coming: right front.
What did he do? What do you think? He grabbed an 8-iron and played the shot he should have hit a year ago, the safest shot possible, aiming far to the left of the pin, to the fattest part of the green.
The ball landed softly on the green, no problem. Two putts later, he had his par. Easy hole, right?
"I'm better for the experience of a year ago, no doubt about it," he said. "Not just in knowing how to play the 12th. Remember, I was in contention to win. That was good for me. I kept thinking of myself as such an underdog, though. If I get the chance again, I won't get so emotional."
As things stand now, he'll get the chance. Inspired by his calm handling of the 12th, he birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th to finish with the day's lowest round, pulling to within two shots of the lead.
But he still has to survive today's third round, then make it through 11 holes tomorrow to get to his personal crucible: the 12th on Sunday again. Of course, that's all the press grumps wanted to talk about.
"Just what did it feel like to stand there on the tee a year ago?" someone asked.
Again, Forsman smiled. "If you put a two-by-four on cinder blocks and walk across it six feet, that's no problem," he said. "But if you put that two-by-four between the World Trade Center buildings, have the wind blowing, people lining up and waiting for your demise, roaring here and there, having read all about those who have fallen to their deaths before. . . . That gives you an idea of what it was like."
And if you're there again tomorrow?
"I'm hitting that thing as left as I can hit it," he said. "You can bank on that."
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