How long has Brian Stuard been thinking about this Masters?
Well, all his golfing life, of course.
But recently, much more.
“I guess, pretty much for a year now, since I won,” Stuard said over the phone this week after wrapping up a practice round at Augusta National Golf Club.
“It’s been a pretty good perk that’s finally here.”
Stuard, a Jackson native and Oakland University alumnus, will tee off Thursday at 8:33 a.m., alongside former Masters champion Larry Mize and amateur Stewart Hagestad. They tee off at 11:40 a.m. Friday.
This is Stuard’s first appearance in the Masters, having earned an invitation through his first career PGA Tour victory — at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in May 2016.
It’s his fifth major appearance of his career, having played twice in the U.S. Open (two missed cuts) and twice in the PGA Championship (one missed cut, one tied for 79th).
He’s the lone competitor from Michigan in the field at the season’s first major.
“I’m sure I’ll be pretty nervous,” Stuard said of his first tee shot. “Once we get going, I think it’ll be kind of like any other tournament. But the first tee shot, the people just lined all around, even in the practice rounds.
“It’s definitely a little nerve-racking.”
Stuard, 34, who earned nearly $1.7 million on the PGA Tour last year — a whopping $1.26 million of that coming in one tournament, his rain-shortened playoff victory over Byeong-Hun An and Jamie Lovemark at the Zurich Classic — arrived in Augusta, Ga., late Saturday night and headed over to the course Sunday.
It was his first time ever setting foot on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National.
And the view, as you can imagine, was breathtaking.
“Just the beauty of it, the elevation changes,” Stuard said. “It’s got a pretty amazing atmosphere around the course, for sure.
“Starting on 10 — 10, 11, 12, 13, it’s just pretty cool. The drop from 10 tee to the 10 green, it’s got to be over 100 feet. It’s pretty amazing to see that.”
He played a practice round with Russell Knox, who’s played in one Masters, and Billy Hurley III, who’s also playing his first.
Stuard picked Knox’s brain while working his way around the course, for tips, advice, anything, since the two have pretty similar games.
Stuard actually likes how his game sets up at Augusta, which features a lot of right-to-left shot-shaping. Stuard draws the ball, an ideal fit.
He comes in to this week having made nine of 15 cuts this season, including in three of his last four tournaments. His best finish this season was a tie for 16th at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix in early February.
“You’ve got to hit a lot of draws off the tees, and that should be good for me,” he said.
“Into the greens, you just really have to control your iron shots. I think that’s going to be the biggest key this week. And the greens, they’re so tough. That’s probably the biggest thing in person, the TV doesn’t do them justice.
“If I drive it in the fairway and my iron play’s OK, I think I’ll be all right.”
Stuard, the 145th-ranked golfer in the world, is in his sixth year on the PGA Tour.
He turned professional in 2005, after a stellar career at Oakland, where he set pretty much every program record, including single-season stroke average. He was a three-time all-league first team honoree.
He’s joined this week in Augusta by his parents, his girlfriend and her parents, as well as two of his nephews.
Stuard also will be accompanied by all those memories of watching the Masters growing up, wondering if he’d get to play there some day.
Some day arrives Thursday.
“You always wanted to watch the Masters on Sunday, watch the back nine and see what would happen,” said Stuard, Michigan’s first PGA Tour winner since Marshall’s John Morse in 1995. “It will be pretty neat, for sure.”