reports from Augusta
Lee James, a shy young man from Broadstone in Dorset, was happy to edge away from the limelight at Augusta National yesterday. Playing a practice round with fellow Britons Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and David Gilford hardly seems like hiding but compared to his previous day's outing it was as near to oblivion as anyone can get in the pre-Masters circus.
James is here in his role as English amateur champion, a title he won at Nairn in the north of Scotland last summer and which traditionally entitles the holder to wander meekly around Augusta's awesome splendours with his mouth permanently open. Normally he has a consolation in the presence of the American amateur champion. They can cling together for comfort, like two virgins at a stokers' convention.
This year, however, James' American equivalent is Eldrick "Tiger" Woods the hottest 19- year-old in world golf. Woods has been attracting as much attention here as any established star and dealing with it with an aplomb rarely seen in Dorset. When he approached James on the putting green early on Monday and suggested they played together that day the Englishman agreed despite the fact that he had already fixed up to play with Nick Faldo.
At least, his caddie Martin Thompson had. James is much too shy to approach anyone of that magnitude. Thompson was knocked out of the same amateur championship that James won and caddied for him thereafter. Although he has since turned pro at the Ferndown club, Thompson still carries James' clubs and was not afraid to approach the great man. Faldo readily agreed but found himself also accompanied by Woods as well as an extra gallery of gawpers.
James was prepared to be fazed by Faldo but when Woods stepped up to the first tee and knocked his drive 50 yards past Faldo's, he was astonished. "I've never in my life played with anyone who hits the ball as far," he said.
Faldo was also impressed. "A very talented kid," he said of Woods. "He has got the gift of the elasticity of youth because he has an amazing pivot of the shoulders. He turns them so fast he is able to hit the ball as hard as he likes at the moment and it goes such a long way. He kind of makes you feel old."
At three years older, and five inches shorter, even James might agree with that statement but his attempt to beat Woods to the medal for lowest amateur might well benefit from a far lighter burden of pressure. James has refused the opportunity all amateurs get to stay in the Augusta National clubhouse - a squadron of mowers roar into action at dawn - and has rented a house with family and friends.
The first thing Woods had to do on his arrival was to put the press straight on his roots. They have been predicting he is going to be the greatest black golfer ever. Woods points out that he is only a quarter black. He is also a quarter Thai, a quarter Chinese, one-eighth American Indian and one-eighth white. "It's an injustice to all my other heritages just to call me black," he told them.
He was similarly firm on the dismissive statistic that no amateur has finished better than 15th since 1962. "I'm going to try to win it," he says. Having won his first international tournament at the age of eight and been hailed by Tom Watson as the finest prospect for 50 years he is entitled to be self-assured.
Perhaps James will catch up a little in confidence by the time they next meet - at the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl in September.
Joker Jacobsen, page 38Reuse content