Matthew Fitzpatrick reacts on the 17th hole during the first round of the 2017 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (Andrew Redington / Getty Images)
The most claustrophobic spot at Augusta National has to be the holding area where those who violate the club’s cellphone ban are detained.
A close second is the 18th tee box. Especially when you’re 22 years old, you sit atop the Masters leaderboard, the wind is strong enough to send your ballcap to South Carolina and spectators to your right are leaning in to get a better look.
That’s where Matthew Fitzpatrick found himself Thursday afternoon.
"Just didn’t feel comfortable," he said.
The fans who line both sides on No. 18 form a funnel that can look more like a thimble. On top of that, Fitzpatrick sought a low ball flight into the wind.
"My low one is lower than everyone else’s, so I can actually kill someone at head high," he said. "I didn’t feel comfortable with people sort of poking their head ’round. Should have backed off it and gotten everyone to move. I’ll do that the rest of the week."
Fitzpatrick’s drive hit a tree and bounced into the rough, leaving him 267 yards — uphill. Less than ideal. The resulting double bogey left him with a 1-under 71, tied for the day’s fourth-best score.
The wind brought misery to almost everyone in the field, save for contrarian Phil Mickelson, who believes brutal conditions disproportionally penalize the weak, and Charley Hoffman. He shot a 7-under 65 and deserves a replica claret jug for making nine birdies under British Open conditions.
In all, double bogeys and worse outnumbered eagles 44-3.
Adam Scott called the conditions "borderline" unplayable after what transpired on the 14th green. He marked his ball 3 feet from the hole. Then he replaced it, and as he waited to putt, the ball rolled away, finally stopping at 12 feet.
Playing partner Kevin Kisner said he thought tournament officials might suspend play.
Although it was brutal, one fan remarked that it was not as bad as the second round last year, when afternoon gusts gave spectators near the bunkers by the ninth green a sand shower.
And in 2007, winds combined with temperatures in the mid-40s ballooned scores and left only hearty spectators on the course. Two of them were Jim and Tela Bayless of Nashville, Tenn.
"It was like 28 degrees," Jim said. "The Walmart ran out of long-sleeve shirts, so we bought out every one we could find at the Goodwill."
Added Tela, wearing a hood on top of her Masters cap Thursday: "All you could see was people’s eyes."
The scenery was better Thursday for Fitzpatrick, an Englishman who studied and played at Northwestern in the fall of 2013 and uses a white golf bag with purple lettering. Rather than following Luke Donald’s path, he left Evanston after three months, telling close friend Nate Taphorn: "It’s freezing here. I’m going pro."
The 6-foot-7 Taphorn, who last month fired the baseball pass to Dererk Pardon to trigger the greatest play in Northwestern basketball history, walked all 18 holes with Fitzpatrick on Thursday. Asked if he gives his friend grief for bolting early, Taphorn replied, "No, because I get to benefit from it!"
Girlfriend and former Northwestern lacrosse player Lydia Cassada greeted Fitzpatrick after his round. So did four former Wildcats football players, all dressed in black, who drove 14 hours to get here. They formed Fitzpatrick’s entourage, debating who should be nicknamed "Turtle."
"Awesome to have familiar faces here," Fitzpatrick said.
They’re all under the same roof at a rental house in Evans, Ga., about 25 minutes away. The posse joked about getting "locked in" the basement, two floors below Fitzpatrick’s bedroom.
Fitzpatrick posted a backdoor seventh-place finish in last year’s Masters with a Sunday 67 and was thrilled to draw major winners Jordan Spieth and Martin Kaymer for his first two rounds this year.
"Matt likes to play with the better players and in front of the bigger crowds," manager Ted Brady said. "It’s more exciting for him. It spurs him on."
And makes him comfortable. For the most part.