Bengals cornerback Leon Hall didn’t come back from his fourth visit to the Masters with a green jacket, but he thinks the future is bright for a left-handed golfer in the wake of Bubba Watson’s second win on the overgrown billiard table at Augusta National.
“I could be terrible in Cincinnati, but maybe if I stepped through the gates at Augusta with my golf clubs someday, suddenly I’m a scratch golfer,” Hall said with one of his wry smiles. “The course plays in my favor. I can’t hit it Bubba long, but I get some distance and I’m left-handed.”
He’s also sure-footed, which has to make Bengaldom breathing easier than Watson’s caddy when Bubba’s three-shot lead survived his rather loopy decision to drill one through a hole in a tree rather than the safer punch-out. If the weather had been good Monday, Hall would have been on the field at Paul Brown Stadium doing football drills just 176 days after tearing his second Achilles in three years. Instead he stayed inside for rehab.
“Weather permitting. Going out in the rain, it makes no sense,” Hall said. “I can pretty much do everything. Back pedal, breaking on the ball, doing the whole deal, 360 turns, 180 turns…
“If I keep this pace up, I’m not really worried about if I’m going to be ready for training camp. It’s more just preparing for the start of training camp.”
That was Bengals director of rehab Nick Cosgray’s successful timetable when Hall came back from tearing the left Achilles during the 2011 season and rebounded to have such a brilliant 2012 season that many in the league thought it was Pro Bowl worthy even if the voters didn’t. He didn’t participate in the spring camps and just focused on the last week in July.
But even though Hall, 29, is two years older, this rehab on his right Achilles seems to be even a little quicker.
“Early on I felt like it was a little ahead of schedule, which is good,” Hall said. “But we thought we had so much time, we slowed it down a little bit and have been keeping a steady pace.”
Cosgray gave him the golf go-ahead once he was able to run on the treadmill, just about the time the season would have started if most of the United States hadn’t been frozen in the Pleistocene epoch this winter and spring. But he has been playing enough recently that when fans see him on the tee they assume he’s healthy.
“It’s good because I love playing golf,” he said, “but it really has nothing to do with my Achilles or rehab.”
How much does he love it ever since wife Jessica, a golfer since 12, beat him badly on a par 3 course on that fateful day in 2008? Motivated as only a husband can be, he took up the game immediately and was shooting in the mid-80s on his favorite course at Kenwood Country Club last year and he already has a 12 handicap.
“It’s getting worse,” he said of the addiction. “I want to play more and more every year, but there are only so many days in the week.”
Hall probably likes golf because it emphasizes one of his much strength as arguably the Bengals’ best defensive player. (If he’s not, then it is two-time Pro Bowl tackle
“I think it’s so technical. There are so many little things that have to go right,” Hall said. “To make the ball do what you want it to do, you have to be really sound. It takes a lot of focus. It’s a long round and you have to stay focused for a long time. Some people just hit the ball. Maybe some people are just naturally gifted like that. You think you can hit this ball anyway you can, but you really can’t. There is a lot of learning and practice.”
Hall doesn’t go to Augusta for the entire week because he likes to watch the finish at home. This year he arrived in time to see some of the Wednesday practice round, all of Thursday’s first round, and then he left after watching the second round unfold Friday morning.
On that last day he decided to do something he never did and followed a group for a few holes when he tracked Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Henrik Stenson.
“The best part of following a group is to see their ups and downs and how they work out of trouble to still be relevant in the tournament or save a score,” Hall said. “I’m always interested in how they maneuver around the golf course. Every player is different. It’s good to see the different ways people read different situations.”
Hall had picked Day to go all the way after some big finishes at Augusta, like his runner-up effort in 2011 and last year’s tie for third.
“I like his game,” Hall said. “His name was on a list and it stuck out to me. He’s consistent. He hits the ball long, which is always fun to watch. He likes to work the ball right to left and left to right. The other thing I like is the dialogue with the caddy. Fun to hear. There’s nothing crazy, they’re just talking about the wind, the lie, and sometimes the caddy asks somebody to stop talking.”
Usually Hall likes to bounce around the Masters and not follow anyone. Since he camped out at Amen Corner for stretches of his first three visits, he decided to break it up last week. He stood next to the fairway at 15 “where they can either go for it or lay up,” he watched the big drop from the 10th tee, and he monitored the par 3s at Nos. 4 and 6.
“The grass isn’t fake. You have to touch it sometimes. I did. You almost feel like it’s almost too perfect,” Hall said.
He recognizes the history of the place and one of the nice things is that no one recognizes him. Oh, he’s met some folks from Cincinnati and they’ve walked the course together a few times, but it’s a nice getaway for a guy who likes being the best cornerback America doesn’t know.
“They don’t recognize me, man. If I’m not in Cincinnati or back home (in San Diego), I’m good to go,” Hall said. “If I’m here in Cincinnati I don’t mind seeing people or people seeing me. Everyone around here is great to me. But if I go somewhere and no one notices me, I prefer it that way.”
But Hall wouldn’t mind recognizing a pro golfer. He has yet to meet one, never mind the one guy in the world he really wants to meet. Tiger Woods. Those are the guys that might make him a bit tongue-tied.
“I think I’d be set back a little bit. Yeah, I think I would be awed,” Hall said. “If I met Peyton Manning, maybe because it’s we play the same sport, I’m not really impressed. Obviously, he’s a great player. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet him. I’d be awed if I met Tiger Woods, or Jason Day, or somebody like Bubba. I watch him because he’s left-handed. There’s still hope.”
Hope and the spring and the green grass go together. Hall feels like more good things are on the way after being invigorated by his annual pilgrimage.
“I’m in a good place right now,” he said, “so I’m happy.”