AUGUSTA, Ga. – This master was different. It had to be like that. The tournament took place for the first time in November. There were no guests on the premises.
We share what caught our eye on seven surreal days at Augusta National:
Please less quietly
So much is different in 2020, and a Masters with no spectators was still something to watch. It was appreciated and applauded, knowing that nothing is easy this year. To trigger an event of this magnitude in this climate is to be cheered – even if this sound was muffled all week.
That doesn’t mean we can’t long for the good old days.
If there’s a sporting reason – especially a golf one – to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, there may be no better example than a master without a patron. It’s not the same, and it would be a shame if we weren’t at a point in five months’ time where a decent number of spectators could walk through the gates.
In many ways, Augusta National looked better without so many people blocking the various views. It was easier to take in all of the beauty and appreciate the purity of the golf course. There were no stands, no ropes, few people. If you were lucky enough to be on the premises it was a wonderful experience.
But these are not the masters. Not even close. Even the practice rounds seemed scary. On days when more than 40,000 people usually fill every available space and thus create one of the biggest event spectacles before the tournament, it was so calm and almost sad.
When the tournament went around, same thing. Typically, the roar echoing through the pines and cascade from Amen Corner to the clubhouse is something to see.
When asked what he was missing, Rory McIlroy did not hesitate.
“The atmosphere, the crowd, the guests, the feelings you usually have here that you didn’t quite have,” he said. “More than any other week of the year, I feel a little more nervous often, and it didn’t quite have to. Not to say it’s a bad thing. I liked the feeling of being relaxed out there, and it’s something I will probably have to try to adopt in five months.
There is no doubt that playing is easier in such conditions. The noise increases the competitive pressure in such an environment. Especially for beginners, being able to play golf without worrying about the sound will relieve stress.
For those skilled in such matters, calm takes advantage. McIlroy is used to such environments. These are not first-time Masters participants.
The perspective is obviously fine. In this climate, those who run Augusta National have done the right thing. It might also be necessary in April when things are not getting better. But once is enough. Let’s hope something changes. – – Bob Harig
Augusta National was … easy
Dustin Johnson beats Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth’s record by finishing with a 20-under-par 268 when he wins the 2020 Masters.
When the Spaniard Jon Rahm ran down the 18th fairway of Augusta National on Sunday during his final round, he joked with the 2018 master Patrick Reed about how the course would be played in less than five months since the 2021 Masters scheduled for April 8th to 11th.
“You almost have to hit the delete button on what you learned this week because it will never play that way again,” said Rahm.
This is probably my biggest win from the first Masters that were played in November: how different and how much easier the course played. With the combination of rain, rye overseeding, and the fact that the lack of customers likely eased nerves for everyone, the venerable track never seemed so vulnerable to the world’s best players.
After the three-hour rain delay on Thursday, the players fired at pins in complete disregard of the dangers. A couple of times I saw approach shots half buried in pitch markings on the greens, which I rarely saw, especially in Augusta. In the past, balls ran from the green into azaleas or spun back into Rae’s Creek. Not this year.
“You know, I hope they make it as tight as possible,” said Rahm. “The exact opposite of what we saw this week.”
Rahm, who saved a tie for seventh place at 10 out of 278, recalled hitting a 5-iron high on the par-4 fifth and the ball stayed on the back edge. “Usually you’re out in the bush trying to figure out what to do, and a lot of other recordings like this are just usually not playable,” he said.
On the 15th par 5, Rahm hit a low 4-iron into the green from 236 meters and his ball caught at 5 feet.
“All of those shots will never play that way again,” he said.
Nobody knew exactly how Augusta National would play this week, and I’m not sure anyone imagined it would be that friendly. Winner Dustin Johnson broke the record at 20. Australian Cameron Smith became the first four-round player in Masters history in the 1960s – and he lost by five strokes!
The first-time visitors Sungjae Im and Abraham Ancer started in the end group because the course was available there. You might experience a rude awakening in the spring along with fellow players like Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, and Cameron Champ who first saw Augusta National.
“I hope we see the opposite and see a more challenging Masters – or at least as close as possible,” said Rahm. “I look forward to it.”
The green jackets have almost five months to stew over them. – – Mark Schlabach
Augusta National looked the same and completely different
If you watch golf – or if you settle down once a year during Masters week – you know what Augusta National looks like, whether you’ve been lucky enough to walk on the property or if you’ve only seen it in your life from the screen Room. The images are clear in your head, from Amen Corner to the towering pine trees to the old school billboards. It’s familiar.
This week it was and wasn’t, and that will stay with me. It was beautiful and sad, alive and undeniably empty.
On Friday morning, after McIlroy had finished a terrible first round and was preparing to begin his second, he stood next to the 10th tee with his wife Erica, rubbing his back and talking quietly. Was it the first time in a normal year that I realized someone was remembering normal? – He never would have known she was there, engulfed by the thousands of patrons trying to catch a glimpse of McIlroy and his search for that missing green jacket.
Standing on the hill next to the 11th fairway, staring at the Hogan Bridge and Rae’s Creek that frame the 12th hole, I heard two volunteers complain about what the city of Augusta hadn’t done – hotel rooms available, restaurants begging for business Traffic moves steadily rather than crawling that normally comes with Masters week.
At the beginning of the last lap, Tiger Woods strolled down the first fairway in his Sunday red. He was followed by 11 people. Let that begin for a second: Tiger Woods, on Sunday at the Masters, a place so important to the legacy it’s built, 19 months away from that piece of ground shaking, with 11 people watching it.
At Augusta National you always look around – on the square, at the people. Turn your head in one direction this week and there was MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred – or at least I thought he was behind the required green Masters mask. Over there was Peyton Manning. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell passed the Eisenhower cabin. One member walked by and saw another and said, “It’s like I’m invisible without this jacket”. It referred to the cherished greens that mark you are one of them.
In the early morning I walked down the course, spending extra time standing and looking at the quiet around Amen Corner. Every day I stood there with no other person in sight. I’ll close my eyes on the way home and think of one of the few quiet, memorable moments of this year. I continued my walk and noticed trees along the 13th fairway that I’m 100 percent sure weren’t there last year.
“They like to plant trees,” said Bryson DeChambeau. “Fun to come back here because they don’t tell you what they did.”
What they also did was remove the stands. That was the beautiful, upsetting, sobering part. When I got to the 15th hole of the par 5 at the top of the hill, I looked down and found it was different. No grandstands on the left. Usually they hug the Saracen Bridge, filled with patrons ready to yell at an eagle and moan when a ball finds the slope and trickles into the water. Beyond that, on the 16th hole, where Woods almost made an ace on the way to that memorable 2019 victory with Michael Phelps right behind, the grandstands were gone too. If you stand there to the left of the green and across the pond, you have a seemingly endless view of so much of the property. It’s a view never seen during Masters week because usually these bleachers and all these people block them. This year there were clear, unobstructed, silent lines of sight.
Every morning I took the same walk from the first tee to the 18th green. Last week I saw the place in fog and perfect sunshine. I saw it when fog was fighting the sun. It was calm and breathtaking, but also an inevitable reminder that it’s empty for a reason – because of an ongoing global health crisis. As stunning as it looked, I hope I never see it that way again. – – Nick Pietruszkiewicz