Masters 2020: Golf’s favorite tournament is finally here, but how will it feel?
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Without patrons lining the ropes at Amen Corner at Augusta National Golf Club, the phrase “hello, friends” might feel a little more muted this year.
But with a major presidential election aside and the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the country, the Masters Tournament finds itself at the apex of being an event that brings back a shade of normalcy to 2020.
So while the azaleas aren’t blooming as they might have in March or April, the beauty and the majesty of one of golf’s greatest tournaments is here to help buttress the idea that even in the rages of a pandemic, sports still matter.
How did we get here?
Back in February when many of us were still getting acquainted with the words “COVID-19” and “coronavirus”, the sports world began to come apart.
It started in the NBA first, when Commissioner Adam Silver indefinitely postponed the remainder of the basketball season as a player tested positive for the virus. The dominoes began to fall after that when the seriousness of the illness became as clear as the reflection off the ANGC’s many water hazards. The NCAA March Madness tournament -- men’s and women’s -- was canceled. MLB’s Opening Weekend was shut down until the league could come up with a plan to play an abbreviated season safely. NASCAR engines turned off until the summer. And yes, the Masters made the move to postpone the annual spring rite of passage until a later date.
“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision,” Chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement. “We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date.”
That later date soon materialized a month later when the ANGC announced a plan to hold the tournament from Nov. 9 through Nov. 15. However, course officials were mum on if the tournament would be able to host patrons in the middle of a pandemic. The world was still getting used to the phrase “social distancing” and wearing masks to help curb the spread of the virus. Many believed the tournament could still be held with patrons.
However, ANGC officials put a stop to that line of thinking by announcing in August that the tournament would go on without patrons.
“Ultimately, we determined that the potential risks of welcoming patrons and guests to our grounds in November are simply too significant to overcome,” Ridley said.
Ridley called the move “disappointing”, but said that the ANGC needed to make this decision.
“Augusta National has the responsibility, however, to understand and accept the challenges associated with this virus and take the necessary precautions to conduct all aspects of the Tournament in a safe manner. We look forward to the day when we can welcome all of our patrons back, hopefully in April 2021,” Ridley said.
The tournament date set and the patron-less plan put in motion, the ANGC now stands on the precipice of a week filled with plenty of storylines around the golfers themselves.
First off, let’s talk Tiger.
It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the warm and fuzzy memories from last year’s tournament where an aging veteran proved a boatload of analysts wrong with a gritty performance that made people remember just how dominant he could be.
Of course, we have to talk about Tiger Woods. Woods, 44, won his fifth green jacket by one stroke in arguably one of the most cathartic moments in golf history.
Woods defeated some of golf’s newest and biggest names in that tournament -- Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Xander Schauffele.
Woods was asked about his victory during comments on Tuesday.
“Well, I think that ’97 was probably the one that stands out, obviously, but with my dad and his heart surgery and coming to the Masters and winning my first major and the way I did it, but last year was more emotional in a different way just because of the struggles I’ve had and I had never, ever won a major coming from behind,” Woods said. “And here I am in a threesome, which we had never done before on the final day, and we’ve never teed off that early. These were all a lot of never happened befores. My kids were there, and it was just so special and so emotional in a different way. As I said, to come full circle from me being with my dad and seeing my son there and the same embrace, 22 years apart, pretty good bookends.”
Bryson DeChambeau is changing the game. He may change the Masters, too.
Coming into the Masters, Bryson DeChambeau is driving 344 yards on average over the course of eight rounds of PGA golf. Clearly, the other golfers are noticing as the 27-year-old was one of many topics of discussion on Tuesday.
“You know, I don’t know about that yet,” DeChambeau said. “I’m not sure if I like it or not. I will say that, you know, for me, I’m trying again I’m trying to look at it as I’m still an underdog to the field, you know? Anybody can win this week. There’s a lot of unbelievable players out there. So, you know, I will never look at myself as someone that is better than anyone out here until the scores are written in stone.”
But how will that power and strength translate to Augusta National? It remains to be seen, but other golfers have taken notice.
“We have a lot of people talking about what he’s doing. He’s thinking outside the box, and he’s willing to put in the work to accomplish it. It’s not just about creating strength, but a lot of guys have bulked up and lost speed because muscles can get short and tight, and he has worked hard to create the strength and also the speed. That’s not easy to do,” Masters Champion Phil Mickelson said. “I’ve had a chance to see how hard he works in other areas, whether it’s brainwaves and his mental and cognitive function or what he eats. He works as hard as anybody does and thinks outside of the box in what is possible within the rules to create an advantage, and I have a lot of respect for that.”
“[Bryson’s] put in the time. He’s put in the work. What he’s done in the gym has been incredible and what he’s done on the range and what he’s done with his entire team to be able to optimize that one club and transform his game and the ability to hit the ball as far as he has and in as short a span as he has, it’s never been done before,” Masters Champion Tiger Woods said.
Still, DeChambeau will be managing his own expectations as well as others.
“I will say that I have no idea where the end game is on this,” DeChambeau said. “I’ve only seen improvements in strength increase, I’ve obviously felt better every day, so I really don’t know where the end game is on this.”
No patrons may take the edge away from some competitors.
A lot of ink -- both digital and literal -- has been spilled over the past several weeks about the Masters moving forward without patrons.
The competitors have taken note of what it’s like to play a few practice rounds without patrons dotting the rope lines.
There’s no other bigger benefactor to the patrons than Tiger Woods -- of course. There’s been dozens of stories written over the years about the vaunted Tiger Roars. But Woods is acknowledging that patrons have remarkable sway over how the game is played for him -- especially last year’s victory.
“They helped me win,” Woods said of the patrons. “The support that I had, the energy that was around the property, it was electric that day. We all miss the energy of the crowds. And yes, this year is going to be very different. It’s going to be stark in what we see, our sights into the greens, the energy that you hear from different roars, from different parts of the golf course. I mean, you’re on the putting green up on 1 and you can hear eagles down on 13. That’s what this tournament is all about, and we’re not going to have that this year. It’s going to be very different.”
But outside of the loss of energy and excitement, many of the players are noticing the course is also playing a little bit different without the patrons, too.
“I think kind of the shot into No. 2 if you’re on the left side or can’t quite try and get it on the green, it’s pretty open on the right side, which gives you a really nice angle into the green. That one in particular,” Corey Conners said. “There’s usually a lot of people there and it’s usually a little weird trying to hit it into the people. Yeah, that one is a little bit different.”
“It seems to be softer, a little bit more Bermuda, I’d say, is probably the biggest change,” Xander Schauffele said. “This is only my third Masters and everyone has played a lot more, so for me, the switch shouldn’t be too difficult because I don’t have a whole lot of experience, so I’ll try and use that to my advantage.”
With daylight ending sooner, ANGC officials are looking to end the rounds earlier.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between a Masters in April and November is daylight saving time.
You’ve already noticed it, but it gets mighty dark around here right around 6 to 7 p.m. As a result, Masters organizers have made several changes to combat that.
Tee times have been pulled back this year, with the first group of players set to tee off at 7 a.m. and the last group at 12:22 p.m.
Group tee times have also been doubled up with two groups of players teeing off every 11 minutes.
With COVID-19 and a fall event, the only constant throughout this tournament thus far has been change. Pardon the pun here, but that doesn’t seem likely to change at all.
We’ll see you on the course.
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