A tradition unlike any other holds more true this year than ever before. But alas’ the greatest golf tournament on the planet is finally taking place this week. It’s a bonus because I’m getting into the holiday spirit and the Masters always feels like Christmas. The best thing about it being played in November is that we get another edition in just 5 months. Aside from it not being April, this one is going to look and feel a lot different. But if any course and event can stand up to these times of change and still display awe and splendid grandeur, it’s Augusta and the Masters.
The colors of red, pink and yellow will be replaced by orange, gold, and auburn…but the spectacular emerald green will still be present. The course has been over-seeded with rye in preparation, but it hasn’t fully taken over and the Bermuda is more noticeable than usual. Not only will the course play a little longer, but chip shots around the greens will be even tougher, especially when into the grain. I expect to see more chunked chips than you’d normally expect from the game’s best, and even see more putters used from off the green. Forecasted rain expected on Thursday thru Saturday will certainly slow the course up even more, but temps are expected to be in the high 70’s and low 80’s…not much cooler than what we get in April. Even with the expected moisture, they can control the narrative to a point. Augusta features a state-of-the-art sub air system to dry off the greens. With no gallery ropes or grandstands, Augusta will definitely display differently on TV and look totally foreign to the players. Their sightlines will be different and we will see some shots played from areas we have never seen. It will oddly resemble what it would look like if you and I were ever fortunate to play the place.
The biggest thing that will be missed, especially on Sunday, are the gallery roars…especially on Amen Corner. The property ebbs and flows as such that the roars and cheers from holes 11-13 and 15 & 16 make their way to the 18th tee and clubhouse, like a raucous domino effect instilling golf ball sized goose bumps along their path. I think a quiet Augusta will benefit Rory McIlroy the most out of anyone in the field. If he finds himself in contention heading to the back 9 on Sunday, like he has times before, the absence of those aforementioned gallery roars will keep him calm. Sure he can leaderboard watch if he wishes, but he can play with a certain peace not normally available on a Masters Sunday. There are gallery roars, there are Sunday major roars, and then there are Sunday Amen Corner roars.
Champions Dinner Menu Among the many Masters traditions are cancelled like the Wednesday Par 3 contest, but the annual Champions Dinner is taking place. The defending champ selects the entire menu the following year, and Tiger has had some great ones. This year is no different. He will be serving chicken and steak fajitas, sushi, and milkshakes. Way better than the guys who try and get fancy with their liver tartar and sautéed neck of Alaskan woodchuck.
The duo becomes a trio once again One of the coolest and my favorite Masters traditions is the honorary tee shots struck by the game’s legends to kick off the opening round on Thursday morning. Thousands line the 1st fairway and tee box to see 3 old guys, well past their prime, tee it high and let it fly just trying to hit the fairway and outdrive each other. When I was growing up in the 90’s it was Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, and Sam Snead. Following them was the Big 3 of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player. With Arnie passing away they kept is spot open the last few years out of respect, but this week they have officially announced the man that will take his place…and it’s a good one. Lee Elder will join the Golden Bear and the Black Knight beginning in April 2021 to hit the ceremonial tee shot. Elder was the first African American to ever play in the Masters in 1975. Aside from knocking down that ground-breaking barrier, Lee enjoyed a nice professional career. He won 4 times on the PGA Tour and was a U.S. Ryder Cup team member in 1979. Definitely a classy, well deserved move by the Augusta powers that be.
El Nino is Out Due to an ill-timed positive Covid test, Sergio Garcia is missing the first major if his career. He has played in a record 84 straight majors dating back to his first, the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. This is unfortunate for more reasons than just the end of an incredible stretch. He is playing well as of late and could have contended for his 2nd Masters. Keep in mind it has only been 3 years since he won his first green jacket and he won the Sanderson Farms just a few weeks ago. Augusta is a ball-striking haven, and Sergio is always near the top in strokes gained approach and greens in regulation.
Fantasy Picks The big story has been how Bryson DeChambeau has spent his last 4 weeks away from the game in prep for The Masters. He has achieved 200 mph ball speed with 400 yards of carry and will be playing a 48” driver, the longest allowed by the USGA. Now those aren’t numbers he’s going to see on every drive, but he did some phenomenal things during a practice round last week at Augusta. Here are some of the clubs he had in on approach shots:
- No. 1 (Par 4, 445 yards): Sand wedge
- No. 2 (Par 5, 575 yards): 8-iron
- No. 3 (Par 4, 350 yards): Flew the green with 3-wood off the tee
- No. 8 (Par 5, 570 yards): 7-iron
- No. 9 (Par 4, 460 yards): Sand wedge
- No. 10 (Par 4, 495 yards): Pitching wedge
- No. 11 (Par 4, 505 yards): 9-iron
- No. 13 (Par 5, 510 yards): 7-iron (hit 3-wood off tee)
- No. 15 (Par 5, 530 yards): 9-iron
- No. 17 (Par 4, 440 yards): Sand wedge
What’s interesting is no score has been reported, but I’m sure that’s just because he was dropping balls in spots and truly practicing. If we see the above numbers when it matters, he will definitely have one arm in a sleeve of the green jacket. But to win you have master the greens at Augusta, and that’s not just the speed. To get to a front right pin, you may have to hit a 4×4 square foot section 30 feet left of the hole. But Bryson more than handled the greens at Winged Foot, and that track is often referred to as Augusta with rough. Bryson is smart (an understatement) and he should have the imagination to get up and down when he misses a green. So if his short game’s sharp and he rolls the putts, we may see a “Bryson-proofing” take place like we did after Tiger smoked everyone back in ’97. Woods hit similar clubs into the holes when the course was much shorter.
Winner Jason Day He’s finally healthy and seems to be in very good spirits. He’s been trending in the right direction as well and always seems to have a chance at Augusta. Will contend Tiger Woods No matter the circumstances Tiger is at peace and in a good place amongst the tall pines. He will always play well here. Just like Jack, Freddie, and Bernhard. Sleeper Ian Poulter Not a sleeper by name but he doesn’t win a ton, and is looking for his first major. Has 7 career top-20’s at Augusta and three top-12’s in his last three starts.
Enjoy the game, each other, and Masters Week,
Written by Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional