Yes, after being delayed until November last year in the forgettable year called 2020, The Masters golf tournament is teeing-up again today as it returns to its rightful April slot in 2021.
Though Dustin Johnson lit up the scoreboard with a record-setting 20-under par total back in November, I think his score should receive an asterisk, too. The course conditions at Augusta National Golf Club were not the same as he will find today. The golf course was soft, the winds didn’t blow, and the fans were totally absent. Make no mistake, DJ was the best player in the field that week and was quite deserving of his Green Jacket.
Now that we have 2020 in our rear view mirror (Hal-le-lu-jah!), The Masters has returned to usher in springtime for Americans once again!
Here are ten predictions for what to expect this week in Augusta, Georgia:
- Rain! Yes, the weather has a lot to do with this golf event nearly every year. Though the greens are always slick, Mother Nature is being predicted to interrupt the golf at least on one or two days. The players who receive the good fortune of playing after the rain ends will have a brief opportunity to go flag-hunting on the greens at Augusta National. Watch for this on Friday and Saturday. Those golfers who finish early will not receive this extra scoring boost. It might make a big difference after 72 holes!
- Golf’s 6-time Green Jacket Giant – As you will hear probably 100 times over the next four days, this year marks the 35th anniversary of then-46 years old Jack Nicklaus’ amazing come-from-behind charge in the final round to win the 1986 Masters tournament and his sixth Green Jacket. If you are old enough to have seen this happen “live” in 1986, Jack’s inspired play on that glorious afternoon are still burned into your long-term memory and will never fade. I don’t think America has never cheered so hard for any one player to win a golf tournament – before or after. Jack’s Sunday afternoon rally on the back nine was simply that special.
- Look at those azaleas! It’s time for me to admit that I am quite colorblind and have trouble distinguishing colors in combinations. While in my teens, I fondly remember my Mom telling me that she was looking forward to watching The Masters with me. When I inquired when she had become a golf fan, she responded, “To look at all those pretty flowers, of course!” Years later, my Mom has passed-on, but my wife agrees wholeheartedly about looking at the red, pink, and white flowering azalea bushes on nearly every hole at Augusta National Golf Club. There is something for everyone to enjoy this weekend!
- Thursday’s ceremonial opening tee shot – I have retired from my former career and don’t use an alarm clock anymore unless traveling (Yes, it’s a wonderful thing!). I made an exception this morning, though. At 6:45AM CDT, the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club featured two all-time golf greats. 81-year old Jack Nicklaus and 85-years young Gary Player each hit a tee-shot on the first hole to open this year’s event. This year, the third member of that ceremonial first group was 86-year old Lee Elder. Lee was the first black golfer to ever play at The Masters (1975) and would tee-it up at Augusta National five more times through 1981. Due to his declining health, Lee Elder was unable to hit a tee shot on #1 earlier today, but he received a few rousing ovations from the crowd.
- Old guys playing golf alongside of this year’s young stars – Unique to The Masters, any former champion may return and play in the golf tournament in every year that they still wish to participate. Most Green Jacket champions eventually hang-up their golf cleats once their scores begin to soar above 80 on this very long and hilly golf course. However, that hasn’t stopped a trio of 63-year old former champions such as Ian Woosnam (1991 champ), Sandy Lyle (1988 winner), and two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer (1985 and 1993). In Langer’s case, he became the oldest player in Masters’ history to make the cut last year! Langer, whose length off the tee is fading with age, was paired with long-driving Bryson DeChambeau last year and finished the round with a lower score (71 vs. 73). Course knowledge at this tournament can be a huge advantage.
- The Patrons return! After the never-ending pandemic forced golf to play “sans fans” in 2020, this week will mark the return of about 20% of the normal number of patrons at The Masters! Patrons? You will never hear ESPN, CBS, or The Golf Channel refer to the spectators at The Masters as simply “fans”. It is because the Augusta National Golf Club asked them not to do it. Since this golf tournament is so wildly popular, this private golf event can take their tournament to any other television channel if you don’t play along with their rules.
- No snarky humor on the telecast – Remember former CBS golf analyst Gary McCord? In 1994, he was literally banned from the network’s Masters telecasts after the event after making a few jokes about the extremely difficult golf course conditions. McCord, a former PGA Tour pro-turned-broadcaster, joked that the greens at Augusta National were so fast because they used “bikini wax.” Later, he mentioned that the 17th green was so severely sloped that, “there are some body bags down there if that keeps going,” as a ball rolled toward a water hazard. After the Augusta National overlords complained to CBS, McCord never returned to cover the event.
- Creative chipping and amazing putting – If you’ve watched this golf tournament over the years, you’ll remember Tiger Woods and his creative use of the sloping green on the par-3 16th hole to seal a couple of wins. Since I’m not Gary McCord, you might even say that there are a few buried elephants beneath the lightning-fast greens of Augusta National Golf Club! The winners will traditionally have nerves of steel on the greens (Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Tiger Woods, and Jordan Spieth to name a few). If you want a reasonable comparison of the speed of Augusta National’s greens, take a golf ball out and putt on any hard floor in your residence. The greens are just about that fast!
- Keep an eye on Amen Corner on Sunday – Even Tiger Woods hit his golf ball into the water three times last November on that treacherous short par-3 12th hole. He made the highest score of his career – a 10! Jordan Spieth just said “Amen” to that fact after he lost the tournament a few years ago on the same benign-looking 155-yard hole. Holes #11 (a very long par-4 with water to the left of the green), #12 (short-par 3 with Rae’s Creek diagonally perched in front of the green) and #13 (relatively short par-5 which tempts you to go for the green with that same creek also running diagonally in front of it) will usually be played under par by the eventual winner on Sunday. When you hear the patrons groan on Sunday at the famous “Amen Corner”, it usually means that player’s goose is cooked for this year.
- The winner will be good AND lucky this year – Book it. Remember when Phil Mickelson threaded the needle through a few pine trees on #12 (yes, Amen Corner) en route to his win? How about that 140 foot chip-in by Larry Mize on #11 during his playoff win over Greg Norman in 1987? What about Bubba Watson’s twisting 9-iron shot from the trees on #10 in his 2012 playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen? How about Fred Couples’ miraculous luck in 1992 when his ball somehow failed to roll back into the water after barely crossing Rae’s Creek on #12? He would win the tournament that year by just two shots.
Yes, the winner of this year’s Masters will have great skills and be the beneficiary of a lot of fortunate breaks this week. It happens every year about this same time.
After all, it IS “A tradition like no other!”