Will The Masters LIV up to the hype?

The azaleas are in bloom.  The fairways are immaculate.  The greens are slicker than a politician making promises before an election.

Other than the always-lurking weather changes at Augusta National Golf Club, the 2024 Masters seems ready to host the first golf major of the year starting Thursday.

Speaking of weather, Thursday’s opening round is looking rather iffy as the golf grinches at the Augusta office of the National Weather Service are currently forecasting a 100% chance of rain with one to two inches possible.

If the local meteorologists in northeastern Georgia make weather predictions on par (get it?) with my local forecasters down here in the bayous, Thursday’s opening round may turn out to be just fine.

The wind, though, is another matter.  Breezy conditions are expected Thursday and Friday with winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour.  This will cause golfers more headaches while attempting to hit shots into (and putt on) those lightning-fast greens at Augusta National.

Isn’t The Masters glorious?

With the conclusion of college basketball’s March Madness, America’s sports attention turns to The Masters golf tournament again this week.

When my family finally purchased a color television in the late 1960’s (yes, I am that old), I rooted for Arnold Palmer while my Mom watched The Masters just to see the colorful azaleas in bloom around the golf course.

Though Arnie contended often and won four green jackets, Mom’s record of enjoying the flowers at this annual spring golf tournament remained undefeated.

Getting an admission ticket into The Masters golf tournament – even to watch a practice round – is one of the hardest items to acquire in American sports.

If you aren’t one of the thousands of legacy season ticket holders, a lottery is held in late May or early June every year for the rest of us.  Statistically speaking, you have a 0.5% (or 1 in 200) chance of scoring a ticket to attend even a practice round on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday before the tournament begins.  If you’re really lucky and win one of these lottery-based tickets, you still must pay $100 for a practice day or $140 for admission to one of the Thursday-Sunday tournament rounds.

Good luck finding a place to stay anywhere near Augusta, Georgia (population 200,000) during Masters week.  The regulars have most of the hotels booked a full year in advance.

Would I go if I won a lottery ticket for next year’s Masters?

You bet!   I would camp out in my car if necessary.

A tradition like no other…

Today’s Par-3 contest (won by Rickie Fowler at 5-under par) featured a relaxed atmosphere on the day before the start of the golf tournament.  The professional golfers were allowed to bring their loved ones onto Augusta National’s 9-hole short course and make it a fun family event.  The non-golfers in the group were required to wear the same traditional white jumpsuits which the caddies must wear.  Watching the golfers’ toddlers running around on the fairways in tiny jumpsuits made for some great television.

On Thursday morning around 6:45AM Central time (weather permitting), 84-year old Jack Nicklaus (winner of six Masters’ titles), 3-time winner Gary Player (a very spry 88), and two-time champion Tom Watson (74) will hit the ceremonial first tee shots on #1 to officially signal the start of this year’s golf tournament.   Watson took the spot left by beloved former Masters champion Arnold Palmer after his death in 2016.

The limited field at The Masters has just 90 golfers including five amateurs.  Though half of the field is from the United States, the 45 golfers from 22 other countries truly make The Masters a worldwide golf spectacle.

Former Masters champions – including oldies-but-goodies such as 64-year old Fred Couples, Vijay Singh (61), and 58-year old Jose Maria Olazabal –will tee it up this week.  Once the second round is completed, the field will be cut to the top 50 players (and ties) for the weekend’s third and fourth rounds.

If you get hungry from walking the hilly terrain of Augusta National Golf Club, the prices for food and beverages at The Masters remain budget friendly.

The highly-touted Pimento Cheese sandwich is still just $1.50 this year.  You will pay only $3 for a Bar-B-Que Pork, Club, or Classic Chicken sandwich.  A bag of chips or peanuts is a reasonable $1.50.  Let’s eat!

Will the golf pirates of LIV Golf plunder a green jacket this year?

This will be the second Masters tournament in which LIV golfers have competed.  There will be 13 LIV golfers among the field of 90.  That represents 14.4% of the entries in this year’s tournament.

LIV Golf (which is now in its third season) has signed several former Masters champions.  The group is led by 3-time winner Phil Mickelson.  He joins two-time champ Bubba Watson along with Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, and Charl Schwartzel in the field.

Let’s not forget about the defending champion, Jon Rahm!

The 2023 Masters winner, Spain’s Jon Rahm shocked the PGA Tour last fall by accepting a deal worth more than $300 million in signing bonuses to join the upstart LIV Golf league.

In addition, a variety of other Masters qualifications allowed current LIV stars such as Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith, Tyrell Hatton, Adrian Meronk, and Joaquin Niemann into this year’s tournament.

The oddsmakers have placed four of the LIV golfers (Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Joaquin Niemann, and Bryson DeChambeau) within the top ten betting favorites for the title this weekend.

Since Jon Rahm was on the PGA Tour in 2023 when he won The Masters, this year might find the green jacket being slipped onto one of the 13 LIV golfers in the tournament.  Augusta National Golf Course places a premium on shot-making, putting, and calm nerves.  LIV Golf paid dearly to sign many of their top golfers who had proven themselves under the pressure of major golf tournaments in the past.

Whatever happened to that proposed PGA Tour and LIV Golf merger?

Almost a year ago, the PGA Tour Commissioner announced that a men’s golf merger with the owners of LIV Golf would take place before December 31, 2023.  That didn’t happen, but neither party has closed the door on consummating a deal, either.

In late January, the PGA Tour signed an agreement with a US-based private equity group called Strategic Sports Group.  The deal was worth a reported $3 billion.  Half of the money has been targeted to make the PGA Tour golfers equity partners in this new endeavor.

Jordan Spieth served on the PGA Tour board and said the deal was terrific news for the players.

“The coolest thing about it is the players are now owners,” said Spieth.  “They now are equity owners so they want to push it themselves; they want to make the product better themselves. Not that they didn’t before, but you directly benefit from owning a piece.”

Afterwards, the PGA Tour carefully stated that they were still willing to include the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (owners of LIV Golf) as a future business partner, too.  As of this post, there had been no change in the status of the two golf leagues.  They continue to operate separately – just as before.

Some professional golfers at The Masters this week have some strong opinions and feelings about LIV Golf and the PGA Tour.

There has been a palpable tension among some players.  Many pro golfers who have remained loyal to the PGA Tour have an opposing viewpoint about the players who exited for the guaranteed money, the team element, and shorter annual schedule offered by LIV Golf.

Though the PGA golfers have done much of the whining, their own long-standing golf tour has significantly increased the purses to help compete with LIV Golf.  Men’s professional golfers in both leagues are doing just fine – financially speaking.

What if one of the 13 LIV golfers should don that famous green jacket in victory this Sunday evening?

I would expect some of the PGA Tour golfers will become “Masters green” with envy as tensions build heading into this spring and summer’s three other major golf tournaments.