youYou don’t need to prove you’ve been vaccinated to enter this year’s Masters, no need to show a negative test or wear a face covering. “Feels like a regular Master again,” said Rory McIlroy. And he’s right, around here it’s almost like the last two years never happened.
Almost. There is one big little difference. They all ran out of Georgia peach ice cream sandwiches at the concession stand. This serious business. Sandwich is a remarkable achievement of the last Augusta National chairman, Billy Payne, and all the justification needed to explain his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Payne’s successor, Fred Ridley, was asked about them Wednesday morning, and replied, with the right gravity: “We’ve had supply chain problems, as have everyone, in everything we’ve done.”
Ridley talked about some other changes, trivial things by comparison, such as a major renovation of the pitch. According to McIlroy, the 11th is “basically a new hole”, and the 15th is also different. The club has extended both. At 11 they had expanded the pool, removed one group of trees and planted another further down the right side of the fairway and at 15 they had reshaped the green. They often tweak the course, but this change is a little more drastic than usual, the idea, as always, is to make sure that it’s still a course that offers the right balance of risk and reward.
What the club hasn’t done is the only change everyone expects them to make on the 13th. Club founder Bobby Jones loves the hole, which he says offers players a “tempting and dangerous” decision on whether to bend the tee-shot around the corner. so they can reach the green in two.
At least, that’s what should be done. These days the 13th feels toothless. The players hit it so long from the tee they were left with a short iron to the green. The club brought a patch of dirt behind the tee-box of the adjacent Augusta Country Club, which everyone assumed they would be able to extend the hole. They haven’t done it yet.
Ridley knew there was a problem. The club have been talking for years about fixing it and he repeated it on Wednesday. “The 13th hole doesn’t have the same challenges it has historically.” The reason they’re reluctant to do anything, he says, is because it’s a classic hole. “Along with maybe 12, and maybe 15, those three holes are the most recorded at Augusta National.”
It was here that Arnold Palmer made a hawk with the second ball after a lengthy dispute with a rules official when he won in 1958; where Curtis Strange blasted a two-shot lead on Sunday by hitting him into the river in 1985; and where Jack Nicklaus took the crucial birdie in ’86.
“I just remember as a young man watching the Masters, some of the victories and tragedies there,” Ridley said. “So it might be a counter to doing something.”
The worry is they’ll end up like one of those amateur artists who decided it was a good idea to try to touch on a faded masterpiece.
Ridley was clearly daunted by the prospect of ruining it. And maybe he was right. The club is always stuck between the old and the new, the desire to do right by tradition, and to keep growing as well.
Sometimes they make mistakes. Ridley’s recent decision to allow media group Dude Perfect to shoot a YouTube film with Bryson DeChambeau at Amen Corner feels like a misstep.
Ridley was asked how he imagined Jones would feel if he returned to see Augusta. “I hope he will be proud,” he said. “I hope he will feel that we continue to carry the traditions and values that we think are so important to the game.”
As long as he wasn’t here the day DeChambeau threw the Frisbee around Amen Corner for the sake of the viral video. But Ridley said Dude Perfect “has 57 million followers on YouTube and it caught my eye”. The clip ended up as “YouTube’s No. 1 video at the time”.
It was a pretty big change for a club that refused to broadcast a front nine for many years.
Normality master makes welcome back to Augusta rejigged | Master
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