News & Opinion

In a new fall ritual, a Masters unlike any other

Justin Rose at 2019 Masters
The bloom might be off most of the flora at Augusta National next month, but Justin Rose is expected to be at the November edition of the Masters.

CBS drops Augusta National onto the undercard for a November football weekend, but look at it this way: The Masters will help kick off a glorious golf season featuring 6 major championships

At the risk of wishing away the remainder of 2020, it’s five weeks until the Masters, and it’s never too early to talk about what was the year’s first major, which is now the second major of the new season, in which we’ll play six majors.

And if you could successfully follow that, you’d be, in the words of NBC’s Gary Koch, better than most.

It might be tougher to gin up enthusiasm for a Masters in November than for one in April, given that we’ll be smack in the middle of football season and, for much of the country, recreational golf will be finished or at least winding down.

Still, it is the Masters, even if CBS plans to end its Sunday broadcast by 2:30 p.m. ET – unless there’s a playoff – to accommodate the network’s 4:05 p.m. NFL game. Which tells you all you need to know about how CBS – or any other network – prioritizes the NFL.

The Masters might be one of the biggest sporting events in the world – in April. But it’s just a preliminary bout in November, leading into the main event, even if your choices are: N.Y. Jets vs. Miami, Denver vs. Las Vegas or Buffalo vs. Arizona. (Will CBS’ Jim Nantz be whisked away by private jet from Augusta to Miami in time to do the Jets-Dolphins game?)

So, how will we pass the time from now until then? There are a couple of distinct ways.

Already, a cottage industry exists wondering, guessing, pontificating and speculating about how golf’s biggest bomber, Bryson DeChambeau, will dismantle Augusta National. After winning the U.S. Open last month by six shots, DeChambeau vowed to experiment with a 48-inch driver and would try very hard to gain weight and add even more speed.

DeChambeau is playing this week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, so we’ll see soon enough whether he is ready to unveil a longer shaft in his driver. DeChambeau will be paired with Matthew Wolff and Cameron Champ in the first two rounds in Vegas, and if we know DeChambeau, he won’t be happy about Wolff hitting it past him in the final round of the U.S. Open. And we’ll see whether Champ has the urge to max out his driver in the company of the two launchers.

DeChambeau is likely to dominate the par 5s at Augusta National, probably with short-iron approach shots to get home in two. Regarding the 13th hole, one notable observer thinks DeChambeau will try to play it in a highly unconventional way.

“I think he’s going to hit it over the trees on the right and into the 14th fairway and hit into the green from there,” Peter Kostis, former longtime CBS commentator, said on the “Hawk and Purk” podcast. “Especially with no spectators.”

But as everyone knows, the key that unlocks the green-jacket closet is the ability to successfully putt Augusta National’s complicated greens. DeChambeau is bound to have each green mapped as intricately as possible and take a scientific approach to solving the mysteries.

Another unknown, which is generating a great deal of Masters discussion, is the time of year. During normal times, Augusta National features a ryegrass overseed on the fairways and second cut of rough, and is lush and green every April.

The club usually closes from May until October to allow the rye to die out through the summer. When the underlying bermudagrass goes dormant after the first frost, the fairways are cut down to almost nothing to prepare for the rye overseed.

Aerial of Augusta National summer 2020
An undated aerial view shows Augusta National Golf Club during the summer maintenance season.

In the past two weeks, the Twitterverse was alive with aerial photos of Augusta National that showed the course almost completely brown and then turning bright green in a 10-day period. Everyone knows that the greens staff members at Augusta National are geniuses at growing grass, but people are wondering whether the grounds will be just as verdant in November.

Augusta National in early fall during preparations for 2020 Masters
An aerial view shows Augusta National Golf Club after the recent ryegrass overseed in advance of next month's Masters.

As far as the competition is concerned, November winds will come from a different direction – primarily the east – than the prevailing southerly track in the spring, which will make the course play differently. Players’ yardage books will need significant editing during the practice rounds in the run-up to the tournament. For instance, the swirling winds around the par-3 12th are likely to engender even more confusion.

And then, there’s the stark fact that there will be no spectators on the grounds. Golf’s cathedral will be played in mostly silence, which is bound to be eerie, not only to the players but the TV viewers, as well. No roars will be heard, unless the Masters powers-that-be decide to take a page from Major League Baseball and pipe in artificial sound on tournament days.

That’s not very likely, but it wouldn’t be the first time that strange things have happened at the Masters. It would give us something else to talk about – or whisper. After all, when next month’s tournament is concluded, it will be only five months until the next Masters.

After waiting seven months for the 2020 tournament finally to commence, why, that’s no time at all.

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