Masters Imitating U.S. Open?

It has always been the USGA’s mission to protect par in all its championships. To that end, they set up golf courses to play extremely difficult – so difficult in fact, that only once (Tiger Woods in 2000) in its long history, has a player finished a Men’s U.S. Open at -10 or lower. In walking the grounds at Augusta National this week and watching the best players in the world struggle – I have to ask; Is the Masters Committee also trying to protect par?

Granted, the weather conditions on Saturday could best be described as brutal. And scoring in that kind of cold and wind is always going to be tough – but for only one player (Retief Goosen – 70) to break par speaks more to the difficulty of the golf course than the weather conditions. Tom Fazio, who was in charge of the redesign/lenghtening in 2001, said the golf course is finally playing the way it was intended – hard and fast. The problem, in my opinon, with that kind of speed, it’s almost impossible to get irons close to the hole. And there is not a tougher second shot golf course in the world than Augusta National. As a player, you have to not just hit greens – you have to sections of greens. And as that same player, if you’re not able to spin the ball enough to hold these firm/fast sections – making birdies become next to impossible. Plus, the players now have the added disadvantage of a light cut of rough, which makes it especially difficult to spin the ball enough to hold firm greens. Augusta National never had rough before the redesign. There are also a number of added pine trees, which puts a premium on accuracy.

Now, all of this is fine if that is the kind of tournament you want to have. If par is your goal and you’re trying to protect the integrity of the golf course with the advent of modern equipment. However, in my opinion, this somewhat takes away from what made the Masters the world’s most exciting tournament. Experts used to say, the Masters didn’t start until the back-nine of Sunday. They said this because of all the possibilities. The possibilities of eagles, birdies, pars, bogeys, double bogeys, or even higher. Guys who were 5 back on the 10th tee weren’t out of it – as they could shoot 30 or 31 if they played great. However, with the golf course set-up this year, it’s almost impossible to shoot 3 or 4 under par in the back-nine. If a player is going to come back from 4 or 5 back with 9 to play, it will have to be that the leaders are coming back to the field. And, in my opinion, that is too bad.

I for one, loved the 86 Masters. Who could forget Jack Nicklaus going birdie, birdie, bogey, birdie, par, eagle, birdie, birdie, par on the last nine holes – to steal the tournament from Tom Kite, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros? Or Gary Player shooting 64 in 1978 to win? Or Nick Faldo, 5 down on the 11th tee in 1990, coming back to win his second green jacket in a row? To me, this is the Masters. To me, this is what separates it from the rest of the major championships.

The four majors have always had their distinct personalities. The Masters was about excitement. The U.S. Open was about grinding out pars. The British Open was about weather and controlling trajectory. And the PGA was about a fair set up. Lets hope the Masters gets back to its true identity and finds some excitement. Past champion Fuzzy Zoeller said it was like a morgue out there today – because there was nothing to cheer about. There is nothing like an eagle roar coming out of those beautiful pine trees on Sunday. So, if I had a vote – I would say soften the greens just slightly and lets get back to birdies and eagles.

For more on the Masters and its difficult playing conditions

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