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The Cheers Have Left Augusta

Apr. 6, 2007     By     Comments (28)

I hope that Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts are superglued in their coffins. If not, they're probably spinning so fast they're likely to pop out in China before the final round concludes on Sunday.

Masters LogoThrough most of two rounds of the 71st Masters, one thing is clear: the music has died. The cheers have died. The excitement has died.

With a first-round lead of -3 (which required a 20-putt performance by one of the two leaders) and a stroke average of 76.147, Augusta National is playing more like a U.S. Open venue than the host course of The Masters. You can not only count on one hand - no, make that half of one hand - the number of eagles we saw in the first round.

Have you ever heard less cheers at any golf tournament than you heard yesterday during the first round of The Masters?

Despite playing fairly in practice rounds, the green-jacketed goblins of Georgia firmed the course up prior to the first round, surprising players and leading to high-bouncing balls bounding over greens, down hills, and into ponds.

Though efforts to "Tiger-proof" Augusta National have resulted in more length, the bastardization of Bobby Jones' vision has continued in recent years with increasingly narrow fairways, cut skinny by trees and rough. Instead of Tiger-proofing the course, the goblins have instead charge-proofed and excitement-proofed the course. Without soggy weather, will anyone ever again fire a back-nine 30 like Jack did in 1986 or like Phil's 31 in 2004?

No.

Augusta National has become another boring course. Beautiful - make no mistake about that - but boring. Target golf, the bane of American golf, has invaded the North American home of golf, the very beacon that signals the start of a new season to much of America.

Perhaps it's time for the tournament committee at Augusta to exchange their green jackets for straitjackets, because clearly they've gone loony.

I would say the course conditions are enough to make me spit, but Sergio Garcia's got me covered there. Courses set up like this don't reward good play - they result in freakish winners who get a healthy dose of luck throughout the week. Everyone who picked Tiger or Phil or even Ernie to win this week weren't planning on conditions that would let Jerry Kelly of all people climb the leaderboard, or Bradley Dredge, or most of the other near-nobodies currently atop the big white boards at Augusta National.

Numerous headlines Thursday evening read "the golf course is winning." Funny, but I didn't know it was playing.

Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts named the course "National" because they viewed the course as belonging - at least in spirit - to all of America. I'm sad to say it's disgusting what's become of "my" course, of "your" course, of "our" course. It does not resemble the Augusta of six years ago let alone the Augusta of the Bobby Jones era, and it most certainly should not be "winning" anything but praise.

To our readers in China, please be on the lookout for the bodies of Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. They've probably been spinning in their graves so much they're due to burrow through the earth and pop out before the winner is crowned at +3 early Sunday evening.

P.S. Check back on Sunday for our live blog of the final round.

Discussion

  1. Schlyer says:

    You've hit the nail on the head. I've watched/listened to Amen Corner broadcasts at masters.org throughout yesterday and today and its like listening to a funeral procession.

    Nobody dares to shoot at the flag at 11 - heck, they aren't even trying to land it on the green.

    12 is playing tough because you have to land it stiff to make it hold the green.

    And hardly anybody is even trying to hit the green in 2 at 13. They've turned one of the most exciting par 5's in golf to a total bore-fest.

  2. Madriver says:

    I think the powers that be at the Master Club have done exactly what they wanted. I think they cringe at a
    (-12 ) winning score. I think they wanted a severe test of golf and they got it. I think the back nine charge may be harder to come by, but other than the two you describe, how many back nine charges were there? Isn’t it more of a round of attrition in most Masters? The back nine charge is what made those Masters memorable but I don’t think they are the norm. I think you are right about the comparison to a U.S Open set up, but I think that’s what “they” wanted. Remember why Gary McCord got kicked off the CBS commentating team for…to paraphrase…”the greens are faster than a Jamaican pickpocket”…well they still are but along with it they got length, narrow fairways, and a course that will always be questioned as to “playability”. I think the Club enjoys it, and I think they will continue to set it up as a just barely playable venue. As long as the Golf Club and Ball making companies continue to push the limits of technology, I think Augusta will to.

  3. Shortgame85 says:

    When reading your comments, just now, I got a rather strange feeling. They struck a sad but somewhat familiar chord. Perhaps it is still too soon to damn forever the recent changes to the National course, but it does seem that the excitement of the "risk/reward" type of play that enthralled us for years, for decades, has been replaced with something less than what it was. It reminds me of a brilliant prodigy of seven playing a late Mozart sonata: all technical precision, but not much soul, certainly not the fire burning just beneath the surface quality that only the wisdom of years can pull out of the very same ivory keys that the child plays. If this impression turns out to be true then everyone loses: the players, the fans, the Augusta National. It would be a crying shame if Augusta National does, indeed, lose its soul. It has stood as a bastion of stability and rectitude ( in the golfing world ) lo, these many years. And it has reflected a certain Southern passion for courtliness and respect for tradition and manners, the most recent, former chairman's public imbroglio notwithstanding. I regret that I must agree with Erik's assessment of the whole bloody mess, and more's the pity.

  4. Clay says:

    If anybody's spinning in their graves, it would've been Gene Sarazen, after Tiger hit pitching wedge in 1997 on the hole where Gene hit 4-wood for the most famous double eagle in golf history.

    Erik, I fully agree that things have changed at Augusta, and not all for the better. I'm just not sure I agree that the changes are all bad.

    Something needed to be done, because the game of golf has changed. For decades, the Masters had been a gentlemanly gathering, albeit with the gravitas of a major championship. Even then, it was known as a big-hitters' course, with wide fairways and no rough. Given the skills of modern players, with better physical conditioning, a better understanding of the physics of the golf swing, better clubs, and the longer ball, Augusta National was at risk of being turned into a pitch & putt.

    Albeit with the gravitas of a major championship.

    I'm not sure that's what Bob Jones ( he NEVER called himself "Bobby") envisioned.

    Where I vehemently disagree with Augusta National, and with the PGA TOUR, is with the lengthening of courses as some kind of "Tiger-proofing". When you make courses 7,500 yards, you're not taking it away from the biggest hitters, you're handing it to them. I would have much preferred to make the course tighter, faster, and more challenging. Let everybody have a chance, not just the players who can hit it 325.

    If you've ever played Pebble from the tips in a good breeze, you know what 6,800 yards can be like.

    I'm still planted in front of the TV with my chips and salsa. I didn't think Thursday and Friday was the least bit boring.

    I'm not planning on missing a minute.

    Clay

  5. Jeff Smith says:

    This year's Master's is a complete shame. The greens are ridiculously fast and yes, the cheers are gone. I get that uneasy U.S. Open feeling watching this tournament. I'm glad you wrote this post. The magic is gone.

    Perhaps something had to be done to take care of the length problem, as Cody mentioned, but more trees? Narrow fairways? Bobby Jones vision for Augusta National is dead for the sake of par. The Masters is no longer the Masters.

    The card "The Committee" may have up their collective sleeve is softening thing up for the weekend so that we can enjoy a little risk/reward into the weekend. I hope so, cause this is no longer the Masters.

  6. I'llDropOneHere says:

    Fully agree Erik. Not much fun to watch Ernie, Sergio, Freddie etc look like they're playing a game with which I am very familiar. Villegas shot 85 today, for God's sakes. Still a lot of golf to be played, though. I have a feeling Augusta won't disappoint.

  7. Pete McDaniel, Golf Digest senior writer, seems to agree. So does another fellow with whom I rarely agree.

  8. Hogan Fan says:

    I agree, they've simply gone too far. 7400 yds and playing like an Open even without rough! Crazy. We used to see players going for the par fives and getting rewarded or suffering a plop in Rae's creek, now we see even Tiger laying up to throw a wedge in there to keep it close enough to 3 putt from 15 feet. I don't even think the rain will slow down these greens because they'll just flip the switch on the underground wind tunnel and dry them out! I don't want to see -21 scores at Augusta and I sure don't want to see +2 win it either.I want to see the golfers beat each other not see Augusta beat them down!

  9. Tanuki says:

    I agree with Erik. I felt like I was watching a US Open. I think that the Masters has a responsibility, not just to provide a stern test for the players, but also to showcase golf. It is one of those events which everybody, not just die-hard golf fans watch. The weekend of the Masters the driving range close to my house is always packed with kids, who may have never thought of playing golf, trying to copy what they saw on TV! I watched every minute of coverage but I'm pretty sure if I was a 10 year old I would have changed the channel!!!

  10. Mike says:

    I agree with Clay. And no matter how 'badly' Ernie, Sergio, or Freddie play - they are still playing a game I am not familiar with!

    I would like to see Augusta - and any course for that matter - present a challenge to the 21st century professional golfer. Until a better solution comes along, course length, long rough, raked bunkers... whatever it takes - I want to see the pros have to play a game of accuracy to excel.

    The reality is that there are hitters today that will test any course set up, and by altering courses to keep these players at bay, the rest of the field will suffer.

  11. Jeff says:

    They call it Tiger proofing but heck there are many that are out driving Tiger these days. The talent is in the short game not how long your drives are and it's the short game that makes it exciting so keep the course the way it was supposed to be.
    As for the difficulty, I think that you are correct, it has been boring. I watched and watched and all I could think about was that it CAN be diffucult enough that it doesn't make it fun and it sure isn't fun to watch.

  12. MH says:

    It's the weather, boys. If once every 15 years we get a funeral procession, so be it. They have to plan for Spring moisture and when they get it, the scores come down. This year is an exception. Kudos to the Southern Gentlemen on the website. FREE MASTERS @ 10:30am with a cup of joe is a great thing! masters.org

  13. GeorgeP says:

    If it was just the greens being that hard and fast, it would probably be enough. But with all the length, the addition of groves of trees, and the very stupid rough (not long enough to be very penal, but long enough to keep balls from rolling into worse locations), it has become a tournament of survival, like the US Open. Don't get me wrong. I like the US Open, but once a year is enough.

    They've managed to take the "Reward" part out of Risk/Reward -- not to mention the "angles" that were supposed to be central to play under Bobby Jones' original vision. I don't see much chance of there being any kind of charge this week unless, it rains, they soak down the greens, or they decide to move up to the Members' tees on Sunday. As has been said, it's pretty boring.

    This has always been my favorite tourney and a harbinger of Spring for all of us in the northern states. But it was always fun ... and loud. Remember how nuts the place was in '86 during Nicklaus' charge? But as Erik points out, it's awfully quiet this year. Too quiet.

  14. in my opinion, it is not the speed of the greens, it is the hardness!!
    when greens have as many undulations as these do it is almost impossible to stop the ball on most of the greens (when the first bounce is usually about 10 feet
    perfection is required and even these players have difficulty in hitting the ball within a 10 foot target with
    mid to long irons)!!

  15. Mark "ezmoney5150" Bresky says:

    It is definitely a different Masters, but the wind is making the biggest effect. The one thing that I haven't heard anybody mention is that the course is the same fast and hard course for everyone. Yes luck is a factor, but wasn't luck involved when Tiger won two years ago? The chip in on 16 where it trickled down the hill, sat on the lip and finally fell in was all luck. Tiger is the best around but give him a bucket of balls and I bet that doesn't happen again.

    Lucky breaks are a must for a winner of the Masters.

    Great comment on Sergio spitting. Now that's funny.

  16. mrgolfchief says:

    As far a Jones vision goes I think only one hole is close to what he disigned.
    The Masters got more than they expected with the weather and they did change the pins to easier locations.(some hole locations were moved because of the winds and cold)
    Maybe the golf gods thought the course needed to play harder.

  17. LarryK says:

    Although I believe your concerns are well-founded, I would stop short of writing off Augusta and the Masters Tournament Committee as a lost cause.

    I would term the course set up as "marginal" and something that can at least be addressed in future years. I question whether the Committee was truly pleased with this year's carnage any more than the rest of us. Thus, the watering down of greens overnight.

    My standard for course set up insanity was Shinnecock Hills for the 2004 Open. That was over the top. Although I don't believe Augusta achieved quite that level of absurdity this year, it is clear that that is hardly the direction in which one wants to go.

    What is not being addressed here is how much more difficult a course should be when hosting a major. A little bit more? Hell of a lot? And, more importantly, how do you quantify that in terms of length of rough, stimpmeter, etc.?

    Since I seriously doubt anyone is going to favor a "formula" for course set ups, I suspect we are going to be grousing about this matter everytime a train wreck occurs.

  18. Andy Greenwald says:

    It was exciting today, was it not?

  19. JD says:

    If you ask me, this years Masters was mission accomplished. A not so big hitter won this event for the 1st time in a long time. Zach, playing brilliant, confident golf, laid up everytime on the par 5's and beat everyone, inluding Tiger, shooting them at 11 under.

    Is 7500 yards long by today's standards? Sure, but for the Pro's it is not extreme. Rewarding bad tee shots is extreme and also makes watching TV golf extremely boring.

    It gets so bad some weekends, it is like watching these guys playing a par 3 course. No great skill required (keyword is great, as in PGA grade great) . The bombers just his it as hard as they can, and they still have a 50% chance to reach the green from the woods or 1st cut at 235 yards out. Where is the fun in that?

    If the par 5's are going to play like that; just replace the par 5's with some long par 3's and lets speed up the play. As far as I am concerned, the Masters wanted to bring the accuracy game back to Augusta without taking away the bombers chances.

    Zach and Rose made a decent showing along with the bombers. We had at least 5 or 6 players that were in contention right up until they played the 16th, in some cases the 17th, hole. How much closer can it get? When was the last time we had a US Open with that many in contention with only three holes to play? This was a lot of fun to watch; Mission accomplished!

  20. +Handicap says:

    I watched all the coverage(TV and internet) during all 4 days and I wasn't bored for a minute. The game is ever changing and evolving and Augusta is doing the same. Are all of you that were bored, also bored watching the US open? What bores me is the -20 to -25 shootouts throughout the year.
    It's refreshing to see an event in which anybody who makes the cut has a legitimate chance to win as Goosen proved by nearly winning. The course is now a superior test of golf and course management.
    There were several eagles and plenty of excitement on the final day. The letup in weather contributed to that. I like the fact that players had to face a tough decision on 13 and 15 whether to go for it. To me, a player having to lay up from 213 yds is refreshing compared to pulling a 6 iron and taking dead aim.
    Furthermore, I don't understand how berating Jerry Kelly or Bradley Dredge validates any argument. All players earned their way into a limited prestigious field. It's interesting I didn't hear of any players complaining(as many often do), only self proclaimed golf "experts" who can't win the Net of the C flight in their club championship.

  21. Are all of you that were bored, also bored watching the US open?

    The U.S. Open is expected to be a grind. The Masters is not.

    What bores me is the -20 to -25 shootouts throughout the year.

    Care to name the last time we reached -20 on the PGA Tour? Tell me again what score won at the Honda? At Doral? At even the PODS Championship?

    It's refreshing to see an event in which anybody who makes the cut has a legitimate chance to win as Goosen proved by nearly winning. The course is now a superior test of golf and course management.

    That's a matter of the ten-shot rule, not the course setup. If other events had that rule you'd occasionally see someone who barely makes the cut make a run. Brad Faxon won after making the cut on the number last year - that doesn't mean the course was set up for it. It means he played really well after playing really poorly.

    I don't understand how berating Jerry Kelly or Bradley Dredge validates any argument.

    Because they're not major-winner quality players, and The Masters has consistently produced the best list of major winners of any of the majors. They have less fluke winners than any other.

    All players earned their way into a limited prestigious field. It's interesting I didn't hear of any players complaining (as many often do), only self proclaimed golf "experts" who can't win the Net of the C flight in their club championship.

    Why muddy your argument by insulting me, particularly when you're wrong? I play in the scratch division.

    Furthermore, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have gone so far as to berate the changes at Augusta. Very few current players would bemoan the changes - and yet some have, like Geoff Ogilvy. Henrik Stenson - who was around the lead for quite awhile - said "I have only been here twice, but they seem to be taking out the good slopes, the ones that can help the players, and putting more awkward ones in. It is on the edge of being ridiculous, if it’s not ridiculous already."

    Why would Tiger Woods talk badly about a course he has to play? Gary Player is famous once for saying "I love slow greens" one week and telling a guy "I love fast greens" the next because, as a pro, you have to love and embrace whatever the conditions are in order to succeed. I loved playing in foul weather because I knew it would bother my opponents more than it would bother me - and that gave me an edge. I could also use a Jack Nicklaus quote here about how if he ever heard someone complaining about the course setup, he would cross them off the 'potential winner' list in his mind.

    So no, the "no players complain about it" reasoning doesn't work. Past winners at Augusta have complained (Nicklaus, Palmer), some current players have (Ogilvy), and current players have no reason to complain and many big reasons not to.

    It was exciting today, was it not?

    Eh, not really - not like Masters past. I do think watering the greens helped - it allowed for some eagle opportunities (and we saw some made). But a 69 to win (and the low round of the day)? Tiger shooting 72? A scoring average north of 74? No. That's not terribly exciting. It was better than the first three days (see "they watered the greens"), but not like Masters past.

  22. More quotes from current players, and again, it's incredibly damning when current players (not just Arnie and Jack) are critical, because that goes against what every psychologist will tell them to do when playing a course, particularly a major championship venue.

    Tiger Woods:

    "Be aggressive? Here? On this golf course? Not in these conditions," Tiger Woods said Friday after his 73-74 -- 147 total left him just five shots behind co-leaders Brett Wetterich and Tim Clark at a humble, uninspiring 2 under par. "No, you just plod along. Try to put the ball in the right spot if you can. If you can't, somehow just don't have any wrecks out there."

    Henrik Stenson is not a fan based on these comments as reported by Herb Gould in the Chicago Sun-Times:

    "The course is ridiculous,'' he told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. ''It feels like I'm walking around for five hours and someone is whipping me on the back. The only way to have fun on Augusta National is to play with your buddies and have a few beers.''

    Here's one from Lee Westwood:

    "Do I like this place? Not really, not any more," said the Englishman, who had just been desperately trying to make up for his first-round 79. "It just asks too many questions that there are no answers to. It used to be a shotmaker's course but now I don't think it is. When it was shorter, more of us would have had an answer, but now there are only six or seven people in the field that can win. It's not the type of golf I want to play."

  23. regarding above comments... they all sound like winers to me... one of the best tourney's I've watched. a little warmer conditions and they would have all been complaining that's it's too easy. nice to see them have to make different decisions based on unfamiliar conditions.

  24. Xt1ncT says:

    What I missed about this years Masters was thinking "Wow, that was a great shot". How many were there? Answer, not many. Tiger's 3rd on one of the par 5's in fact he did it a coupe of times for a birdie. Appleby on the Par 3 (6th??). Rose on the 16th. And that's about all I can remember. Oh Tiger's 2nd on 13. To me this says this years tournament just wasn't that great, and the Masters needs to be great. It just does.

  25. Upnorth says:

    I tell you what... That was one of the most memorable masters I can remember.

    That finish will inspire a bunch of young lads that dreams indeed can come true. "I'm Zach Johnson, and I'm from Cedar Rapids Iowa... I'm just a normal guy" If that didn't warm your heart, nothing will.

    This place will always be my favorite course in the world, even though I know I'll never be able to play it. I applaud them for keeping pace with technology.

  26. John Hancock says:

    There has been a black cloud over Augusta ever since "Hootie" demanded that Gary McCord not be allowed to work the Masters. Just for making a remark that the greens were like someone had put bikina wax on them. Shame on you Hootie......your defense is "protecting the integrety of the game". Bull Shit.....you are so wrapped up in that little goat farm you have is that you have lost any resemblence of humor that you had (If indeed you ever had a sense of humor). So Hootie, in the meantime, just keep drinking those mint juleps and taking your Viagra.

  1. [... Through most of two rounds of the 71st Masters, one thing is clear: the music has died. The cheers have died. The excitement has died. With a first-round lead of -3 ...]

  2. [... Through most of two rounds of the 71st Masters, one thing is clear: the music has died. The cheers have died. The excitement has died. With a first-round lead of -3 ...]

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