Augusta greener than ever as azaleas lose their bloom

By Doug FergusonApril 2, 2012, 8:46 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Something is missing from the Masters this year, a tradition at this tournament that ranks right up there with Amen Corner, endless roars on a Sunday afternoon and a green jacket for the winner.

Augusta National is no longer blazing with color.

Azaleas that typically are bursting with red and pink already have lost their bloom, or the flowers are wilting quickly. The beautiful contrast of white comes from the sand in the bunkers, not the dogwoods. Spring came early in so much of the country this year, and not even Augusta was immune.

Where have all the flowers gone?

“I saw them,” defending champion Charl Schwartzel said. “But it was last week. I was here a week ago last Thursday, and they were beautiful. But the first thing I thought was, ‘They’re all going to be gone.’ I thought Augusta would be able to do something – get the fans on them or something. It’s weird”

Indeed, the Masters has gone green.

The 13th hole has an estimated 1,600 azalea bushes – that’s why it’s called “Azalea” – yet there are only a dozen or so bushes behind the green that still have blooms. Fans on the course Monday for a practice round posed for pictures in front of one azalea bush with its pink flowers having fallen onto the pine needles.

Yes, the tournament will manage to go on. Augusta National is still beautiful as ever with sunlight filtering through the Georgia pines, and not a blade of grass out of place. But it’s not the same.

It’s like an actress without her makeup. It’s like Wrigley Field without the ivy. It’s like Ian Poulter dressed in white.

“You’re kidding. No flowers?” said Poulter, who arrived on Monday dressed head to toe in white. “I can’t believe that.”

It’s not the first time this has happened, and if nothing else, it should put the rumors to rest that Augusta National packs ice on the azaleas to keep them from blooming until Masters week.

Those aren’t the only rumors.

“I always heard they had hot and cold water running through the pipes to control when it blooms,” Jonathan Byrd said.

Byrd added his own piece of color – a pink ribbon on his cap with the letter “K” to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Kate, on Friday. He showed up at the Masters expecting to be asked about his chipping and putting, not jasmine and camellia.

But he understands the significance of flowers at Augusta National, built on the home of a former nursery.

“It’s what everyone thinks about,” he said.

Joanne Taylor was sitting along the ropes on the 13th hole, her toenails painted “Masters green” for the occasion. She drove down for the Monday practice round from Dahlonega in the northern part of the state, where the blooms have come and gone.

“I’ve always heard they keep the azaleas in potted plants in a greenhouse, then brought them out for the Masters,” she said, another rumor proved untrue amid so little color.

The golf is not going to suffer. Players have raved about the conditioning at the Masters, and the excitement level is higher than usual for the first major of the year. Tiger Woods, who played nine holes early Monday with Mark O’Meara, comes into the Masters having won at Bay Hill two years ago and thus became an instant favorite.

Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy both won in the last month, trading spots at No. 1 in the world. Hunter Mahan has won twice. Schwartzel is trying to join Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only repeat winners at Augusta.

All the eyeballs will be on a little white golf ball, not the bloom on a dogwood.

But it’s different, nonetheless.

“Everybody would love to see the flowers, and we’d love to have them here,” said Lance Barrow, the coordinating producer of CBS Sports, which is televising the Masters for the 57th year. “But we have no control over Mother Nature.”

The timing could not have been worse for Jennifer Markman of Atlanta. She has been coming to the Masters for the last 17 years with a tournament badge, which is good for Thursday through Sunday. But she had never been to Augusta during the practice rounds, the only days when patrons can take pictures.

Standing to the right of the 10th green, she held her camera steady for nearly 30 seconds before she took a picture. There were no golfers in sight. There were no flowers to be found. She was waiting for just the right moment, when a puff of wind blew the flag upright so she could capture its long shadow across the green.

She was pleased with the image, though it’s not what she wanted.

“I’m upset all the azaleas are gone,” she said. “This is my 18th year coming to the tournament, and I’ve never been able to bring my camera. This is my first year taking pictures.”

She paused to stick out her lower lip, adding, “And somebody took all my azaleas away.”

Jerry and Kim Tackett got practice-round tickets for the first time and drove from Tulsa, Okla., over the weekend to be at the gates Monday morning. They camped out on the 13th fairway, watching in awe as Kevin Na drilled his approach over the winding tributary of Rae’s Creek and safely on the green.

They have seen this hole countless times on TV, memorable because of how the green appears to tilt toward the creek, with three bunkers of white sand behind the green, and hundreds of azalea bushes on the hill.

“I was expecting more blooms,” Tackett said. “But we’re pretty excited just to be here. We don’t mind all the green.”

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

Getty Images

PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.


Full-field scores from the Joburg Open


Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm