The Masters Constantly Changes

By George WhiteApril 5, 2005, 4:00 pm
Were he returning to earth today from a 70-year voyage in outer space, Alister Mackenzie would probably react with a sudden start. The acreage upon which he and Bobby Jones collaborated to build Augusta National is only faintly recognizable. The location of the 18 holes are all the same. But little of the golf ' or the golf course - is.
Augusta has had to change ' continuously. Golf itself has been in a constant state of flux the past century, and Augusta National has been swept along with it. Some of the changes have furthered the Mackenzie-Jones concept of golf as being a game of ultimate strategy. Others, sadly, havent, a victim of space-age metals, vastly improved ball construction, and a total change in agronomy. Yes, this is a far different place than what Augusta National was in 1934 when Horton Smith won the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament.
The course had opened for play late in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression, and two years later, only 76 members were on the rolls. Augusta National was in danger of going under before the first Masters was ever played.
In 1934 Jones and Clifford Roberts decided to have a tournament. Nothing so grandiose as a major was envisioned then. In 1934, the two nines were the opposite of what they are today, play ending where the ninth green presently sits. But early-morning frost repeatedly delayed play on the first few holes for the membership, so the nines were reversed after the tournaments first year. The change has resulted in an untold number of great Masters finishes on the newer back nine ' though Mackenzie would be bewildered were he to see it today.
Gene Sarazens double eagle on Sunday at the 15th the second year of the tournament (1935) may still be the greatest single shot in golf history. Immediately wiped away was Craig Woods three-shot lead and Sarazen claimed the title in a 36-hole playoff Monday. The 4-wood shot from 235 yards wouldnt have been possible today, though. The lake fronting the green has been enlarged and the area where the ball hit has been shaved drastically. Sarazens magnificent poke, alas, probably would have ended up in the water.
Jones steadfastly refused to call the tournament the Masters, though everyone else did after the inaugural in 1934. Jones believed the Masters was much too pompous and held out until 1939, when he finally relented.
The course was closed in the World War II years of 1943, 44 and 45. Turkeys were raised on the property, and cattle were allowed to roam the fairways, keeping down the mowing expense.
Magnolia Lane, the 330-yard path from the street to the clubhouse, wasnt even paved until 1947. That was the year that the tournament first had field scoreboards on the course. And Sarazen didnt win a green jacket. That didnt happen until 1949, with Sam Snead earning the first winners coat. Incidentally, no one felt the need to rope the fairways until 49, when the 11th fairway was roped.
In 1952, Ben Hogan inaugurated the first champions dinner after his win in 1951. Hogan had suggested the meal, and he began the tradition of the winner paying for the grub. Of course, when Hogan initiated the dinner, there was far fewer invitees than there is now. It has mushroomed with each year so by the time Phil Mickelson serves the lobster and ravioli this year, there will be three times the number of winners there as was at Hogans soiree.
The first time the Masters was broadcast was in 1956, when play was described on four holes (15-18). And in 1957, they finally got around to instituting the 36-hole cut ' the low 40 and ties was the rule. Today, it has been amended to include the low 44 and ties, plus anyone 10 shots of the leader at the end of 36 holes.
In 1958, writer Herbert Warren Wind first used the term Amen Corner to describe the green at 11, the par-3 12th, and the tee shot at 13. Augusta National introduced the scoring method of over- and under-par in 1960, now used at golf tournaments around the world. And in 1963, when Jack Nicklaus won his first of six Masters titles, attendance was limited for the first time.
Roberto de Vicenzo committed the most monumental blunder in golf history in 1968, signing for a 4 on the 17th hole instead of the correct birdie 3 and thereby forfeiting a chance at a playoff with Bob Goalby. In 1972, the Masters finally instituted a waiting list for tickets.
The Masters had a Monday playoff until 1976, when the present-day sudden-death playoff was instituted. And in the fall of 1980, perhaps the most monumental change in Augusta National history occurred when the course was planted with bentgrass. The previous 40 years, play was on the slower Bermuda. But with the advent of the bent, Augusta Nationals greens became the slippery surfaces that they are today.
In 1983, players were finally allowed to use caddies of their choice instead of utilizing caddies from Augusta Nationals barn. In 1999, the list for qualification into the Masters was changed - no longer did winning a PGA Tour event guarantee a spot into the Augusta field. And in 1999, another huge change to the course was instituted ' rough was allowed to grow (Augusta National referred to it as the second cut.)
Through it all, the club has been open for play only from October to May, with the summer months reserved for course conditioning. But that has done nothing to change the desire for inclusion ' Augusta National is the most sought-after membership in the world.
Yes sir, Alister Mackenzie would blink his eyes in wonderment at the course he and Jones created. Thursday, for the 69th time, they gather to play the Masters once again. Conditions change, features change, but the Masters is always The Masters. It is timeless as the sport of golf itself.
Email your thoughts to George White
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Masters Tournament
  • Course Tour - Augusta National
  • Getty Images

    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

    Getty Images

    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

    Getty Images

    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

    Getty Images

    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.