Hawk's Nest: 10 reasons why we love the Masters

By John HawkinsMarch 31, 2014, 2:45 pm

All this talk about fitness on the PGA Tour – I’m not sure if I’m buying, selling or stuffing another donut down my neck. Steven Bowditch is the latest winner who appears to live just a short iron away from a pastry shop. Along with Kevin Stadler and Patrick Reed, that makes three chunky champs on the so-called flatbelly circuit in the last two months.

Meanwhile, the Dude in the Red Shirt, a workout junkie, has a bulging disk in his back and is questionable for the Masters. It reminds me of when I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, the one year ultra-buff Reggie Jackson sort of played for the Orioles. Jackson was constantly missing games with a pulled hamstring, while Boog Powell, all two tons of him, was out there every day at first base.

So please, don’t tell Bowditch that I think he needs to try a gluten-free diet. He might be a tad heavy, but he also looks strong enough to throw me a couple hundred yards into a rock-filled creek. Besides, if Bowditch can add another 10 pounds, who knows? He might win again.


THE BEST SPORTING event on earth. A tall claim, for sure, but I’ve covered Super Bowls, a World Series, several Final Fours and a few Wimbledons, and from this seat in the press box, nothing compares to the Masters. More than the ultimate golf tournament, it deprioritizes commercial sensibilities to showcase competitive drama and pressure performance with hardly an ounce of compromise.

These days, no other fixture on the athletic landscape can even think about making that statement with a straight face.

Beyond its righteousness, the Masters consistently delivers a product that piques the highest levels of public interest. Among serious golf fans, it is by far and away the king of Monday morning water-cooler buzz. It annually draws a much larger viewing audience than the other three major championships, reeling in perhaps two or three million people who won’t watch 15 minutes of golf the rest of the year.

This enormous mainstream reach is one reason Augusta National rarely deviates from its formula for success – but certainly not the only factor that contributes to the tournament’s popularity. Here are my 10 best explanations as to why the tournament is so beloved, why it has long been an American treasure and will continue to be for decades to come.

10. The club runs the event. Officials from each of the game’s governing bodies serve the Masters in various capacities, but the fellas in green jackets make all the decisions. Tournament policy, competitive parameters, the price of an egg-salad sandwich – no element of the operation is overseen by a non-member. When a bunch of millionaires set aside their egos and pool their minds for a common cause, good things are likely to happen.

9. Timing is (almost) everything. No question, the second-week-in-April slot is oceanfront real estate when it comes to hosting a big golf tournament. Not only does it symbolize the birth of spring for much of the U.S., about eight months have passed since the previous major. Like children right before Christmas, everyone’s champing at the bit.

Another point worth nothing: almost every Tour event ends early Sunday evening, but the Masters optimizes that window as opposed to, say, the NCAA men’s basketball final, which doesn’t begin until after 9 p.m. in the east. Baseball’s postseason games also go until midnight, and let’s face it, you lose a significant portion of your audience when you run that deep into darkness.

8. A tradition unlike … Probably more of an on-site factor than one that affects viewership, the Masters has always enjoyed playing up its rich history. Tuesday night’s Champions Dinner, Wednesday’s Par-3 Contest, Thursday morning’s ceremonial tee shots by the honorary starters – all play a significant role in the tournament’s unmistakable identity. A marketing expert could pontificate for hours on the value of such branding.

7. Location, location, location. It’s the only men’s major played on the same course every year, leading to a familiarity factor (among contestants, patrons and viewers) that cannot be overstated. Only in tennis and auto/horse racing do the biggest events remain stationary. In those sports, the actual competitive ground doesn’t stage the product to the same effect as Augusta National.

6. Mystique + Beauty = Appeal. Nobody does “less is more” better than the green-jackets. You only get to see the place for one week each year, and because it’s so aesthetically stunning, it assumes a heaven-on-earth type of quality. That same mentality transfers nicely to the operation of the Masters. Decisions are made in secrecy, details can be scarce, and very rarely do members feel obliged to explain the club’s rationale on such matters. The less we all know, the sexier it can actually appear.

5. Strong bladder required. With virtually no commercial interruptions from 5 p.m. on, the Masters stands alone in its commitment to Joe Sixpack. The viewer at home is made to feel every bit as important as the spectators on the course. Moreover, the televisual presentation is controlled by the club to the point where the Masters looks and sounds like no other golf tournament. It really is all about the golf. Easier said than done, so to speak.

4. Mashed potatoes? Fat chance, bro. Long regarded as the toughest ticket in sports, the Masters is played in a controlled but enthusiastic environment where the patrons know how behave. It’s not quite yahoo-free, but it’s pretty damn close, as the club has remained both obsessive and extremely protective about its method of ticket distribution over the years.

Loudest roar I’ve ever heard on a golf course? Final round in 1998, when Jack Nicklaus, who was only 58 years old at the time, had gotten three or four holes into a ridiculous front-nine charge. It’s not quite the tea-and-crumpets crowd you might think. These folks love their little white ball.

3. The second nine. A better collection of golf holes simply does not exist, but on Sunday afternoon, that brilliant layout becomes a cathedral of magic. Stuff happens. Higher powers intervene. Echoes reverberate through the Georgia pines, and champions emerge amid a fresh batch of memories. The 12th hole might be the best par 3 ever built; it is immediately followed by the best par 5 on the planet.

Every hole can play a starring role, although one might deduce that the 11th, 16th and 18th have produced the most history. Risk vs. reward, guile vs. glory, man vs. the moment. The Masters doesn’t actually start on the back nine Sunday, but it has always been a real good place to floor the gas pedal.

2. Storylines galore. A bit of a companion to the previous item, I’ll admit, but think about it. So many things could have happened to prevent Jack Nicklaus from winning his sixth Masters in 1986, but from Seve Ballesteros (at the 15th) to Tom Kite and Greg Norman on the final hole, it all fell into perfect place. Larry Mize with the impossible chip a year later. Fred Couples’ ball doesn’t trickle into the water at the 12th in 1992 …

Phil Mickelson in 2004. Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Angel Cabrera’s drive caroms out of the woods in 2009, but he falls in a playoff to Adam Scott last year. At Augusta National, truth and fiction often become indistinguishable. We call it theatre.

1. Icons rule. The three most influential golfers of the last 60 years are Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Their combined total of 14 victories speaks volumes in regard to the tournament’s unparalleled credibility, making Augusta National the place where the best who ever lived come to prove it. Palmer’s dynamic presence was most clearly defined by his Masters triumphs. Nicklaus turned back time in perhaps the greatest major ever played and raised the bar to a height where it remains untouched.

Woods will likely continue his quest to clear that bar next week, but regardless of where the future takes him, his 12-stroke victory in 1997 launched the most powerful display of dominance the game has ever seen. Great things don’t always happen at the little ballyard in Georgia, but they do happen there more often than anywhere else.


I’LL ADMIT TO having a pretty good laugh when I saw Pat Perez and Kevin Na grouped together (with Daniel Summerhays) in the final round of the Valero Texas Open. Perez, as you’ve surely noted, has a reputation as one of the Tour’s quickest and most emotionally demonstrative players, although he clearly has turned down the dial on his temper in recent years.

“Calmer because I know where the ball is going,” he texted me Sunday night. “I finally understand the laws of ball flight.”

As for Na, he is slow and a bit bratty on occasion, which led to my amusement regarding his playing with Perez. I am happy to report, however, that the two men completed 18 holes without incident; although, neither played well (a combined 9 over) in the second-to-last group and were out of contention early into the back nine.

So I just had to ask: Did Na drive Perez nuts?

“He is getting better,” came the report. “At least he tries. That [Tour rookie Andrew] Loupe is the worst I’ve seen.”

Just what pro golf needs: another guy who hits it 325 off the tee, then takes 12 practice swings with a wedge. But enough on that. I’ve known Perez for about 12 years, since he burst onto the scene in 2002 and almost won at Pebble Beach in the fourth start of his own rookie season – and produced more buzz for slamming his club and cussing than he did for finishing solo second.

Golf Digest sent me to the Canadian Open later that year to do a story on the guy, and as I recall, that first half-hour with Perez was unusually awkward. He was so abrupt and forthcoming with his opinions that I had to ask him several times if he was serious.

We did the interview while he played a practice round by himself at Angus Glen GC. At one point, Perez stepped into a bunker 6 or 7 feet below the putting surface and parked a half-dozen consecutive sand shots within 2 feet of a pin he couldn’t possibly see. At that point, I realized that it wouldn’t be a lack of talent that stood between Perez and stardom.

Stardom is still waiting, although Perez is quietly having a very good 2014, so to speak, finishing T-2 at Torrey Pines in addition to five other top-20s. He attributes his work with TrackMan expert Joe Mayo, something of a golf-swing physicist, for the improvement, which I found intriguing, so I asked if we could end the texting and actually talk on the phone for a few minutes.

“Just sat down for dinner,” Perez responded. “Call ya after.”

Stardom isn’t the only one still waiting.

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LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.

THE MAJORS

Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)

Spieth pars 12, but makes quad on 15

Spieth takes another gut punch, but still standing

Article: Spieth splashes to worst Masters finish

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U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)

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The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)

Spieth survives confusing ordeal on 13

Photos: Spieth's incredible journey on 13

Take it, it's yours: Spieth gets claret jug

Chamblee: Spieth doesn't have 'it' - 'he has it all'

Article: Spieth silences his doubters - even himself

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PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)

Article: Spieth accepts that Grand Slam is off the table


TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS

AT&T Pebble Beach

Article: Spieth rising from 'valley' after Pebble Beach win

Travelers Championship

Spieith wins dramatic Travelers in playoff

Watch: Spieth holes bunker shot, goes nuts


FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE


PHOTO GALLERIES

Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret

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Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."