Open Championship at Augusta


The tumult and the shouting have died down finally. We got yet another memorable Masters. And Zach Johnson, yes Zach Johnson, got a Green Jacket.
But long before Sundays shootout on the back nine had elevated this tournament to the level of excitement to which it has grown accustomed, I had grown weary of the criticism.
Mind you, criticism in and of itself is not objectionable. Its just annoying when the critics are so far off base. Im talking about all the scolds and harpies who insisted all week long that the Masters was playing too much like the U.S. Open.
They missed the point badly and they were wrong. If Bobby Jones, the Masters founder, and Alister MacKenzie, the course designer who implemented Jones' bold vision, had been around, they would have corrected the denigrators.
Its my contention Jones and MacKenzie gleefully would have told the second-guessers that this 71st Masters played much more like an Open Championship than a U.S. Open.
This notion began incubating in my brain early in the week when defending champion Phil Mickelson came off the course and explained the difficulty of the green complexes and their putting surfaces. Its not so much reading the break thats hard, Mickelson said. Its figuring out exactly where the ball is going to stop rolling.
This, of course, is exactly what links golf is all about. And the more of this Masters I watched, the more I became transfixed by the troubles the best players in the world were having getting their golf balls to stop where they wanted them to stop on and around the greens.
I had also observed, for the first time ever at Augusta National, that major championship nuance I had never seen anywhere but at the British Open: The distinctive puff of dust and dirt shooting up off the turf after a shot struck from the fairway. Augusta National had been allowed to be as bone dry as we may ever see it.
Sunday morning I called Bradley Klein and asked him to tell me if my thinking, in this instance, was misguided. Klein is the noted golf course architecture writer for Golfweek Magazine and a former TOUR caddie. He has literally written books on this subject.
I have known Klein long enough to know he would debunk my thinking immediately if he thought I was creating a myth.
Klein told me that Jones and MacKenzie had strived to build a golf course at Augusta that was strategically flexible. And, he said, MacKenzies charge had been to create linksland characteristics in a parkland setting.
Klein also said he had noticed the puffs of dust and clippings on the 18th hole. It never rained a drop all week. And while many of the players pined for an Augusta National with which they were more familiar, visions of Hoylake last summer kept creeping on to my radar.
It was tough to see at first. And part of this was because MacKenzie, who also designed masterpieces at Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point and Crystal Downs, was a renowned international expert in the field of camouflage.
No, this wasnt your fathers Masters. Or even you grandfathers. But it was one Jones and MacKenzie would have recognized and accepted the same way the R&A accepts, with equanimity, low and high winning scores on their links venues every year. They are not afraid to let conditions dictate the numbers.
Klein also reminded me that the green complexes MacKenzie recommended to Jones at Augusta National were taken directly from drawings of the models of the greens at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
So when you watched Tiger Woods, who has the highest golf IQ of any player on the planet, struggle to adapt on the front nine Sunday, it was because even he was still trying to solve the exact nature of the beast that had been slaying the field all week long.
Woods, when he is swinging comfortably, can hit just about any shot he wishes, on command, at any point in any competition. But the comfort zone that comes with having won four previous Masters looked to be working against him at times when the golf course, like a quiet chameleon, changed so subtly from day to day and hole to hole.
The final word on all of this came late Sunday from Tom Doak. Doak wrote the definitive biography on MacKenzie and also has made a rather large name for himself in golf course design by creating, among others, the seminal Pacific Dunes in Oregon.
'The course was certainly as firm as most (British) Open venues,' Doak informed me. 'Some people think it's impossible to keep it that firm and have it green, too. But it is possible if you have enough money to hand-water the dry spots. And Augusta certainly has the resources to follow through.
'It's also possible to bounce the ball into several of the greens at Augusta even though you seldoms see the pros try it. Seventeen was specifically designed as a run-up shot according to MacKenzie and Jones. That's why the left half falls away from the line of play. The second, fifth, eighth and 11th also allow it.'
Woods finished tied for second. Johnson, we are told, spent much of his time prior to this Masters trying to bring the trajectory down on his driver ball flight.
Did he know something Tiger didnt?
Jones and MacKenzie, if they were still around to speak, would have been the ones to ask.
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