Chairman Hootie Johnson is on record as saying that players scores are 'not a factor' in the decision to take what I believe is the greatest major venue of them all to a whole new level. Instead, Johnson says Augusta National Golf Club is 'keeping current with the times.'
Keeping current with the times? Yes, that is true. Courses all around the globe are going to great lengths to keep up with todays player and todays technology. To that end, Augusta National is doing what is right.
By now youve probably heard that the par-3 4th will play some 240 yards from the new tee - an addition of some 40 yards. And when we asked Robert Allenby here about the change, (which he didnt know about) his eyes nearly fell out from behind his sunglasses. Already one of the toughest par 3s in the world, next year it turns into a Masters Monster.
Perhaps you heard that the 11th, a tough par-4 which doglegs to the left a bit, will be lengthened to 505 yards by the time Tiger and Phil see it next April. A 505-yard par 4! K.J. Choi holed it from the fairway a few years back. Dont expect that to happen much over say the next 100 years.
I need you to know that I love the Masters. It was the first major championship I covered for The Golf Channel back in 1995. Ben Crenshaw was the improbable winner. Why is that so important?
Given the changes to todays Augusta, I dont think Ben would have a fighting chance to give us the emotional and improbable victory that he gave us. Ben didnt have that kind of length.
So in 10 years time, weve gone from a golf course that gave a ball-striking, smooth stroking Ben Crenshaw a chance at victory to a course that measures distance and accuracy above all others.
One player told me on the range here at the Cialis Western Open that the new changes would be 'great for television ratings.' That comment confused me at first. But the player, whos made more than $1 million this year and is still looking for his first victory ' yet played at Augusta, said the change guarantees the long-hitting superstars like Tiger, Vijay, Phil, Ernie and others will be around for the back 9 come Sunday.
He added that the changes eliminate 'another 25% of the field from contention.' Can Chris DiMarco, whos not the longest hitter off the tee by any stretch, still contend in 2006? Can Mike Weir still slip on a green jacket with a course that has 505-yard par 4s?
Lets hope it doesnt rain.
Again, the Masters is my favorite major championship in golf. It always has been. Its the most spectacular venue of them all. But part of its charm is the ability to see birdies and eagles come the weekend. I hate to say it, but I dont want par to be a good score at the Masters.
The folks at Augusta National have always run a fantastic tournament. And there isnt a player alive who wouldnt love to play in the tournament at least once. Slip on the green jacket some Sunday? Wow!
Somehow, some way, some player will always find a way to take it low. My hope is that somehow, some way, that some player might still be able to be Chris DiMarco.
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