View From The Augusta Fairway - 85th Masters Reflections
THERE was hardly a dry eye in the house on Thursday morning when Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter. Nicklaus and Player have been doing the job on their own since the death of Arnold Palmer but it was only right that Elder was invited to join them. In 1975 he became the first black player to compete at Augusta and he has been an inspiration to the likes of Tiger Woods, Harold Varner III and Cameron Champ. Sadly, his health prevented him from hitting a drive at the first. And even worse, his moment was hijacked by Player’s son, Wayne, who stood behind Elder holding a sleeve of golf balls that are endorsed by his father. It was neither the time nor the place, and thousands of people took to social media to make the same point.
TYLER Strafaci followed in his grandfather’s footsteps by competing at Augusta. He never met Frank Strafaci Sr, a legendary amateur who won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links, two North and South Amateurs, finished ninth in the 1937 U.S. Open and played in two Masters. Tyler, a Georgia Tech graduate who last summer won the U.S. Amateur, made his debut at Augusta National this week. Frank Sr. was invited to compete at Augusta National in 1938, the year after his U.S. Open performance at Oakland Hills. He shot 74-74-82 before withdrawing with one round to play. He had been playing poorly, but he wasn’t hurt. Instead, with the tournament behind schedule because of rain delays, Frank Sr. pulled out in order to go qualify for the North and South. Frank Sr. desperately wished to make the U.S. Walker Cup team, and believed that if he won the North and South it would boost his chances. He went on to win that year at Pinehurst and the next year, but never played in a Walker Cup, something Tyler will do next month at Seminole. Tyler missed the cut by a mile but is surely a name to watch.
TWO years ago Ian Woosnam vowed that his Masters playing days were over. After years struggling with back, neck and shoulder pain, the little Welshman said that his body simply wasn’t up to the physical challenges that Augusta National presents. But the 1991 champion was back this year. Pain-free for the first time in years after back surgery last year, Woosnam said he was hitting the ball better than he had done in years and was determined to return to the scene of his greatest golfing triumph just so that he could enjoy the experience. Sadly, he pulled a groin muscle in the build-up to the tournament but he still managed two get through two rounds and did not embarrass himself.
THE incomparable Bernhard Langer was back at Augusta, just as he has been every year since making his debut way back in 1982. He won in 1985 and again in 1993, has made the cut 26 times, including six times since turning 50 and has posted sub-par rounds in more than half the tournament rounds he has played. The man is a phenomenon. He has won more than 80 times around the world, enjoying unprecedented success on the Champions Tour, where he remains a force at the age of 63. In November he played in the final round with Bryson DeChambeau and although the American was hitting the ball almost 100 yards further than Langer from the tee, the veteran German finished ahead of him. Unfortunately, Langer failed to make the cut this time.
THERE were some notable absentees at Augusta. Obviously there was no Tiger Woods, with the 2019 champion recovering at home from the injuries he suffered in a car crash in February. But there was also no place in the field for Rickie Fowler. It was a bitter blow for Fowler, who missed out for the first time since 2011. It also signalled the end of a run of 42 successive majors for the American, now ranked 95th in the world. Hopefully, it will provide Fowler with the incentive he needs to finally get his game sorted out. He will have noted that even Rory McIlroy, the winner of four majors, has decided to bite the bullet and seek help.
IF YOU ever wondered just how much The Masters means to the guys who play in it you should take some time out to check out coverage of the build-up to last year’s tournament. Cameron Champ was appearing in his first Masters, not long after the death of his grandfather, who introduced him to the game. After hitting a drive in practice at the 13th hole, he said: “For sure, TV does not does this place justice.” He then walked down the fairway, pulled out his mobile phone and started taking pictures of the scene before him.
AUGUSTA remains a law unto itself. You may be wondering why we don’t get full coverage from the first tee in the opening rounds. That’s because the men in green jackets at Augusta National don’t allow it. I am sure they have very good reasons, but isn’t it about time that they moved into the 21st century in this particular regard? And speaking of TV coverage, am I the only person who is driven nuts by Butch Harmon? His silly nicknames for the players are bad enough but I also pull my hair out at the constant name dropping. He just couldn’t resist telling us that he had worked with Hideki Matsuyama.
THE players got their excuses in early, telling all and sundry that conditions were very different from those they experienced when Dustin Johnson won in November, when the putting surfaces were as soft and forgiving as anybody could ever recall seeing them. We were told that the greens were rock hard this time and that there would be no way that anybody would come close to matching DJ’s winning score of 20 under par. But we don’t need a feast of birdies to enjoy a thrilling Masters. Speaking of DJ, who else would have served a Champions Dinner that included everything from pigs in a blanket to lobster fritters?
How bizarre that the BBC should show highlights of the 2020 Masters on Wednesday afternoon, immediately followed by a live preview of this year’s event. Bizarre? Consider this: apart from BBC Radio 5 Live, there was no live coverage, with BBC TV showing delayed highlights. Peter Alliss must be turning in his grave.
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