Identity Crisis at the Masters

April 15, 2008 |

The Masters golf tournament has been called a lot of things over the years: a tradition like no other (the tournament’s unofficial official slogan)…a rite of spring…the major most coveted by professional golfers…the bona fide start to the golf season…and yes, for some, a bastion of exclusion and discrimination…
One thing, however, that the Masters has seldom been called is boring. Yet I’ve been hearing that word a lot since Trevor Immelman slipped on his new green jacket Sunday night in Augusta.
It’s amazing how quickly our anticipation for the event — all the talk about blooming azaleas and the drive down Magnolia Lane and the beauty of Augusta National — turns to “this is how they should fix the Masters” sports talk blather. But that’s what an absence of Sunday fireworks and a lackluster performance by Tiger Woods will do to golf fans and media types. Within minutes of Immelman tapping in the last putt of the tournament, talk began of ways to change the Masters for the better.
Some say that Masters officials should move the tees forward, closer to their original locations (and presumably give back the land they purchased from neighboring Augusta Country Club to expand the course a few years ago). Others say the greens are too fast (always an Augusta trademark) and cite the penalty strokes levied on two players when their balls involuntarily started rolling after they had grounded their putters. And still others say the hole locations should be placed in more accessible portions of the greens so fans can see the best players in the world display their precession accuracy.
After observing the debate in several different forums, it seems like we (and perhaps the men who run the Masters) are struggling with an identity crisis: what do we really want the Masters to be? For years it was an unabashed birdie (and often eagle) fest, with “roars rattling the Georgia pines” as golf’s greats made charges up the leaderboard. That (along with the immaculate condition of the course) was the Masters’ calling card, in much the same way that even par and deep rough are traditionally linked to the U.S. Open.
But today we seem to want to see the world’s best players look more like weekend hackers when they play in big tournaments. We want to see them embarrassed when their slick down-hill birdie putts turn into 12-foot come-backers for par. We want to see a wicked wind carry a perfect approach shot into a “watery grave.” We want to see fairways squeezed to the point where the pros spend more time punching out of the woods than sailing perfectly-struck 2-irons into Par 5 greens.
Then, as the scores climb and major tournament golf becomes only a matter of avoiding the big mistake, we say, ”this is boring,” and dismiss the eventual champion as simply the luckiest guy on the course that week.
So which is it? Do we want to hear roars from the gallery and see post-birdie fist pumps from the players as the setting sun casts long shadows across the Augusta fairways? Or would we rather have Sunday twilight at the Masters characterized by moans from the spectators and the best golfers in the world shaking their heads in disbelief of their misfortune?
All I know is about a year from now, after another harsh winter, we’ll once again be talking with great expectation about the azaleas blooming at Augusta National and the greatest golf tournament in the world ushering in a most-welcomed spring.