Pondering the November Masters while offering a quiet “thank you” that election campaign commercials are finally gone (at least I hope they are).
Is the two-tee start on Thursday and Friday a big deal or not?
As wake-up calls go, starting on the second nine at Augusta National is like running through the Starbucks on nearby Washington Road and slamming a triple espresso to get going.
If it’s cold (it doesn’t look like it will be but more on that in a moment), it could be a wicked start early. By now, almost everyone knows the second nine was originally the first nine. Frost delays in 1934 led to flipping the layout which, we can all agree, worked out nicely.
To be fair, the first hole at Augusta National is the hardest hole no one talks about there, but after that the next two holes don’t typically invite disaster. The same can’t be said for the 11th and 12th holes, where it will be eerily quiet with no patrons on the grounds.
It’s not the first time the two-tee start has been used. But, like seemingly everything else with this Masters, it’s different because the tournament is starting that way. In this case, it can be fairly said that the Masters will start not on the back nine on Sunday but on the back nine on Thursday morning.
Aside from patrons, what’s the biggest thing missing from this Masters?
The sense of normalcy.
That’s stating the obvious, but the Masters is so familiar in so many ways that changing the routine is as jarring as it would be if the famous pimento cheese sandwiches were suddenly served on rye rather than soft white bread.
The rhythm of the week will be different. Even the locker rooms will be different.
The past champions will operate out of the main locker room in the clubhouse rather than their cloistered space upstairs due to space concerns. Those who haven’t yet won a green jacket will change their shoes elsewhere.
The Champions Dinner will take place in a different room to accommodate social distancing but the fact it’s happening is somehow reassuring.
Not playing the Par 3 Contest puts the high-def lens on where things are at the moment. It’s usually the happiest day in golf, the day when white caddie jumpsuits are the height of fashion.
Next week, it will be another quiet work day, the grinding almost audible.
Where will the absence of patrons be felt the most?
The obvious answer is around Amen Corner where the hillside is filled from sun-up to sundown, watching the players come through while also watching the big white scoreboard gradually tell the story of what’s happening around the course.
But if you’ve ever been to Augusta National when it’s not tournament week, you know that the 18th green looks totally different when it’s not surrounded by people. It’s tucked near the top of a long slope and while it is guarded by bunkers, it’s not as defined as other greens.
Trying to win the green jacket there on Sunday afternoon could feel strangely lonely.
Remember when the Masters was said to be out of touch with the times?
Now it’s as innovative as Pixar.
Its website offers everything a golf fan could want and for a tournament that once preferred not to show too many holes on the weekend, now it’s possible to see who you want when you want and where you want.
The Masters is the aspirational North Star, expanding the boundaries of what following a golf tournament can be.
The creation of “My Group” allows fans to see every shot their favorite players hit so if you can’t get enough Stewart Cink or Tyrrell Hatton, now you can.
Viewers are, however, still responsible for their own snacks.
What about the weather?
Told you earlier we’d get around to it.
Because it’s November rather than April and because the overseeded fairways haven’t had as much time to grow in as they normally would, the playing conditions have been speculated about almost as much as how far Bryson DeChambeau (can’t believe I made it this far without mentioning him) will play the par-5 13th hole.
What this Masters doesn’t need is one of those cold, damp, rainy stretches that can settle in around the southeast this time of year.
Unless the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore is keeping secrets, it doesn’t look like beanies and ski jackets will be required next week. In fact, temperatures are predicted to nudge 80 degrees early in the week, which will make it feel like April, minus the azaleas.
A firm, fast track in November?
That would be fantastic.
What’s the coolest thing in the Masters’ online shop?
If you’re lucky enough to have access (which means you would have been a badge-holder this year or you know someone who is) you can buy a proper collection of Masters food to watch the broadcast next week.
For $150, you get one pound of pimento cheese, one pound of egg salad, 1.5 pounds of pork barbecue, eight bags of potato chips, six chocolate chip cookies, six bags of pecan caramel popcorn (it’s sinfully good), 25 plastic Masters cups and Masters-themed serving paper.
Delivered to your doorstep. All you need to supply is the bread and the beverages.
And, if you’re so inclined, you can buy a shirt or sweatshirt to drop the barbecue on while you’re watching.
Top: The Augusta National clubhouse. Photo: Miller Brown, Augusta National via Getty Images
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