Masters 2012: Should the Masters be a Major?October, 2011
It's a radical suggestion, but one which NCG's editor believes has merit. His deputy has other ideas...
YES says Dan Murphy, who would enjoy the variety of different events
NO less an authority than John Huggan, golf correspondent of Scotland on Sunday, would go a stage further still. He has moved on from insisting that the Masters should not be a Major and is now targeting the US PGA. He believes the four Majors should be as follows: our Open, the US Open, the Players’ Championship and a matchplay event, similar to the existing WGC Match Play, but travelling around the world and categorically being played outside America.
And, as is generally the case, he is right. But given the seismic nature of his proposal, let us, for the moment at least, satisfy ourselves with making just the one change to the golfing calendar.
Namely, ceasing to pretend that the Masters is so much more than it is.
For a start, it is fundamentally flawed. No Major should be played at the same venue each year. Majors may present comparable challenges and reward similar virtues and punish similar vices from one year to the next – like the two Opens – but they must move from one year to the next. Otherwise, you are over-indulging certain horses on their very favourite course.
The same faces dominate the Augusta leaderboards from one year to the next – and no wonder. Like the club itself, little changes.
Then there is the size of the field. Roughly two-thirds the size of the other Majors, and packed with ceremonial amateurs and old-timers. Charming in this respect it may be, fair it most certainly is not.
Answerable to no governing body or authority – yes, I know, this could be seen as a good thing – the Men of the Masters make up the rules as they go along.
They invite who they want and, equally pertinently until very recently, decide who they don’t want. This creates a tournament with only the most tenuous connection to reality.
And that means the Masters belongs in a different age.
Every year, the greens get greener, faster and firmer. Like King Canute believing he could command the tide, so the powers that be aim to perpetuate their vision of 1950s America.
Each year, if they had their way, the winning score would be the same. And better still, so would be the winners and also-rans.
Hence we have been denied the greatest pleasure of the Masters – watching the pros tackle this masterpiece of a course as it was intended to play when designed by Bobby Jones and Dr Alister MacKenzie.
Nowadays, through an injudicious combination of the introduction of rough, added length for the sake of it and greens taken to the very brink of being unplayable, the back nine has become a survival test. Gone are the eagles, birdies and occasional double bogeys, replaced by a monotonous string of pars and bogeys. This is not Major championship golf at its best.
I’m not saying the Masters can’t be enjoyable – thrilling even, on occasion – or that I don’t long for the first sight of its electric-white bunkers and dyed-blue water features.
I just don’t see how it can be considered one of the four leading tournaments or be the fairest way of bestowing and denying golfing greatness.
The great Jones, its creator, would surely not have envisioned such a fate for his pride and joy.
What is more, as every year goes by, Augusta loses its veneer that little bit more. It is sad to see, and the Masters should most certainly not be cast aside.
So how about it becomes a bi-annual affair, free from the burden of Major status?
Then we could enjoy the pageantry of past champions, relish the strategic brilliance of the course and watch the game’s present heroes try to bring those famous back-nine par fives to their knees.
In other words, treat this event in the spirit it was originally intended.
Bobby Jones created Augusta National and the Masters and for that very reason alone it should never lose its place in the modern game. NO says Mark Townsend, who insists it is one of sport’s highlights
OF course this is nonsense. Two years of bad weather and everyone is, all of a sudden, up in arms about whether the Masters has lost its charm and whether Augusta is an unreasonable test?
Has it lost its charm? No. Is it an unreasonable test? In high winds perhaps, otherwise not particularly.
Part of its beauty, and its problem nowadays, is the familiarity of the place. We can’t help but compare things to 20 years ago when the stars of Europe were walking off with the Green Jacket seven years out of nine and, following that, Tiger Woods’ dominance.
Given its place in the calendar the Masters is the most eagerly-awaited strokeplay event. The first three months of any season are spent jockeying into position, finding a bit of form, perfecting that right-to-left tee-shot for the back nine before we launch into the traditional and real start to the year. Forget your ‘Swings’ on both European and PGA Tours, this is where it all starts.
The more cynical among us might not enjoy the Par Three tournament, the majority of us lap up the opportunity to see Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus with a club in their hands. Even our Open provides little for the spectators in the build-up – the Masters, despite its relatively short history, has tradition.
The Masters has also time after time delivered in identifying the best player in the world and whatever the nature of any Major this should be the underlying objective.
Nicklaus is a six-time champion, Palmer and Woods have four wins, Gary Player, Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead and Nick Faldo are three-time winners while the likes of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Seve Ballesteros and Tom Watson all have two Green Jackets. How many genuine greats failed to slip into the Green Jacket at one time or another? Greg Norman is the only player that springs to mind and he should have won at least two.
You can rest assured that had Woods gone one place better in 2007 and 08 we would not have heard anything like the uproar about the lack of any roars. Or had a European finished on top the tournament would be remembered very differently. Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale or Oakland Hills were no great spectacles in terms of low scoring but they were made all the more dramatic by the eventual European winner – Padraig Harrington.
All of a sudden the US Open is the most sexy of the Majors and Augusta is seen as something similar but with two more 5s and prettier flowers. Was it possible to stop the ball at every par 4 at Shinnecock, Pinehurst, Winged Foot or Oakmont? No. Were some of the holes bordering on unfair, and even ridiculous, at these USGA venues? Yes.
In time these are all quickly forgotten about because we are all familiar with the nuances of the former indigo plantation in Georgia and recall so easily the back nines of 31 and, in comparison, the events of recent years are very dull.
In fighting the battle with balls that went further and straighter, the Augusta authorities went too far themselves in changing the dynamics of the course. What was once an exercise in risk-and-reward has turned into an exercise in taking few risks.
With more options this year of moving tees and some brighter weather the magic suddenly returned.
The Masters will always be special. Take away Magnolia Lane, the Champions Dinner, the Par Three tournament, the Honorary Starter, Amen Corner, the azaleas, the white feldspar sand and the list of brilliant, brilliant champions and you are left with one man’s dream to host a tournament.
Along with Clifford Roberts’ help and Alister MacKenzie’s brilliance, Bobby Jones created Augusta National and the Masters and for that very reason alone it should never lose its place in the modern game.