Will the Masters 2014 See a New Guy Win?
This has been going on for a while now – this tournament, this course, this cast of characters. There’s nothing else quite like it on the tour. The visual prize, besides the winner’s check, is an article of clothing you couldn’t wear to anything else, and yet it’s the most sought after symbol in golf, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
As for the course and its obvious beauty, things got going around 1931, and they started playing by the next year. Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts got the actual tournament going, and ran it for a decade or more until Sam Snead made off with the first Green Jacket in ’49.
The Masters, with a few exceptions, boasts the same basic field as most of the other tournaments do each season, minus a few hangers-on. Yes, the course is difficult, but so are many others. Yes, there is an almost belligerent stiffness in the path to membership, and what passes for bad behavior in some other venues won’t pass at all for the guardians of Augusta. No sir, the Masters is going to cling to a refined sense of manners and etiquette, no matter what the rest of the rude world does.
So, in a game that has recently seen the emergence of incredible rookies doing amazing things and unexpectedly running away with trophies, why aren’t they running away with Green Jackets? When it comes time to get really serious, to march through the azaleas each spring and take on Amen Corner with a brash swagger, where are the young guys? They’re utterly fearless everywhere else. Why can’t they conquer Georgia?
Is it the weight of the tradition, at a club that won’t grant you a courtesy eighteen if you’re a president, king, congressman (forget congresswoman) or corporate head? Is the atmosphere too stiff and daunting for the loose-swinging new guys in a place where even winners of the tournament can’t join? Incredibly, only Nicklaus, Palmer and John Harris actually belong to the grand old institution. I can’t imagine that the new field is intimidated. Even though it’s not the type of course where you jump into the pond afterward and scream “yee-haw,” the older way of conducting oneself doesn’t seem to daunt the young (although I wish it would, at times).
Is it the field? That might be hard to say. In the early days, the game was dominated by a few brilliant players (Sarazen, Jones, etc.) They tended to clean up. By the arrival of Snead, the man who would set the records for most wins, he was a tough customer, and played with the likes of Nelson, Hogan and the rest. That might crowd out some rookies, who through that time, tended to be caddies the year before they played their first Masters (with all deference to Horton Smith, the greatest caddie of them all).
Perhaps it wouldn’t be fair to expect the new generation to fare well in the sixties and seventies, where the big three, Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player put on a seven year stretch and gobbled up all the green jackets.
But it’s different now, especially this year. Big, bad scary Tiger is out, and there are well over twenty young geniuses playing their first event at Augusta. The odds look much improved for someone to pull it off, the way Lexi Thompson has over on the LPGA side. And yet, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Harry English can’t use a Tigerless event as a tournament strategy. There’s still plenty of beef in the field, and you’re not going to sneak in through the benefit of an off year. For one, if Rory suddenly acts like Rory, it could be lights out by Friday night.
The mystery continues as to why the learning curve at the Masters is so steep. What kind of mind, man and maturity does it take to win this golf tournament that isn’t so essential at the others? I noticed that Fred Couples is high on the leaderboard through the first round (which pleases me no end), so don’t ask me – I’m as mystified as you are.