A November Masters might play differently, but it’s all good

Defending champion Tiger Woods gets in a little wet Masters practice Wednesday at Augusta National, teeing off the par-3 4th hole.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Defending champion Tiger Woods gets in a little wet Masters practice Wednesday at Augusta National, teeing off the par-3 4th hole. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The lords and ladies of the Masters hold great power over the land.

With a flip of a switch they can control the very texture of the earth, a vast sub air system beneath Augusta National drying the soil like the world’s largest shop-vac to keep the greens properly firm and disagreeable. Grass seems to grow on their command. Flowers bloom in the spring on their say-so. Birds sing from their sheet music on the TV broadcast. Squirrels, well, where are the squirrels?

Dare it be said, though, that even these green jacketed tenders of golf’s Eden have their limitations?

Seated next to an Augusta National member during his Tuesday interview session, Rory Mcilroy did indeed dare.

A Masters in November can’t be exactly like the traditional April date because, McIlroy said, it just simply can’t.

“I mean, you guys can do a lot of things here at Augusta, but I don’t think you’re magicians,” he said.

But do not underestimate the magic they pulled off just to get us to Thursday’s first round.

No Masters rounds had ever been played after Tax Day until 2020, the year when all convention turned to ash. The calendar tested positive for COVID, so, here we are seven months late trying to squeeze in the supposed first major of the season in time to start defrosting the Thanksgiving turkey.

Among the many curiosities that surround Thursday’s first round of a November Masters is just how differently this finely tuned property might play in the fall. That is, if this thing goes off on schedule, there being the kind of rains forecast for Thursday that not even the most powerful tycoon in a green blazer can chase away with the wave of a hand.

There was talk, even before the weather forecast, of a fall Masters playing a little more benevolently than the spring version.

“It’s just a little softer than what you would normally see in April,” Brooks Koepka reported earlier this week.

But, then, he knows the lords and ladies will do all in their power to alter that state. “As of right now, it’s just a little softer. But that could change,” Koepka said.

Some of the differences in a November Masters are aesthetic. The famous azaleas, of course, are on fall break. Players hope to miss the splendor of the flowers from afar. “I’ve hit it up into those azaleas left of 13 too many times. I’ve had a closer look at them than most people,” McIlroy said.

The absence of fans this year can change the plan of attack for many players. With no fear of causing traumatic head injury to the paying customers and little rough to trouble balls off the fairway players are free to explore new angles into some of these greens.

Not that it matters to Phil Mickelson, known to spray tee shots like torn firehose. “Whether people are off in the rough or not, it’s really never stopped me from hitting it there,” he smiled.

But the geometry does change in November. “This year will be unique because you can maybe take advantage of where usually the patrons are at,” Jon Rahm said. “Like (par 5) 13, you have a layup, you can go as far right as you want now, almost to 14 tee and have a different angle.”

And, “Fore!” around the tee box at No. 3. “It’s the same on No. 2,” Rahm said, “you can move the ball around a little bit more.”

Mickelson, not surprisingly, came up with an advantage of a fan-less Masters that no one else thought to mention.

“I actually think that the lack of people will keep the first cut (what passes for rough here) a little bit higher and prevent some of the balls running through into the trees that might have gone in in years past.”

Not to get too deep in the weeds as far as Masters horticulture, but there are possible subtle differences in the state of the grass this time of year. Oh, the over-seeded rye still came in full and impossibly green but some of the underlying Bermuda is a bit stickier than in the spring.

Let Webb Simpson explain the finer points:

"I feel like in April you can get certain lies that you can put some spin on it and other lies you can’t. This week it’s just a little more neutral, tougher to put spin on the ball around the greens with that Bermuda coming through. But I think the chipping areas are really consistent.

“Putting from off the green is a little harder this year, so I’ve kind of tried everything. I’ve tried the 3-iron hybrid. I’ve tried bumping it with a lob wedge, tried putting it.”

“The ball doesn’t sit nearly as well around the greens,” added Justin Thomas. “With both the Bermuda and the over-seed coming in, you’re going to have some sketchy lies around the greens, balls that are sitting down to where you’re not going to be able to get the spin that you’re used to getting. Definitely some chips that kind of come out high and ‘knuckly.’ But everybody has to deal with it.”

Enough of the inside-golf stuff. That only affects those rare few who can hit a golf ball with more conviction than hope anyway.

It’s time to play a 2020 Masters that for a while there looked doomed. One of springtime’s defining traditions has been bumped to another time slot, but that does not make it any less the spectacle.

Like McIlroy said, “So, it’s a little different, but you know, that’s to be expected. I think everyone is just so grateful that there is a Masters this year and we’re playing it.”

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