Only in 2020 (hopefully): Here comes a Masters without its roar

Past packed stands that won't be there for next week's Masters, Tony Finau takes a walk at No. 15 during last year's tournament. (Jason Getz / For the AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

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Past packed stands that won't be there for next week's Masters, Tony Finau takes a walk at No. 15 during last year's tournament. (Jason Getz / For the AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

A dozen deep, and more, they enveloped Tiger Woods at Augusta National’s 18th green that April Sunday in 2019, an amphitheater of flesh and long-suppressed expectation, awaiting the disposition of a three-foot putt.

Some bent in the angles of broken corn stalks to seek the smallest crack in this human wall where a bit of green might show through. Some were on tiptoe, trying in vain to see over seemingly every capped head in creation. All strained for a view of Woods' next epic act.

When the putt dropped, when Woods had secured his first major championship after 11 years spent exploring his frail and mortal side, it was as if a cork popped and delight spewed from the crowd. This wasn’t just cheering; this was something more. It was a roar that reached deep and fracked the Georgia clay. Here was the famed and practically trademarked Masters roar at its best. These people, they never wanted to stop. Just when it seemed the noise might ebb, Woods would pump a fist again, and the volume would reach for another spike.

Then there was the chanting: “TIGER, TIGER, TIGER,” building upon itself like a North Shore wave.

We follow that up now with ... the sound of silence.

From one of the more emotional victories in tournament history to this, a Masters muted.

Woods has held this fifth of his Masters titles for 19 months, the past seven of them in overtime as the world devised coronavirus workarounds. April’s Masters was scratched, to be replaced by a version with a Nov. 12 born-on date, a clock that has fallen back rather than sprung ahead, and the prospect of a week in golfing paradise without fans there to enjoy it.

Oops, we mean patrons. Pardon the slip.

It’s still too unsafe to gather as a gallery and watch 95 invitees play golf. The sport has dealt with playing without spectators since its restart in June, but a Masters without its people is quite a different matter. It is a lion without its roar.

Speaking of the role of sound at Augusta National, Woods said, "There’s no other place like it. It echoes there, it travels.

“When you know the pairings, you know where certain players would be at that particular time,” he said, “you can figure out who’s doing what. And the roars for certain people are louder than others. Then you hear eagle roars and hole-outs on 16, or whatever it may be. It’s unlike any other place in the world.”

The contours and the piney corridors of Augusta National give the place unique acoustical properties, funneling approval around the lower reaches of the land all the way up to where the clubhouse perches. For those familiar with the layout – and who isn’t after 83 previous tournaments at the same place – it is a tournament that can be listened to and understood as well as watched. “It’s pretty cool,” 2015 champion Jordan Spieth said. “You can tell the type of roar it is. An eagle roar is different from a birdie roar which is different from a par-save roar. The octaves.”

Yes, it is all about the octaves, those now-absent octaves.

In normal times, there’s quality to that sound, too.

“The people are so knowledgeable. Yes, they make their roars. The elevations are off the charts, but then everyone settles back down,” Woods said.

“It’s so different, and the people are so respectful,” he added. “Yes, they’re loud, and yes, they are into the moment of whoever they’re watching on that particular hole. But everyone settles back down again. You can’t say that about any other place.”

In other words, nobody yells, “Mashed potatoes!” or “You da Man!” at the Masters.

Phil Mickelson recalls a moment in his final round of 2004, when he won the first of his three Masters, when he dropped a putt on No. 16 that tied him for the lead and the pines trembled.

“I could feel the ground shake there and the energy and my hair standing up, and my body’s almost shaking from the vibration of the ground,” he recalled.

When he won after a two-hole playoff in 2013, in rain and chill and gathering darkness, Adam Scott was fully serenaded by the soggy audience for his breakthrough major victory. Their roars are an indispensable part of his memory of that day.

“The crowd really enhances the atmosphere – they’re responsible for most of it, to be perfectly honest,” he said this week.

"I have very strong memories of those final couple of hours on the golf course as the clouds got low and the rain set in and it got a bit cool and it stayed that way. It became like a bit of a hardcore sports-fan feeling, and it was such a great atmosphere, especially in the playoff with myself and (Angel) Cabrera. Everyone was out there wet, but it didn’t matter. They were at the Masters and watching some good golf.

“I guess whoever the champion will be next week will miss one part of a special week for them in not having the atmosphere that you would normally have.”

It’s not just background noise when the patrons find their voice at Augusta. What will be missing this next week is a thread that has run through the fabric of this event for decades. So much will be different about this Masters. The spot on the calendar, for one, and the effects on how Augusta National plays in November (longer and softer, it is supposed) and when it plays (earlier tee times, with players going off on No. 1 and 10 the first two rounds to accommodate fewer daylight hours). The loss of fans, the absence of golf’s best auditory banquet, will be most profound.

Best then to adopt Mickelson’s attitude, who having played in 27 Masters is just glad for the next one, whatever the form.

“Yeah, it’s going to be different,” he said, "but the fact is we get to compete in the Masters, and it just doesn’t matter like where, when, how, who’s watching. It doesn’t matter.

“We have a chance to compete in the Masters, and this is the first time I think in the history of the game where back-to-back majors are played at the same venue (anticipating the next Masters in its usual April slot). We’re going to play the Masters twice now in a five-month span, and that’s a special opportunity.”

Pray the next one comes with people.

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