Blog

Masters Mailbag

It’s everyone’s favorite week of the year, which means that every outlet dials up their A-list writer for their Masters content. Rather than a traditional preview, I thought it would be best to just tackle your mailbag questions.

I laughed! This is good comedy. This line is right up there with the mandatory “our cameras actually add light, it’s much darker here than it appears on TV” that we hear every time a round is threatened to be postponed due to lack of sunlight.

I’ve only been to Augusta once, and the elevation change had to be mentioned by every single person I talked to before I left. But even knowing this, I was still in awe of it when I saw it with my own eyes. The 10th hole is a ski slope. I may need a tow rope to get up the 18th fairway. The 2nd fairway is theatrical. The false front in front of the 3rd green is terrifying. The second shot into 13th is a baseball swing. I could go on and on.

Sometimes when I go to a tournament, I look at a certain shot a player is about to hit, and think to myself, “I could hit this shot.” There’s shots at Muirfield Village that fit my eye, and while that course has kicked my ass every time I’ve played it, I at least feel like I have a chance there. But there wasn’t one single shot at Augusta that I looked at and thought “this looks pretty doable.” The slopes on the greens are terrifying. The lies are tight, and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to miss. The greens glisten, the wind blows harder than it looks like on screen, and I’ve never had more appreciation for the level at which these guys play.

But yes, you’re right. It’s something that everyone is desperate to point out, basically to brag about the fact that they’ve been to Augusta. I’ve 100% been guilty of this in the past.

I’m far from an architecture expert, but this is a topic I’ve touched on in the past. Some people think it’s blasphemous to even entertain the idea of making any changes to Augusta National, but golf’s mecca is actually one of the most tinkered with courses in the history of the game. The setup we see today is a far cry from the vision of Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie, who centered their design around challenging the decision making of a player. Similar to the Old Course, you used to be able to hit it pretty much anywhere off the tee at Augusta National. With no rough second cut and very little tree intrusion, you were presented options on how much of where to play your tee shot, and made you think about what type of approach you want to leave yourself. At the Old Course, you can hit it pretty much as far left as you want off of every tee, as all of the trouble sits to the right (with the exceptions being holes9 and 10). However, the further left you hit it, the more likely is is that your angle at the flag will be less appealing.

Augusta used to play very similarly, and was characterized by the fact that the entire course was essentially fairway. But when Tiger obliterated the course in ’97 by hitting sand wedges into par fives, we all knew that changes needed to be made. Since then, there’s not a hole that hasn’t been adjusted in some form. First came the addition of the second cut and the planting of the hundreds of pines. Then came the significant lengthening of the course prior to both the 2002 and the 2006 Masters. Almost 800 yards were added, which is essentially two extra holes! With these changes, a lot of the decision making off the tee vanquished, and the course we see today has many holes that present extremely limited options.

The two holes where these changes have been the most evident are 11 and 7. Both holes have been lengthened, tightened, and basically ruined. The 11th now plays 505 yards, and there’s no choice to make off the tee except to grab the driver, swing hard, and hope you find the fairway in between the natural forest to the left, and the planted one to the right. Unless there’s a significant wind helping the ball around the corner, everyone is playing from the top of the hill, hitting between 5-iron and hybrid to a green protected by water. You used to be able to take the corner on off the tee if you had the balls, leaving yourself a short iron approach if you execute it properly. Now, not even the longest players can clear the pines on the right, and almost no one can take on any pin position with a long iron, and the heavy slope down towards the water.

If you enjoy watching hours worth of footage of guys bailing out way right, chipping up, missing a hard breaking eight footer, and making a boring five, then turn into the featured group coverage on Masters.com! The only mystery is whether or not a player’s four iron approach will hit the mound that sits just right of the green that acts as one of those pinball rubber band launcher things, sending random shots to a watery grave.

The 7th hole was lengthened to 460 yards, and tightened even more so than the 11th. If you manage to hit the fairway, you’re likely playing off a downslope to a green that sits above you and is almost completely surrounded by bunkers. You have the option to take driver or 3-wood,  but you’re forced to play the hole in one way: straight down the chute. Challenging? Absolutely. But totally against the spirit of the way this course was originally designed. The one redeeming quality of this hole is when the pin is front right, and it’s relatively easy to funnel a ball down to the hole, and a chance to make an easy birdie with two well executed shots.

Other holes I’m not crazy about are the 1st, the 5th, the 17th, and the 18th, but on a much lesser scale of the two holes above.

As far as a redesign, I’d have to leave that to someone like Andy that is more plugged into that scene. For now, I’m happy to play the role of the guy that points out the problems and offers no solutions on how to fix them.

For those interested, I would recommend David Owen’s book “The Making of the Masters” on how Augusta National came about. The old pictures are fascinating, and there’s a story behind every single hole, as well as how the club came about to formation.

My annual tradition is to make sure that all meetings scheduled for Thursday or Friday must be, at minimum, conference calls. There’s next to zero chance I’m not “working from home” once the online coverage starts. I’ve failed this year, as I’ve got a two hour meeting on Thursday that I’m still desperately trying to get out of.

This tradition actually drastically changed the course of my life unintentionally. Back in Chicago, I worked on a Dutch client and had to report up to our firm in the Netherlands. The partner from the Holland office would visit every spring to review our files, and every year I would try to make sure that visit did not occur on the Thursday or Friday of Masters week. In 2014, I failed miserably, and I sat in a conference room with this partner as he casually went through our file and came up with a list of questions based on our file. He gave me the list in the afternoon, and made a joke about the fact that it might take me until Friday afternoon to answer them all. Knowing that the afternoon TV coverage was about to begin, I furiously put my head down, plowed through them all, and had all of his questions answered within the hour. He was so impressed by the timely turnaround, that on the spot he offered me a position with the firm in Holland to work on the parent company. Less than six months later I was on my way to Amsterdam. Trying to rush home to watch the Masters on TV changed the course of my entire career, and my life.

You can for sure wear it, but not with too much pride. Do you really want to have to say “actually, my buddy bought it for me” when someone asks about your Augusta experience? Well, you’re in luck, because in reality, if someone is asking your gear, they don’t want to hear about your experience. They just want to tell you about theirs. Very few people have as little self awareness about the importance of their own stories than golf hardos do. We’re all guilty of it to a certain extent.

Way too much of my emotional energy has already been invested in this issue, but I honestly can’t wait to see what color ball Bubba comes out with on Thursday. I’m sure someone has played with a colored ball at Augusta before, but if he shows up with a white one on Thursday, you’ll know someone in a green jacket gave him a talking to. Until 60 Minutes does a deep dive on this topic, I’ll continue to say this it is criminally under reported that Bubba dumped the Pro-V1 for putt putt balls. It’s impossible to measure how much this equipment change has cost him in terms of strokes, but I would find it very hard to believe that even the $1 million or so cash that he received for the deal would exceed how much he’s cost himself in on-course earnings.

Thought about this one for a long time. Put me on the top of the hill, hitting the approach into 15 green from 240. That hole was one of the ones that sticks out to me the most in person, because that area between the pond in front of the green, and the one behind it looks WAY smaller in person than it does on television. The green looks like a tiny island from that far out, there’s no safe place to miss, and distance control is paramount. If you fly the green, you can’t stop the ball from going way long, and you know what happens if you come up short. The fact that those guys stare down that shot, sometimes with 3-woods, with that much on the line come Sunday, continues to blow my mind. I’d love to see if the flighted chunk 3-iron I would hit would actually reach the water.

Kyle Porter and I chatted a bit about this on our Masters Preview Podcast, Part I. You definitely need to walk all 18 holes to get an appreciation for the landscape, the elevation changes, the ridiculous locations of the tee boxes, as well as the close proximity of all of the holes. Let’s face it, you go to a practice round to see the golf course, not the players putting to little paper circles at all the different hole locations. The lone exception to this is the 16th. It should be required that you spend at least an hour there either sitting in the bleachers, on the hill, or wherever you can find space and watch guys skip the ball off the pond.  If you get a spot in the bleachers left of the tee, you can also see shots come into the 15th green, which is tremendous.

Wow, this is a good one. As badly as we all want to see Phil win the U.S. Open, my instinct is to say Rory only because 20+ more years of the Rory Augusta hype train would be enough to make me want to quit covering golf.

Spieth is still my pick, but I’ve got good vibes about Rory this week. He’s mentioned to me how the media hype actually seems a bit dulled down this year, and if it rains during practice rounds (as of the time of this writing, it has already rained on monday, and there are more storms in the forecast for Wednesday), he’s going to get the green light to fire at some flags. All he needs to win a Masters is a hot week on the par fives. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’ve seen it mentioned in the past how many uncharacteristic sloppy mistakes Rory has made in the past on the seemingly gettable par fives at Augusta. I’m of the belief that this is more of an anomaly than a trend, and he’s bound to buck that at least one of these years.

Until I’m blue in the face, I’ll continue to remind people that Rory is 27 years old, and easily has 10-15 years to complete the career grand slam. To pile on expectations to someone in their 20’s to accomplish something only five other players in the history of the game have accomplished, in one of the most competitive of eras, is peak media narrow mindedness.

The rumors around lengthening the 13th are real, and it probably makes sense. Guys can get around that corner with 3-woods now, and the drive Bubba hit there in ’14 had to drive the suits crazy. The Augusta folks have to be aware that the fact that 13 is gettable is one of the many things that make it such a great hole, but it’s not a good look when a guy can hit wedge into what you call a par-5. Moving that tee back will force guys to have to approach the green from over 200 yards, and put a lot of the risk back into what has become an all reward hole.

I’m sure there’s more changes that will be made, but that’s the only one I’ve heard any rumblings on. Basically count me in for anything that prevents Bubba from ever contending here again.

I’ve stated multiple times recently that I think he gets five. I’m aware of how crazy that sounds, but I honestly think he’s going to at least be in the mix at least 60% of the time in the next two decades. If he has 12 good shots at it, is winning four of those unrealistic? I don’t think it is. It’s been well documented that he finished 2-1-T2 in his only three Masters appearances, and since I’ve already crowned him the 2017 champ, I don’t think it’s crazy to say that he can win three more. I’m aware of the hypocrisy in me saying that expectations for Rory are too large, and a few paragraphs later saying a guy is going to be the second greatest Masters champ of all time, but that’s my take.

It depends almost entirely on how a player has setup their own affairs. The lower the Q-rating, the easier it is to reach out directly, exchange numbers, and get in touch. The more media requests a player gets, the more likely that I’ll have to go through an agent or a manager, which is understandable. The exception to this is Rory, who was shockingly accessible. Needless to say, I much prefer going straight to a guy than through a manager, as usually that’s a sign that they’re aware of what we do, and they’re more likely to open up than someone who is essentially agreeing to do it through a manager.

All that said, I’ve had some really good luck in recent weeks working through managers, and have three really solid guests lined up for the next few months, with the hope that we can record some of these in person at the Players next month.

For this week, it’s “media center.” We get it.

I’ll admit, I was pretty blown away when I saw pictures of the new scribe headquarters when they surfaced this week. But predictably, the twitter onslaught that followed was overwhelming. I understand it a little bit. Covering the Masters is exciting! It’s almost universally known as the best week of the year in golf, and I would love to cover it in person someday. But in reality, the media center is simply the location from which you are working. I care infinitely more about the content you’re creating than I do the location from which you are creating it. I’m not following you to see a picture of your “office for the week.” I’m willing to look past the initial excitement phase, but if we’re dealing with this come Sunday, I’m gonna lose it.

Perhaps I’m a bit perturbed on the media topic considering the hilarious lack of self-awareness that came with this article.

Covering golf should always be about the golf, and while sprinkling in personal perspective and personal experience can most definitely add to the quality of your content, the priority should always be the content. While there are fewer and fewer newspaper writers attending tournaments, I could understand the lament for the days of old if the actual content was suffering along with the decline. But golf content is not suffering. Not only are there more mediums on which users can consume your material, there are even more sources of that material from which you’re welcome to choose from. That clearly bothers some that have had a monopoly on being “the voices of golf” for many years, and the linked article above focuses on the dying era of newspaper reporters spending thousands of their employer’s dollars to travel without even mentioning the benefits that come with the ever growing popularity of “new media.” The Rory quote is what really pissed me off:

“You try not to read that much about yourself but sometimes it’s hard to avoid it. The shame about the world we live in is players (back then) didn’t have to be as guarded as they are nowadays. Everything is so accessible and you need to keep a little bit for yourself and I’ve learned that over the years. I think that’s the hardest thing – that balance between being accessible and giving the media access and enough of what they want but at the same time keeping some of it for yourself.”

The line that leads into that quote is as follows: “Rory McIlroy says the players have to deal with the sometimes negative tone of what gets posted on various new media platforms.”

Where did Rory mention “new media”? Is this really how Rory feels about “new media”, or is this quote from the February 1 NLU podcast a bit more specific to the type of “new media” they’re referring to?

“You guys have made golf fun to follow again because it’s a different take on it, it’s more aimed at millenials, it’s fun…. it’s the way it should be and it’s the social media age, and this is what people appreciate… I think you guys are the future of what golf coverage is going to look like, and anything I can do to support it, I’m here.”

That’s about as kind as I can be about that article. Yes, the author did reach out to me for comment on it, but could not figure out how to dial an international number. So he gave up, and we never spoke. Maybe someday I’ll pen 4,000 words on all of the issues I had with it, but for now, I’ll leave it at that.

Thanks for the questions and for reading. Be sure to check out both of our preview podcasts (Part I and Part II), and enjoy the greatest golf week of the year.

Also, be sure to sign up for our Masters pool with the Fried Egg. Totally free to enter, and some great prizes available.

About the Author

Inventor of #TourSauce, always waits for the green to clear, and club twirl savant.

Love No Laying Up? Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on all things NLU. We promise to respect your inbox more than Bubba respects Ted Scott. Subscribe now!

  • Robb Olson

    The story about how you got your gig in Holland is incredible. Goes to show not laying up will get you places!

  • Jeff Gilham

    I’ve got agree with Robb’s comment. The Holland assignment story is really great.

From the Pro Shop