To call it Super Bowl week wouldn’t do it justice. But there really isn’t anything you can say, write, type, or tweet that would do The Masters justice. It’s the best tournament, with the most history, played on the best course, at a perfect time on the calendar. I don’t care about the astronomical definition: Masters week is the first week of spring.
Golf fans are forced to wait eight months between majors, and the pent up enthusiasm has us ready to burst with anticipation. This year, we are blessed with more storylines than the upcoming season of Game of Thrones (which also happens to premiere this weekend).
- Jordan Spieth has been flying through the 2015 season at an excruciating pace, stopping only to siphon jet fuel from the oil wells of Texas while racing up to 4th in the OWGR.
- Bubba is going for three titles in four years, a feat matched only by Nicklaus (kill me).
- Rory is going for the career grand slam, and if he gets that, then he’s going for the Rory Slam, which might be like, the fifth best story of the week.
- Patrick Reed is going to go full Muhammad Ali in a pre-round press conference, then go trounce the field by six shots.
- Tiger might actually kill someone with a bunker shot, or he might really be back (according to him).
I could keep going, but there really are about fifty different potential scenarios that would make this Masters one for the ages. It’s so hard to put into words, that I’ve resorted to just taking it to podcast form with four separate preview podcasts (Ashley Mayo from Golf Digest, Kyle Porter from CBS, Kevin Van Valkenburg from ESPN, and Fox Sports contributor Shane Bacon. Then again on the first ever “Friends of Tiger” podcast with Shane Ryan. Also a Masters Mailbag). No official preview can acceptably set the scene for what is transpiring this week, but we don’t lay up, so we’re going to at least go for it.
Augusta National Golf Club
“Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s East Georgia.”
You’re going to find everything you need to know about Augusta in lots of other places. It’s the most written about, talked about course in all of golf (at least in the United States). We humbly recommend, though, checking out Adam Sarson’s terrific breakdown of the track on a hole by hole basis. If you want to discuss how to make a perfect-10 into an 11, check out Part II of our Masters preview from last year, where we talked about how we would improve the course. Finally, in Part I of our Masters Preview from last year, we broke down prevailing shot-shapes required for this layout (as well as a whole bunch of 2014 Tiger analysis that went to waste since he didn’t play). All that said, we’ll move on to other parts and try to paint the picture of the place as best we can.
Via Tron Carter:
What I’d like to highlight here is often overlooked about The Masters. First, not enough people realize how centrally located Augusta is within Eastbumblefucknowhere. It borders South Carolina to the east and north, the Savannah River Site (Nuclear YOTTO) to the immediate north, Georgia’s lake country to the west, and absolute nothingness to the south. This isolated location is culturally instructive. In the dozen or so times I’ve been to Augusta, every time for either high school golf tournaments or the Masters, I’ve never actually been to Augusta proper. Not once have I even come close to downtown Augusta. In my mind it doesn’t even exist.
Real life Augusta
Augusta National is an oasis of conservative ideals, Southern charm and manners, and unfettered hoity-toityness smack dab in the heart of a plebeian epicenter. I’m amazed that this doesn’t get talked about more. Washington Road is equal parts rough and tumble strip mall, fast-food joints, and check-cashing shops. In short, it’s the new, somewhat dystopian America. Washington Road is Augusta, Augusta National is not. And yet, just off these wholly populist confines sits Augusta National Golf Club – one of the last bastions of old-school civility, even older-school money, and fraternal ideals. A place that shat on Bill Gates (at the time the richest man in the world) for having the gall to publicly entreaty his desire to become a member. Put simply, the right turn from Washington Road onto Berckmans Road is the very definition of dichotomy. In society and in golf.
I’ve experienced Augusta National five times, three of which were actual tournament rounds. Each and every time, the day began around 5:00AM in Atlanta (not gonna pay $500/night to stay at a Days Inn). The drive along I-20 east is wholly unremarkable (painful even) as you drive through vast stretches of pine forest transfixed by the day that looms ahead. The relative quaintness of the exit onto Washington Road suggests that The Masters is something different, not some big-box golf tournament. Once off the exit, you head a couple blocks east, hang a right, and you’re in the (massive & free) parking lot (or whatever they call it – patron’s vehicle storage?).
The biggest change over the last few years has been the stroll from the lots to the gates. Patrons used to park in someone’s yard, walk in through nondescript fencing, and that was that. Now, those same yards are AGNC-controlled lots (minus the houses) and feed into a corporate-ish environment not unlike that of the entrance to the Kentucky Derby. The new entrance screams “big event”, which strips just a little bit of that allure away. But that allure comes rushing back as soon as you set your eyes on the course. That moment when you realize it actually exists, it’s actually a real place, is beyond special.
Once inside the gates, the vibe is pretty much set to perma-jolliness (think Matt Kuchar) all week. The beauty and greenery of the grounds is awe-inspiring, the history permeates every nook and cranny of the premises, and the beer flows at a remarkably fair price. People are exceptionally happy and decidedly content to be where they are, walking the grounds, and taking in the action. One thing Augusta has always gotten 100% right is the experience of its customers. You never once feel exploited, taken for granted, or marginalized as can all too often be the case at a lot of sports venues. In this way, it’s the very best of Southern hospitality on full display.
So many possibilities here. The first inclination is a nice whiskey, but you’re going to be watching so much golf that we can’t suggest getting hammered. We only require this: On Saturday and Sunday, you must be at your television for the exact moment that Jim Nantz comes on and sets the scene. Your household must have complete silence. If that requires putting the two year old down for a nap early, or sending your family to the store for pimento cheese, then you have to be prepared to make that game time call. When Nantz finishes his lead in and drops the obligatory “Hello, friends”, you cheers everyone in your house, text your buddies, tweet it at us, and recognize that you just committed yourself to that couch until Nantz excuses you.
I’ve placed so many bets over the last six months that it doesn’t make sense for me to make any more picks at this point. Basically, if someone made a somewhat supportable case for any player not named Anirban Lahiri to win the Masters, I took it at face value and just bet it. So here’s what I have (all odds via Sportsbook):
Phil Mickelson (25/1, now 20/1) – Overreacted to him jumping out to the early lead in Houston, but I don’t regret this one. I’m a believer in Phil’s chances. I’m actually surprised he’s not being talked about more. Yes the last year-plus has been a struggle for him, but we do remember him finishing one shot behind Rory at the PGA, right? And he’s won this event three times?
Jimmy Walker (35/1, now 18/1) – Got him right as he was about to win the Valero. A winner that shapes it right to left and bombs it. He’s an absolute threat this week.
Matt Kuchar (40/1, now 30/1) – He’s had a shaky year by his standards, but he’s a menace around this track. Tron will hate this pick, but I stand with Kuch.
Brandt Snedeker (50/1, now 40/1) – Good history here, and I grabbed this as he was closing the AT&T, because I love overreacting.
Lee Westwood (65/1, now 45/1) – Top 11 in each of the last 5 Masters, and has quietly had a good year. 65/1 was simply too long.
Chris Kirk (75/1, now 150/1) – OK, so I didn’t get the value here. But he finished T20 here last year, moves it right to left, and is coming off a T8 at the Valero. This is one play I would actually suggest to people, is Kirk at 150/1.
Patrick Reed (100/1, now 25/1) – I’ve mentioned about 26 times that I bet two units on this during the Ryder Cup as he was spraying Tour Sauce at a level that no human on this Earth had ever seen. If he wins, I’m literally going to Thailand or South Africa.
Shane Lowry (250/1, now 150/1) – I have no earthly idea why I bet 1/5 of a unit on this, but I did.
- To give you an idea of how Augusta National operates, chew on this. A few years ago, they bought an apartment complex for $8.3 million, leveled it, and turned it into a parking lot. The parking lot is free for patrons. Free.
- This is the classic Bill Gates/Augusta story everyone knows: Billionaire Duffer Would Love to Belong to Storied Golf Club – What a headline.
- BUT, Young Neil and Tron caught wind of another much better Gates/Augusta story recently: A few years back Gates was playing Augusta and was paired with a relatively young caddie on his way to college. The caddies knew Gates loved to talk college athletics and figured Gates would tip better with a chatty young kid , who mentions to Gates he’ll be attending Princeton in the fall. As they roll down into Amen corner and onto the 12th tee, Gates reaches for a six iron and the young caddie calls him off insisting that seven is the club. Gates resists at first but takes the advice in the end. He tees it and dunks it. ACE. Of course, the entire group is jacked up, especially all four caddies for what must be a HUGE tip coming their way. At Augusta, members tip through the caddie master post round and not in person or with cash. As one day turned into one week and into a month, the caddie’s were convinced Gates had stiff them Dalai Lama style. In time they would find out that Gates came up with his own version of a tip: He called up Princeton and paid the caddies tuition…4 years worth. How’s that for buying a couple rounds after an ace?
- Favorite Masters story ever, told at a Christmas party a few years ago by a family friend who’s spent a good bit of time at ANGC: He’s standing next to the range with a member on Thursday morning during the tournament (he didn’t say the year, but it was early 2000’s). The old range at Augusta was mega-short. Tiger is BLASTING drivers over the net onto Washington Rd. The member politely asks Tiger to refrain from doing so. Tiger nods but keeps the driver in hand and hits another couple over the net. The member then walks back up to Tiger and says “Mr. Woods, if you don’t refrain from clearing the net, on behalf of the membership, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the premises.” Tiger hits a few wedges and Stevie packs his shit up. The member then walks back over to our family friend, and our friend asked him what the hell he was going to do if Tiger wanted to hit a couple more drivers. Without an ounce of irony, he replied, “I was going to have him escorted off the premises.”
- The lack of distinction on what kind of beer your drinking at the tourney has always floated my boat. It’s either “domestic” or “import” – take it or leave it. What if all this time the Membership’s been serving PBR or Red Dog and nobody noticed?
- I’m split on the evolution of the event the last few years. On the one hand, the lottery is sweet and really brings a much-needed dimension to the event, but at the same time it brings in some total clowns. I’ll put it this way – it’s the one event where I won’t yell “Filet Mignon!” after a tee shot. On the other hand, there’s just too many badges these days. Talk to anyone who’s been around the event since before 2000 and they’ll lament the same thing. When Augusta gave the members a shitload of cash a few years ago and told them go out and buy up every badge that they could find on the open market, then sent those badge-holders a letter stating that they no longer had badges, well, that was sweet.
- Angel Cabrera gave us one of our favorite quotes of all time a couple years ago (paraphrasing): “I didn’t lay up when I was poor. Why would I lay up now that I’m rich?” El Pat0!
- Three of the four NLU founders were lucky to be there in 2012 for the Monday proceedings. I’m still not even sure the place is a real place.
- A couple of editorial notes on these previews: A lot of the stuff that applies to multiple years carries over (course, vibe, etc.) – obviously some of it is straight repeat, but for the most part we’re trying to build on the stuff that was well-received and keep the good vibes rolling, and then obviously build the picks section from scratch every week. As we always say, we’re not journalists. We’re just dudes bullshitting about golf, interspersing random observations with creative writing, and telling it to you reals – and if we ever get to the point where it’s not about that, please let us know. Seriously.