‘It’s so different when nobody is out there’: Why this Masters will be unlike any other


Among the many things Tiger Woods will remember about his 2019 Masters victory is the noise ringing in his ears, the constant chanting of his name as he marched toward history, and the seemingly unending sounds of joy as he putted out for his 15th major championship victory.

Imagine all of that being accomplished in virtual silence.

It is depressing to think about, but that is the reality this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Masters on Wednesday announced that it would be playing its rescheduled 2020 tournament without spectators or guests when the tournament takes place Nov. 12-15.

A Masters without “patrons,” as they are called, is better than no Masters at all. Let’s be clear about that.

But it’s still lousy. Augusta National is a special place in the game, one of the most coveted tickets in sports, and where spectators can have an immense impact on the outcome.

“It was special to have that kind of support, that kind of backing,” Woods said last fall. “I was going up against the best players in the world. I was trying to come from behind for the first time (to win a major). And that support was so important.”

Woods clearly understands the current circumstances. He said as much last week at the PGA Championship, where there were no spectators. Golf has done tremendously well in this climate for more than two months, playing each week behind closed doors.

And having the television product for an unprecedented November at Augusta National will still be a highly-anticipated and hugely interesting sporting event, with anticipation centering around the look of the place in the fall, how it will play and all manner of golf-related aspects to a year that is off the rails.

But no fans? The Lords of Augusta National must be furious that it has come to this, four months after they announced the rescheduled date for Nov. 12-15 and three months before it is to be played.

Surely they believed we’d be in a position by now to have moved beyond many of the restrictions associated with the pandemic. They bought themselves the most time. And, to no one’s surprise, they have the ability to buy themselves nearly anything they want as it relates to putting on a safe event.

Rapid testing? Social distancing? Wearing masks? Sanitary protocols? This is a place that doesn’t like having a piece of grass out of place, that loans the city of Augusta millions of dollars to get started on a road project, and has been buying up land around the club for years, spending hundreds of millions to do so.

You think they couldn’t have bought 100,000 COVID-19 tests if they were so inclined? Or figured out a way to space those allowed in around the hallowed grounds, masks required?

The fact they are shutting those ideas down now suggests the difficulty of pulling it off, and the ominous reports they are getting from medical and government officials in dealing with the pandemic. As powerful as the folks are at Augusta National, they’ve never been able to control the weather, when the Azaeleas bloom. Apparently, they can’t squash a pandemic, either.

All of which makes you harken back to the April day in 2019 when Woods did the unthinkable.

Zach Johnson, who held off Woods to win the 2007 Masters, was there last year, with several other past champions, wearing his green jacket to form part of a long congratulatory line.

“When it comes to Tiger Woods, when it comes to his mark in the game, you’re going to think about the many times that you see a fist pump, that you see some sort of emotional reaction and that is the beauty of Tiger Woods, too,” Johnson said Wednesday “I mean, it’s real, it’s genuine and that’s how he competes. So my guess is it’s fueled on by the fans because he is the draw each and every week, rightfully so.

“I love it. I mean, I love watching it. I remember being down there towards the scoring area [at last year’s Masters] and seeing that swarm and then a tunnel forming that essentially like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

And Johnson said there’s no doubt that kind of atmosphere helped fuel his victory 13 years ago.

“I felt like I was being pushed with high energy by the fans,” he said. “Granted, I had the greatest player of the modern era two groups behind me pushing me as well, but I felt it on 13, 14 all the way down the stretch. That putt on 16 I made, you can’t really replicate that and you can’t put — it’s hard to measure.”

Another thing difficult to measure? The financial impact this will have on the Masters. Of course, the place is well positioned to endure, and having a fall Masters still assures sizable television rights fee income.

But the club is offering full refunds to anyone who has practice round or tournament badges. It will also defer them to 2021, if desired, which means a huge revenue hit next year. It will offer those who had tickets or badges for this year a special “exclusive” opportunity to buy merchandise online, a potential windfall but one that can’t make up for all the hardship of this year.

Few would be crying for Augusta National, of course. The club will do just fine. And those who will watch at home will still have the benefit of a surreal fall Masters.

But no spectators?

“I really can’t fathom it,” Johnson said.

Because tee times were early due to forecasted poor weather last year, Woods actually left Augusta National holding the clubhouse trophy and wearing the green jacket in the Sunday night gloaming. The sun was just setting, and with his kids, Samantha and Charlie, he had a chance to take it all in.

“You see the beauty of it,” he said. “The rolling hills. The perfect grass. It was immaculate. It’s so different when nobody is out there. That’s when they started to understand how beautiful the place is.”

It was also serenely quiet. Peaceful. Eerie.

Welcome to the Masters, 2020 version.

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