The most glamorous of majors kicks off Ryder Cup year
Even though its history is shallow and its traditions are orchestrated, it is spectacular, both visually and in terms of the golf
Every two years a particular edge appears on the golf calendar in the form of the Ryder Cup. And 2020 is one of these years, with the biennial contest between the teams from Europe and the US being played at Whistling Straits in the US.
The word “straits”, as in dire straits, might well summarise the feelings in the US team after the pasting it received two years ago in France.
But all sports are cyclical and hometown advantage can play as important a role in golf as in any other sport. If we combine a home venue with a partisan crowd and the US’s dramatic comeback victory in the 2019 Presidents Cup, the US might possibly be a good bet to claw back the trophy from Europe in 2020.
Long before the Ryder Cup tees off, a full season of tournaments (many with Ryder Cup qualifying points on offer) and the small matter of the destination of 2020’s four majors will need to be decided.
The Masters (April 9-12) is the first event and is always played over the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.
The holder is Tiger Woods — and what a story that was in 2019 and should continue to be as Woods attempts to defend his title.
Though it is the youngest, this is possibly the most glamorous of the majors and certainly the most photogenic. A combination of the spring and the layout of Augusta lend themselves to a heady combination of glorious blooms, majestic trees and velvet green fairways.
The event is all largely the result of artifice and the Masters tournament is a carefully staged and beautifully managed “show” in every sense of the word.
Most of this structure is the legacy of Bobby Jones’s partner, Clifford Roberts, who served as the club’s chair from 1931-1976.
Some demands seem faintly draconian, especially by modern laissez faire standards. However, a list of stringently enforced “no’s” such as, no running between holes, no caps to be worn with the brim facing backwards, and so on have sustained a bygone almost genteel and respectful air among Augusta’s patrons (there are no “crowds” at Augusta), which is as refreshing as it is anachronistic.
The awful phrase “be the man” will not be heard here and if it is, the perpetrator will be quickly identified and escorted briskly from the premises by members of the ubiquitous Pinkertons Agency.
Even if its history is shallow in the terms of the other majors, especially the Open Championship, and many of its traditions the result of careful orchestration, if you look past the managed aspects it is a spectacular event, both visually and, in most cases, in terms of the golf played each year.
The outcome of most majors will come down to the final nine holes. In this respect, the Masters has the added dimension of Amen Corner, a trio of holes (11-13) that can make or break a title challenge.
The Nelson bridge at the 13th commemorates one of the great fightbacks at the Masters when, in 1937, Byron Nelson turned a four-shot deficit into a two-shot lead over Ralf Guldahl, with a run of two and three through the par 3 12th and par 5 13th holes.
The number 4 was also important in 2016 when the defending champion Jordan Spieth relinquished a four-shot lead (it had been five shots after 63 holes) with a run of five and seven through holes 11 and 12.
Nelson got a bridge, perhaps all Spieth can hope for is a rubber duck — but the consolation should be that he is not the only golfer to see his title hopes go to a watery grave in this section of Augusta’s back nine.
Whatever the reasons to the moniker’s origins, perhaps a player going through these three holes in level fours and saying “Amen” as he walks to the 14th tee might be the best description.