whicker:-the-masters-will-miss-fans-unlike-any-others

They say they miss you, but they don’t.

Caddies don’t miss bulling their way through the crowds, with a golf bag the size of a Buick on their shoulders.

Players don’t miss hearing the Sunday drunks bellow, “Get in the hole,” when they drive on a par-five.

The traffic is down, the autograph hunters aren’t there, and nobody demands that a player surrender his golf glove while he’s trying to run away from a 76.

(Before you ask, they don’t miss the writers either.)

But this is Augusta National, unique in all things. The fans are “patrons.” They and the players make this homecoming trek together, each year, and their shared experience is what makes the whole thing roll.

This year there will be no fans, no ropes, no winner’s ceremony on the 18th green, and the consequential shots in Amen Corner will be greeted with spooky silence, as a ruthless sundown arrives before 5:30 p.m.

For all the flora that distinguishes Augusta National, this is a tournament you hear more than you see.

“There’s no doubt the missing galleries will be the biggest difference,” said Adam Scott, the 2013 champion.

“The roars during the tournament – you know what’s going on. You know whether it’s a birdie or an eagle, or whether it’s for Tiger or Phil. When I won, it was so loud that I couldn’t even have a normal conversation with my caddy. When you learn to use the positive energy of the crowds here, it’s fantastic.”

Tiger Woods won it in 2019, of course, and remembered how “electric” the day was, since predictions of an impending storm forced the Masters to move the tee times up, basically to dawn. Fortunately, nature’s electricity went around the grounds, and the noise pushed Tiger to the finish line, fueled by those who realized what they were witnessing.

Woods said some unpopulated holes will look “stark,” but others said they could find fortunate spots, including the right side of No. 2, to aim shots they wouldn’t try with people there.

This year? Woods hasn’t made a dent since he won the Zozo event in Japan late in 2019. In eight 2020 events, he has bettered 40th place only once (ninth in San Diego).

But he said he “feels better than last year physically” and draws comfort from the way Bernard Langer and Fred Couples, Champions Tour stalwarts and ex-Masters champs, find a way to prosper here.

Yes, Tiger is on the back nine. He noted that he was born eight months after Lee Elder broke the Masters color line in 1975. Twenty-two years later, when Woods destroyed the field and made golf a mainstream sport, he brought a 12-shot lead to the 18th green on Sunday and saw Elder standing there.

As Brandel Chamblee of The Golf Channel noted, Woods is ranked 33rd in the world and is seeking a sixth Masters title, 23 years after his first. If that seems far-fetched, note that Jack Nicklaus won his sixth in 1986, 23 years after his first, and was ranked 33rd that week.

Back then, Woods walked far past his playing partners to get to his tee ball. His rough equivalent these days is Bryson DeChambeau, who will be hitting 7-irons into par-5s and has said the course is “par 67” for him. If DeChambeau shoots four 67s, he will break the Masters scoring record by two shots, but he also pointed out, correctly, that his six-shot win at the U.S. Open was produced by his short game.

DeChambeau’s moonshot drives have caused the usual consternation – slow down the ball, lengthen the courses, etc. Masters chairman Fred Ridley said the time is “coming closer to a call for action” and said Augusta National will take “actions to stay relevant.” That probably means an eventual lengthening of the 13th hole, a dogleg par-5 that has decided several Masters. It could also mean a slower “Masters ball.” Meanwhile, the nets at Wimbledon are unchanged.

They will open the gates Thursday morning but no parade of patrons will burst through, with green Augusta National chairs in hand, marked with a Sharpie. They normally power-walk (running is prohibited) to their favorite greenside spots, park those chairs, and wander the grounds, knowing their placeholder will not be disturbed.

They eat $3 chicken sandwiches and find their cousins from Savannah or their ministers from Columbia, and they catch up.

But in a year of shaken calendars, they will recede into their houses, and the players who make 20-foot birdies on Sunday will listen vainly for their punctuation.

In that way, the 2020 Masters will demonstrate an elusive truth. We all need each other.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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