09 Apr 2021 | Professional golf |

Hayes: The colour of a major

by Mark Hayes

Justin Rose Augusta image
Justin Rose was one of the few to figure out the brown-tinged greens. Photo: Getty

This is not about cheering on high scores with a chuckle, nor watching the world’s greatest players suffer unduly.

This is about celebrating course set-up.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the unique 2020 Masters and the chance to see a spring course in its autumn glory.

But I didn’t like seeing one of the most famous tests of golf reduced to little more than a dartboard for a professional cohort wielding technology inconceivable to Alister MacKenzie when he designed Augusta National nearly a century ago.

In his annual pre-tournament address this week, Masters chairman Fred Ridley seemed somehow marginally more removed from the need to arm the famous course with additional distance or a “control” ball – regular topics of discussion for years since the distance explosion.

He must have known something.

They’ll never tell you as much, but you can take it as read that the “green jackets” were annoyed by Dustin Johnson’s rampant 20-under winning total on the relatively sodden greens of November.

So when the cameras cranked up today and revealed a distinctly “brown” tinge to the most famous collection of putting surfaces in world golf, you knew things would be radically different just five short months later.

In essence, the scoring average today was three shots higher than round one of 2020.

This despite better preparation for the field and much more pleasant weather.

The reason is simply that the greens were like granite if you landed the ball in the wrong place. The darts being thrown without precision bounced away and left scoring a hope rather than an expectation.

Masters organisers never reveal details of their actions, but you can take Ridley’s slight change in disposition to mean he knew that a stampede to 20 under would be fantasy.

That the combination of warm spring conditions in Georgia and technology under the greens cranked right up would produce a far more searching test.

That’s not to say anything was impossible; one look at leader Justin Rose’s run of nine under par in the closing 11 holes is your evidence of that.

Good shots were rewarded, their poorer cousins mauled.

Power wasn’t the only factor at play; nous and good hands in equal parts would get the job done just as well.

Musclebound favourite Bryson DeChambeau (76) and his polar opposite Jose Maria Olazabal – the twice champion who’s now 55 and approximately 70kg – who shot a 75 are your cases in point.

The par-five 15th offered up eagles, yet penalised with triple-bogeys errant approaches of those who didn’t weight up their consequences successfully.

This is what major golf should be.

And it should be a massive piece of weaponry for those who argue that course defence against technology should be about short and dry grass, rather than using long and thick stuff around the greens.

Brown is most definitely beautiful.

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