Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Masters and Players- my two favorite events

With the conclusion of  my two favorite golf events, The Masters and The Players, I have probably seen more exciting golf than I will for the rest of the year. Granted there are still three Majors left to be played this summer, but I know I will not be watching every shot the way I do for these two tournaments every year.

What makes these two events stand out above everything else? First, I believe it is because the venue is the same each year and both have similar designs. Why would you want to change sites every year when you have two of the most thrilling finishing nines in golf to entertain fans? Where else can you see such big swings in the standing than at Augusta and Sawgrass?

This year at The Players, Nick Watney was up by two strokes going into the 14tth hole and by the time he walked off the 16th he was five off the lead. David Toms makes a one bad swing on #16 and loses to Choi in a playoff. G-Mac looks like he has it under control until he takes a double at #18 and quickly drops out of contention. At one time I counted almost a dozen players within striking distance of the championship.

There was also a herd of players all playing great coming down the stretch at The Masters, producing one great shot after another. Charl Schwartzel birdies the last four holes on Sunday to win by two strokes. What drama!! I love to see birdies and eagles over players struggling to hit out of thick rough to make par on every hole. I don't think we will ever again see anyone win more than two majors in a year let alone the Grand Slam, and certainly Tiger now will be a long shot to break Jack's major record. Too many great players worldwide today that excel under different conditions for anyone to ever dominate like players did in the past.

These courses are both set up to produce birdies and eagles on about 6 to 8 holes, especially on their back nines. The reachable par 5's, on both back nines, are high risk reward with water coming into play and can produce big scoring swings with eagles. To quote Bobby Jones, "I think a par five should always be of the kind that can be played as a great par four if the player is man enough to do so." The par 3's are all again played over water hazards and can produce some really big numbers on #12 at Augusta and #17. To quote Jones again, "the difference between a bunker and a water hazard is the difference between a car crash and a plane crash. You can recover from the former but not from the latter." Just think how boring these back nines would be without any water hazards. Both have strong finishing holes and a couple of demanding long par 4's. I don't want to go as far as saying Pete Dye copied Augusta National, but I believe he was strongly influenced by the great layout that Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie created. Even though the terrain is very different you still get the same flow on each back nine. The excitement produced to the viewers, by the players being rewarded for taking risk, is what makes these two events so much fun to watch. I feel that Dye (Modern) and MacKenzie (Classic) are the two greatest architects of their eras.

I was fortunate to be able to attend both of these events this year. For the first time in three years there were no cold, freezing spells in Florida this winter. Finally, The Stadium course was in excellent condition to rival that of Augusta National. Both of these courses are set up with generous landing areas off the tee and minimal rough to allow the players a chance to have a go at most greens. Miss the greens and you will have no easy time of making a par.

Personally, I prefer going to the practice rounds and watching the Championships on HD from my living room. I thought both telecasts did a wonderful job of showing non-stop action with limited commercials, which sets them apart from the other majors. At The Players the golfers are available after every hole to sign and interact with the fans, unlike The Masters practice rounds. Due to most of the Florida snowbirds having gone north, the crowds at The Players are sparse compared to The Masters. Tickets are very reasonable priced at The Players, $20 or less for a practice round pass versus $50 or much more if you have to buy them from a scalper at The Masters. I am already making plans for next years Masters and Players.

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