Is the Masters the best major?
In an anonymous survey of PGA Tour pros last year one question they were asked was what major they would most like to win?
The results were Masters - 77%, Open Championship 16%, US Open 7% and a big fat nothing for the PGA Championship. The last bit is the least surprising given how we seem to spend more time debating how to reinvent the PGA, the US Open is quite a shock given, you would imagine, the bulk of the players who were quizzed will have been American and this is their national Open.
There was a period when the US Open seemed to be really on the up, from maybe 2005 up to DJ in 2016, but the past few years it’s been as attritional as ever and at times as on the edge as it has been dull.
The Open Championship is the smart answer given it’s the oldest of the four, played on the best rota of courses and it can boast returning to the Old Course every five years which is either entirely magical or far too often, depending on your point of view. It can be reliant on which part of the draw you get, there are good breaks and bad breaks but it’s truly special, wherever you are from.
So what makes the Masters so far out on its own and not only with the players but with everyone glued to their TVs for four days? For some it’s a bit of a reunion with players who don’t deserve a spot in a major. For some familiarity breeds contempt and it gets a little boring, we know all the holes and breaks and pin positions and it’s a little bit of golf by numbers. For some it’s a bit too tricked up where there is an opportunity to hole an 8-iron or not be able to hold a green from 60 yards. For some it’s just a bit too twee and too pleased with itself.
But they’re, generally speaking, in the minority. We were only at Augusta in November and yet it can’t come around quickly enough. Yes, it wasn’t quite the same at the end of the year and, bizarrely, we had rough to look at but most of us can’t get back there too soon.
A lot of us have spent the past week returning to golf courses for the first time this year after an enforced absence. Despite the lack of traffic and pitchmarks it’s pretty clear that the courses are still some way off their very best and yet we’ll tune in this week and be greeted with absolute perfection.
Aussie Geoff Ogilvy explains it well from a player’s perspective.
“As soon as the PGA Championship is over, I start thinking about the Masters, whereas I don’t start thinking about the US Open until after the Masters. Since we play Augusta National every year and the course is so strategically fascinating and complex, it’s easy to ponder what I could have done better or how I can improve my attack of the holes.
“I want to sign in at Augusta as early as possible to get ideal starting times for the practice rounds and the Par 3 Contest. The Masters practice rounds are the best of the year due to the celebratory atmosphere, presence of so many legends and great fun in playing the course (like skipping the ball across the water on the 16th).”
Again this year we won’t have the Par 3 Contest but there will be more enough to whet the appetite. Incredibly even the sight of the past winners strolling in to dinner on the Tuesday is more of a thrill than much of what goes on in the run-ups to other majors. The music is the same, year after year after year, and it never gets boring. We know that Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will get things underway and we’ll still probably get a little teary at the absence of Arnold Palmer.
Most of us would choose Augusta as their major venue of choice to play on, most of us would choose to go and watch it compared to other majors and, from the comfort of our settees, it makes for the best viewing. Even the Masters website is so far out on its own with every shot from every player now being possible to follow.
If you’re of a certain age and European it will take you straight back to the glory days of the 80s, if you’re a Tiger or Mickelson fan then the place just reeks of happy days. If you just like lovely sights and soft music then you’ll love the Masters.
Most things dim as you get older, as cynicism kicks in, but the Masters is still standing firm.
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