Without Augusta’s Famed Roars, the Masters Goes Quiet

AUGUSTA, Ga. — On a typical day at the Masters, a person could wait near Augusta National Golf Club’s 18th green and hear the unfolding story of the tournament without really trying.

“You could sit up there on the veranda of the clubhouse or at any of the tables, and when something happened on the lower part of the course, around 12 or 13, you could hear the volume of the roar,” said Charles Coody, the 1971 champion. “A lot of people could identify the roar as a Palmer roar or a Nicklaus roar or a Tiger roar.”

But the coronavirus pandemic ledAugusta National to bar spectators from this week’s tournament, starving its grounds of the swelling cheers of well-wishers and the concerned murmurs of “I-could-have-hit-that” naysayers that have provided the soundtrack of so many Sunday charges.

“There are not many other professional golf tournaments that could mimic what transpires there at Augusta National,” said Mark O’Meara, who won in 1998. “On the last nine holes, there’s a lot of drama that’s taken place over the years. The roars are extremely significant from what’s going on. It just seems to permeate through the pines.”

Or, as Tommy Aaron, the 1973 champion, remembered the crowds that offered those roars: “They do pull for you. They just live and die with your success or failure.”

One could hear just about everything else around the course this week, though. Sirens intruding from Washington Road. Water rushing beneath a grate. The crinkle of fallen leaves underfoot in No. 13’s tee box. But none of the roars that players recall from previous generations and which usually pulse through television sets around the world during golf’s most-watched yearly broadcast. As the 2020 Masters heads into a starkly unusual final round this Sunday, these are the places where the emotive live audience will be most missed.

No. 1: Tea Olive | Par 4, 445 yards

1984 photograph, Augusta National/Getty Images; 2020, Doug Mills/The New York TImes

The first inklings of this year’s quiet are apparent at one of the busiest spots at Augusta National: The path that leads to the first tee box, near the clubhouse, also abuts parts of the ninth, 10th and 18th holes, and is normally where eager spectators who want to watch rounds start converge with the amblers who are simply on their way to another destination on the course.

Crowds traditionally coalesce around the tee box and line the fairway, their ranks regularly stretching as far as the familiar flag-topped scoreboard. And when a renowned player steps up for his tee shot, or when greats of the game like Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus take their ceremonial swings to open the tournament, the crowds can be 10-deep or more.

No. 9: Carolina Cherry | Par 4, 460 yards

Now 460 yards and with a green near the first and 10th tees, as well as the 18th green and the clubhouse, this hole traditionally has spectators encircling much of the green.

1997, Robert Sullivan/AFP via Getty Images; 2020, Doug Mills/The New York TImes

Jack Nicklaus had already won the tournament five times when he came to the green during his final round in 1986 and heard the roars from No. 8, where Seve Ballesteros and Tom Kite had eagled.

“I’ve backed off the ball twice because of the shots, so I ask the gallery, ‘OK, you’ve heard all of that noise, let’s see if we can make some noise here ourselves,’” Nicklaus said in a 2016 interview withThe Augusta Chronicle. “And I knocked it in, and I was off.”

Nicklaus went on to shoot 30 on the back nine and finish with a 65, winning his sixth and final Masters title.

“I think the gallery certainly helped me a lot in that time,” Nicklaus recalled Thursday morning. “They were pretty vocal, and it was nice to have the support and the people behind me. I enjoyed it very much.”

No. 12: Golden Bell | Par 3, 155 yards

Arguably the most famous hole in golf and the heart of Augusta National’s Amen Corner, the 155-yard No. 12 includes a trio of bunkers and a creek. This year, autumn colors lightly frame part of the hole, taking the spotlight from the azaleas that traditionally dominate the spring landscape.

2015, Jamie Squire/Getty Images; 2020, Doug Mills/The New York TImes

Fans ordinarily crowd into grandstands around the tee box to watch how (and what) competitors hit on the par-3 hole, the course’s shortest. The green is guarded by a trio of bunkers and goes mostly undisturbed by patrons, making No. 12 perhaps the quietest putt to be had on the course. Indeed, the absence of fans may be calming to players sizing up the hole this week.

“Usually those fans, they make me nervous,” said Bubba Watson, the winner in 2012 and 2014. “Maybe I just haven’t noticed them because I haven’t been as nervous right now.”

But often, he noted, those fans’ attention sometimes turns to action on No. 11 or No. 13, sparking cheers that may seem discordant to whatever is happening on the hole known as Golden Bell.

“You really hear the roars more on like an eagle putt or a shot into the green on 13,” Watson said.

No. 15: Firethorn | Par 5, 530 yards

Success on the15th hole often hinges on the second shot, which must make it over a pond to reach the green. Fans congregate in a grandstand near a scoreboard, and still more are able to watch easily if they are positioned to view the 16th tee box.

1973, Augusta National/Getty Images; 2020, Doug Mills/The New York TImes

Aaron, the 1973 winner, remembered arriving at No. 15 that year thinking he needed a birdie to keep pace with J.C. Snead, Sam Snead’s nephew. His drive did not go well, landing maybe 15 yards short of where he wanted to be.

“As I got ready to play my second shot, I was debating whether to lay up or take a shot for the green,” Aaron recalled. He rifled through his bag, ultimately settling on his 3-wood. “I heard this collective groan go up in the crowd because they knew how far back I was.”

He swung anyway, clearing the pond and leaving himself a pitch to the green and a birdie putt.

“I had already made up my mind, and I just tried to shake it off and not think about what they’re thinking,” he said. “I was just thinking about making the best possible swing.”

His strike won him the crowd’s confidence anew.

“As I’d walk down the fairway on 15, I’d hear the crowd roar and make these comments like, ‘You’ve got it won,’” he said. “And I’d think, ‘You are so wrong, pal. I’ve got a lot of work to do.’”

No. 16: Redbud | Par 3, 170 yards

No. 16 is dominated by water and three foreboding bunkers that surround the green. Patrons generally flock to a grandstand and a hill along the left edge, while still more fill in around the green.

1991, Augusta National/Getty Images; 2020, Doug Mills/The New York TImes

In his Masters debut in 1991, Phil Mickelson was on the 18th green when Nicklaus and Tom Watson were playing No. 16, several hundred yards to his southwest.

“One of them made the putt from down below to the front right up-on-top pin, and the place erupted to the point where the ground actually shook, and you could feel the vibrations in my feet,” Mickelson said. “And moments later the other player — I don’t know who putted first between Tom and Jack — made the same putt and the place erupted again.”

Mickelson added his own moment in 2004, the year he won the Masters for the first time, when he made a final-round putt on 16 and entered a tie for the lead.

“I could feel the ground shake there and the energy and my hair standing up and my body’s almost shaking from the vibration of the ground,” Mickelson said. “That was my favorite moment that occurred from my playing.”

Of course, one man’s glory on the 16th hole can fuel another’s demise. Justin Rose had just made birdie there during the final round in 2007 and was a shot off the lead. But as Rose stood at the 17th tee, Woods was working on 16.

“He hit a beautiful shot in there that used the contours, came down close. Crowd was going crazy,” Rose said. “I was just like, ‘Wow, this is the back nine of Augusta on a Sunday.’ I had that out‑of‑body experience where like I’m living what I watched on TV as a kid so many times. Probably made double up 17, so it kind of taught me to stay focused next time.”

No. 18: Holly | Par 4, 465 yards

A new champion’s celebration often happens on its green, so fans surround most of 18 in hopes of witnessing history. Augusta National even acknowledges that the surrounding area has been “contoured to improve sight lines for spectators.”

1998, Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto via Getty Images; 2020, Doug Mills/The New York TImes

“I’ve always watched the Masters and wondered, ‘How could anybody make a putt on the 18th green to win the Masters? How does anybody do that?’” O’Meara said. “And then, of course, at 41 years of age, there I was. I was fortunate and hit a good putt right off the putter — I knew I hit a good putt — but I had no idea what was going to transpire. I never thought to myself while I was over it, ‘Mark, if you make this, you’re going to win the green jacket, you’re going to be a Masters champion.’ I just don’t think you can go there.”

The crowd roared moments later.

“When it went in and my arms and hands went up in the air and everybody stood up around the green and their hands went up in the air, I was truly more in shock and disbelief as to what the heck just happened,” O’Meara said.

Source: Golf -

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