So Augusta is over for another year and as usual, there were plenty of talking points. Here are the top five things I took home from this years event, in no particular order.
Augusta National is a Hard Course!
Every year around Masters time, a couple of posts will appear on the various internet forums. These vary slightly but boil down to what an ‘average’ golfer’ would score round Augusta in Sunday tournament conditions. Opinions will differ wildly, probably until someone compares someone else to Hitler, then the thread gets closed down, but I have yet to see the definitive answer because, well obviously enough, there isn’t one.
You will usually get someone posting that they played (had a friend who played) Augusta and ‘it wasn’t so tough’ but when pushed for proof, the person will usually fade into the background.
There are some clues though as to just how tough a test Augusta really is. The first is something called the media lottery. Every year after the main event, the media reps present can take part in a lottery with the chance to play Augusta in Sunday conditions. Often these guys are pretty good golfers and some of them are kind enough to share their experiences online, for example here.
Seems like this guy did pretty well, doesn’t it? Remember, this is far from an average hack and it is worth noting that he actually played the course from a much shorter yardage. As he says, trying to hit the right part of the green is far easier with a wedge in your hand than a five iron!
And that’s really the key and one of the reason’s why this is such a tough course. Television doesn’t do justice to some of the slopes on the course, from tee to green. Players are often hitting off uneven lies and aiming for a ridiculously small portion of the green. If you miss it, suddenly your 10 footer hits a roll off and you are trying to stop a chip on a billiard table or watching a putt accelerate twice as far past the hole as it started.
Of course the real give away is watching how Sergio played the 15th on Thursday. Sergio who won last year in case you had forgotten. Also one of the best ball strikers in world golf. Yes, this video is showing that guy shooting a thirteen! When we admired McIlroy, Reed and Spieth going low, it is important to remember just how tough a test this is. these guys are really, really good!
Jordan Spieth Might Be the Most Underrated Golfer on the Planet
This is going to seem crazy given his already amazing record, but it is easy to underestimate just how good Spieth really is. It might be because of the swing which doesn’t have any of Reed’s easy grace or McIlroy’s perfect balance and power. It might also be because his charge never actually took him to the top of the leaderboard by close of play on Sunday. Maybe people still remember his blow-up two years ago.
However, I have seen a couple of comments from fellow pros recently saying just what a competitive animal he really is. One was an interview with Shane Lowry and the other, perhaps more telling, was from Roroy McIlroy. He described Spieth as something along the lines of the best competitor out there.
Ok, he didn’t win the tournament, but he did come pretty damn close and it took a very solid last round from Reed to keep him out at well as some bad luck as Spieth clipped a tree branch on the 18th tee shot where his 8 under round (on a Sunday at the Masters, remember?) could easily have been a 9 under! I think you would be a brave man to bet against Spieth adding to his tally of 3 majors and he surely has a good shot at making the career grand slam. He hits it a long way (yes, he does. Despite what you may have read, he is far from a short-knocker), his iron play is very solid and nobody is going to argue against his skills on the greens. At 24, is probably not at his peak yet either. And just in case you forget, think about how he fought his way back to an open win with his ball sitting pretty much off the course behind a sand dune at the 13th at royal Birkdale last year. Not mentally strong enough? really?
Rory McIlroy is (Nearly) Back to his Best
I will hold up my hand and say that I am a big McIlroy fan, so I might not be completely objective here. For most people, it has been pretty clear that he hasn’t been at his peak for a couple of years. There are some pretty good reasons why this is the case, from complications in his personal life to injury, notably to his back. One other factor that seemed particulalry worrying has been his performance on the greens.
Rory is quite possibly the best driver of the ball ever. He hits it long and is far from wayward. He can be absolutely superlative with his irons and around the greens he has lovely touch. He also knows how to win tournaments (23 professional wins and four grand slams by age 28 anyone?) However, his putting has been everything from average to woeful over the last season or two. he has changed techniques, putters and coaches but it has been at best hot and cold.
If you look at his putting at the last round in Augusta, you might think that nothing has changed. From the miss for eagle on the second, literally nothing seemed to drop for him. So his putting troubles are still there? Actually, I don’t think so.
Apparently, he had a quick putting lesson from Brad Faxon before the tournament and he really did make a lot of putts in the first three rounds. His stroke looked free and easy and heading into round four, I fancied his chances. unfortunately, his stroke seemed to ‘freeze up’ and he lost the free release of the putter he had for the first three days. Was this down to the pressure? Who knows? Watching his rounds again, it seems pretty clear (at least to me!) that he is not far from having all the pieces click together and I will be having a little wager on him getting another major this year. He is currently tied 18th in strokes gained putting on the PGA tour and trending even lower 😉
Single Length Irons Could Win a Major
Single length irons have been a hot topic in golf for the last two years. Personally, I have a couple of sets and have reviewed them in detail and played with them enough to have an informed opinion on the subject. Unfortunately, ‘informed’ is about the last thing you get with most single length discussions. Opinions go from ‘gimmick’ to ‘game-changer’ and everything in between!
I don’t want to re-hash my view here, so if you are interested in the whole single length thing you can read about it elsewhere on the site or see my recommendation for your first single length set here. One thing is for certain though-any player winning a major sporting a set of single length irons is going to give an immense amount of validation to the concept. Although he was never really in the mix at Augusta, Bryson DeChambeau was close enough with his single length set to make the prospect of a major win a real possibility.
Now DeChambeau himself is quite a dividing figure. Some will say he is a refreshing change for the game and it is clear that he has his own unique perspective on things, whether floating his golf balls in saline solution to see if they are up to standard to his almost fanaticial study of the swing. Others will call him a self-publicist, looking to be successful more through being different than via any golfing success.
To me, he is simply an interesting character. Without doubt he is smart enough to realise that success in a social media world is as much about how you portray yourself as any particular talent. However, he certainly isn’t the only person out there doing this and I really don’t see any problem with that at all. Look how the Bryan brothers got their trick shot stuff out there before tour success. Or what about Paige Spiranac who gets slated for the difference between her online and on course success. Are we saying they are wrong? If so, people need to stop living in the past and accept the world has moved on.
Bryson is certainly more than a media creation given his US amateur/NCAA double and the fact that he has already won on the PGA.
As a sponsored athlete, it is easy to take what he says about single length clubs with a grain of salt. It is worth remembering that he spent a fair bit of time with his coach and the people at Edel DIYing a set of single length irons before this money hit the table. This to me is at least proof that he believes in the concept. A major win by him would open the floodgates to all manufacturers launching their own sets and it becoming common at all levels of the game in a couple of years.
Love Him or hate him, Patrick Reed can Play!
And finally, the winner. Patrick Reed might be the one of few guys on tour who is even more controversial than DeChambeau! This seems strange at first, when you look at his beautiful, flowing swing his obvious competitive streak (just ask Rory-twice!) and the overall quality of his game. And yet…………….
Think back to arrival on the first tee on Sunday. You have Reed, the Amercian who went to college just down the road from the course, who took on Rory in the final day’s Ryder cup pairing and won. Then you have the Irishman, never won at Augusta, the figurehead of Europe’s Ryder cup efforts. It should be obvious who the crowd would be cheering for, shouldn’t it? Well if you guessed Reed, go to the back of the class!
So just what is it about Reed that seems to wind people up the wrong way? Maybe the first thing is his perceived arrogance. A player arriving on tour saying that he was already in the top five guys out there is bound to rub people up the wrong way. This is far from the first example of this sort of thing though-Tiger himself was a good example when he said he was out to win that first tournament (he certainly backed up his words with actions though!)
He does have a somewhat checkered past outside of these claims too. He played for a year at the university of Georgia but was dismissed from the team. The reasons for this dismissal aren’t entirely clear with Reed himself talking about alcohol violations but others mentioning other possible issues (seeShane Ryan’s book and aninterview from blogger Stephanie Wei with a former U Georgia assistant coach.)
Most recently, his difficult relation with his parents was given a lot of airtime after the Masters win.
Without dismissing all of this stuff, it is tough to say what the truth of Reed’s character really is from a distance. As with any high profile figure, we tend to form impressions based on how the media portrays them. Who knows what the truth is? We are certainly atracted to some players more than others and personally, I don’t see myself shouting for Reed anytime soon, but golfers are like the rest of us-shades of grey rather than black and white.
What is sure and certain is that the boy can play. Reed played the best golf out of the field over the four days, plain and simple. His game is very solid from tee to green. While he has his favourite shots (draw off the tee) he showed that he can play anyway he chooses with that funky fade swing with his driver. His swing is always easy on the eye, like a younger Fred Couples and his claim to be one of the top five players in the world is currently pretty much on the money. His official ranking is 11th, but he looks to be worth a few places better even than that on current form.
So there you have it-the year’s first major and it was a great one to start with. Of course, it throws up more questions than answers but for this golf fan I am salivating at the prospect of another three majors of this quality in 2018. Bring it on!