It’s the most spectacular time of year in professional golf, and Charlie Rymer’s here to share his thoughts on The Masters experience – including some things many golf fans may not realize, and his picks to contend this week for the green jacket.
By Charlie Rymer
It’s that time of year again. The flowers are blooming, I have no voice, and the world is looking to Augusta. This will be my 11th consecutive year covering The Masters for Westwood One radio. My broadcast position is 40 feet from the front left hole location at 18 green. It’s a plum assignment and, believe me, I understand that.
The Masters has a rhythm that it follows year in and year out. And I’m not just talking about the golf. I stay at the same house, eat at the same restaurants, catch up with the same friends at the same place and time, and often it’s the only time I see them these days. For those of us fortunate enough to cover The Masters, this week is a homecoming of sorts.
I like to look at story lines for the week in a methodical way. But first, I’ll point out a few things that many Masters Patrons and golf fans may not realize.
Augusta National is a beautiful but challenging walk. If you have never been on the grounds, then you don’t have an appreciation of the elevation change from its highest point, the first tee, to its lowest point, the 12th green. It’s a magnificent 7-mile hike. And the pollen is in full force. Everything is in bloom and it’s beautiful, but there is a price to be paid for the beauty. Players (and announcers) struggle with inflammation and reduced energy. For these reasons, and more than at any other major championship, many players reduce practice rounds and preparation to manageable levels. The veterans know that having energy in reserve coming down the stretch late in The Masters is vital. So it’s not uncommon to see players on the course for just nine holes at a time early in the week. And those top players have often paid visits to Augusta in the weeks and months prior to The Masters to get their homework done early. If you don’t bring your “A” game with you to Augusta, it’s very unlikely you’ll find it there.
Changes to the course are often a big story for Masters week, and this year will be no exception. Most of the attention will be on Hole No. 5, which has been straightened with a new tee that adds 45 yards. Fairway bunkers have been repositioned, and the green has been rebuilt. Over the years this hole has lost its bite, but now it has returned with a vengeance. The three-hole stretch of Nos. 4, 5 and 6 now may be the toughest on the golf course. A less notable change is the back portion of 18 green. The front portion is the same, but we may see a new hole location on the back left or back right. There is more real estate on the top tier at 18 now.
Let’s move on to the players. As long as they can stand up and hold a golf club, Tiger and Phil will be a threat at The Masters. Experience is key here. Positive experience is even more important, and they both have had their fair share. The drive down Magnolia Lane turns back the clock for these two Masters champions, and they both believe they can win. In golf, belief is 95 percent of the battle. And I believe the start is critical for both. Neither can afford to fall behind early. Start strong, and the world will get behind Tiger and Phil.
The top of the world in golf right now is Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, and a strong argument can be made for each of these three to win this week. I recently spent some time with Johnson, and he told me that he’s getting back to his 2017 form. That’s bad news for his fellow competitors. Rose has reduced his schedule to peak for this week. Sometimes that strategy gets dicey. McIlroy has been very consistent, and his win at THE PLAYERS on a course that doesn’t suit him very well showed me that he’s ready for a monster year. Of these top three, I like McIlroy’s chances the best. He’s the most comfortable hitting the power draw off the tee, and the importance of that is critical on scoring holes at Augusta.
I’ve also got my eye on a few contenders. Matt Kuchar is on form despite “distractions.” Local product Kevin Kisner comes in off a huge WGC-Dell Match Play victory. And Francesco Molinari looks like he could take down James Bond in a cage match. Beyond those players, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Patrick Cantlay make a run. This young man has been through a lot on and off the course, and he’s ready to step up to the next level. And finally … Bubba Watson. He was born to play The Masters, and is always a threat no matter how poorly he’s putted for the last month or so.
If you can’t get to Augusta, head down to the local market to grab some pimento cheese spread and a loaf of white bread. Slap together a sammy and plop in that favorite chair in front of your TV. Maybe even grab a glass of sweet tea. Just don’t run to the fridge. No running allowed here. Open your windows and let some fragrance in. Take a deep breath and relax. Slow down a bit. You’re almost on the grounds.
I hope everyone enjoys The Masters. I know I will.