The Masters week is here, and Tiger Woods is in great shape! End of story – lets just stop here and go watch golf! The Masters, played at the Augusta National Golf Club, is the first golf major of the year and it is perhaps the most prestigious golf event in the world. Rory McIlroy will be chasing his first Green Jacket and by so doing complete a career grand slam, Tiger Woods will be looking to win for the fifth time at Augusta and bag another major since his 2008 US Open victory. Patrick Reed will be eager to defend his title, the young Justin Harding will be looking to make an impression as will his SA country men Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen.
The odds have McIlroy, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Woods, Paul Casey, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Tommy Fleetwood and Oosthuizen as the top 10 favourites to win this weekend (www.golfdigest.com).
Woods will play round one and two in the company of Spain’s Jon Rahm and China’s HaoTong Li whilst McIlroy will play with USA’s Rickie Fowler and Australian Cameron Smith (www.pgatour.com). Reed, the defending champion will play with the US Amateur winner Viktor Hovland and Webb Simpson.
The Masters is extra special for many reasons; to begin with it is the only golf major that has a permanent home – Augusta, And this venue is unlike any other, it is exclusive, majestic, awesome and yes, controversial. Both the venue and the tournament are steeped in tradition – the winner receives the Green Jacket and the champions’ dinner has become a traditional event.
Fans attending the Masters are referred to as ‘patrons’ and the rules governing their behaviour are strictly enforced. Patrons must not run, or get drunk at Augusta and cell phones are strictly not allowed. So whilst many venues and tournaments encourage fans to take photos and share the same on social media, Augusta has refused to join that bandwagon.
By the way, two very interesting and encouraging events took place this past week; the first was the staging of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship and the second was the staging of a full field mixed professional tournament on the European Challenge Tour that included Challenge Tour players, Seniors and Lady golf pros from the Ladies European Tour.
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship was played as a 54-hole event and it invited the top 72 women amateurs. The first 36 holes were played at the Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, whilst the final 18 holes were played at Augusta National. Unfortunately no Kenyan lady or girl player qualified to play or was invited to in this inaugural championship – perhaps in subsequent years. Africa was represented by Kaleigh Telfe from South Africa.
According to the Augusta chairman, Fred Ridley, the club will continue to focus on the growth of amateur golf and golfers. “To date, all of our grow-the-game initiatives have been focused on amateur golf and amateur golfers,” he said. “We elected to conduct a women’s amateur tournament for the same reason, but we really wanted this to continue in a grow-the-game sort of mode. I do think that what has happened is going to translate and be a real benefit for professional golf and for the LPGA.”
The winner of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship was Jennifer Kupcho, USA whilst Maria Fassi, Mexico, was the runner up.
The other interesting event was the Jordan Mixed Open presented by Ayla – the first of its kind on the European Challenge Tour. This event included 40 players each from the Challenge Tour, the Staysure Tour and the Ladies European Tour; three amateurs were also invited to make the total field of 123. Is the future of professional golf? A mix of Tours?
To make the competition ‘fair’ players from each Tour teed off on different tee boxes with the Challenge Tour players facing a total 7,100 yards, the Seniors played 6,601 yards and the ladies played 6,139 yards. Interesting times indeed!