“On the Fringes” is a column that highlights sports that often do not receive as much coverage as the major sports. In these sports there are amazing moments and incredible athletes that this column looks to recognize.
The best golfers in the world will arrive at Augusta National Golf Course Nov. 12 with the same goal in mind as they have every year — to win a green jacket.
Yet, as with most sports this year, many things will look different.
The Masters Tournament typically takes place the second Sunday of April, but it had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, there will be a new schedule to adjust to the limited daylight in November. There will also be social distancing, just like we’ve seen in all sports and our daily lives.
More impactful will be the lack of patrons to fill the grounds at the Augusta National Golf Course. The patrons that come from all over the world is what makes the Masters the most incredible atmosphere for golf.
The decision to hold the tournament without patrons came as no surprise. Every other golf tournament this season hasn’t hosted fans, but the absence of patrons at the Masters this year means the field is wide open.
The Masters is usually a tournament where the champion is a surprise to golf fans. Five of the last eight Masters champions won their first and only major title victory at Augusta. Bubba Watson, who has won two of the last eight Masters, also has only won a major at Augusta.
This year, however, there will likely be even more unexpected names in contention on Sunday. The lack of a crowd to cheer on the superstars like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson makes it easier for the younger players — who are not used to huge crowds — to compete.
We have already seen the effects that the absence of fans has had on young golfers at the other major tournaments. Twenty-three-year-old Collin Morikawa won the PGA Championship this summer at Harding Park in San Francisco and Matthew Wolff, Cameron Champ and Scottie Scheffler, who are all under the age of 26, were all in contention on Sunday as well. Wolff followed his impressive performance by coming in second at U.S. Open in September.
While the lack of crowds was a factor at the two majors earlier this summer, there is no comparison to the atmosphere that awaits golfers at the Masters. Many iconic moments like Woods' improbable chip in on the 16th hole in 2005 are synonymous with the roars that echo around the course. These roars at the Masters shape the way the game is played. There is added pressure when players can hear that someone just made a huge shot. Without the patrons and the environment they provide, the less experienced players can focus on conquering one of the most challenging courses in the world.
Yet the subdued atmosphere does not mean that the stars should be counted out. Dustin Johnson has been playing some of his best golf as of late, and Rory McIlroy is still looking to complete the grand slam by winning his first green jacket. But the changes to the Masters mean less of an advantage for the stars who have been in these situations before.
There will be an eerie silence at the Masters and the appearance of Augusta National will be different, but the golfers are ready and it should be an exciting weekend. It’s anyone’s green jacket to win.
“On the Fringes" runs every other Thursday.