ESPN Suffers Transmission Failures During 2019 Masters; Round 1 Ratings Down From 2018

I write for Golfweek on the tech issues for ESPN and a surprising drop in round 1 ratings given the hype for this Masters.

The social media account has Tiger “hitting” birdies too on top of, uh, rock and roll going to commercial? Glad Clifford Roberts wasn’t around to see this…

Round One Wrap, Day Two Preview: Tricky Pins No Defense Against Soft And Wind (When It's Down)

So goes the wind, so goes scoring at Augusta National. That seemed to be the takeaway Thursday after tough, swirling winds kept scoring in check and players pleased with their under par scores early. The afternoon wave suffered early, but if they survived the difficult front nine, the wind laying down late led to a birdie barrage that put afternoon starters Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson at the top.

As I note here for Golfweek, players brought up the hole locations after their round and I interpret what that means.

The day one locations can be referenced here. No let up in the tucked hole locations on a soggy day 2 morning:

The big stat on so many minds given the leaderboard and history:

The shot and moment of the day belonged to Bryson DeChambeau, whose 18th hole second shot hit the flagstick and stayed out, leading to his ninth birdie of the round and the co-lead with Brooks Koepka. The magical finish and story from Beth Ann Nichols.

Phil Mickelson had his best first round since 2010 and is just one stroke back of Koepka and DeChambeau.

Your groupings and TV info here.

WSJ: Augusta National Has Spent $200 Million On Real Estate Purchases, New TV Compound Coming Next

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Thanks to reader JB for Brian Costa’s Wall Street Journal look at Augusta National’s real estate purchases, with the Journal estimating $200 million spent.

From the story, with some really nice graphics and an overhead aerial of 2002 vs. 2018 worth playing with too.

In the areas immediately surrounding golf’s most exclusive club, there are generally only two types of properties: the ones Augusta National has acquired—and the ones it will acquire.

In the last 20 years, the club has spent around $200 million to buy more than 100 pieces of land totaling no fewer than 270 acres, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of property and tax assessor records and interviews with people familiar with the transactions.

To further insulate one of the most hallowed grounds in American sports from the outside world, Augusta National has bought and demolished entire residential blocks and commercial strips. It has purchased properties more than a mile from its iconic clubhouse. And it is hardly slowing down.

The Augusta Chronicle’s Susan McCord looks at the announcement Wednesday by Chairman Fred Ridley explaining what some of these purchases mean: a new television compound across the street.

Until Amen Corner Live Comes Around, How To Use The (Incredible) New Masters.com Toy To Reviewing Every Shot, Every Hole

Christmas in April arrives around 11:15 am-ish ET in the form of Amen Corner Live. That’s about when Andrew Landry, Adam Long and Kevin Tway will be arriving to kick off the coverage from Augusta National’s 11th, 12th and 13th holes.

But before then, you can sample the new Masters.com leaderboard announced Wednesday and see every shot hit so far, within minutes of actually happening. The early signs are beyond encouraging.

A few observations:

—We are already seeing new camera angles and shots we have not seen before.

—The shots include graphics with score information as well.

—The design is simple and makes sense on a desktop or on the Masters app.

—Speed is varying, from within minutes of a player completing the hole to a half-hour in some cases.

Here’s how to use it:

Pull up any Masters leaderboard, both traditional and modern views. Players whose score features a while backdrop will feature a replay of all shots. Scores in grey have yet to be posted.

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The look on mobile:

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Ridley Draws The Line On Distance? No 13th Hole Changes Until Distance Report Arrives

The predicted (second) lengthening of Augusta National’s 13th hole will not be happening in the summer of 2019 based on Chairman Fred Ridley’s prepared remarks delivered to the media Wednesday.

Read carefully and read between those lines…

It should come as no surprise to any of you that we continue to study other enhancements to the golf course.  That includes much‑talked‑about changes, potential changes, to the 13th hole. 

Admittedly, that hole does not play as it was intended to play by Jones and MacKenzie.  The momentous decision that I've spoken about and that Bobby Jones often spoke about, of going for the green in two, is to a large extent, no longer relevant. 

Although we now have options to increase the length of this hole, we intend to wait to see how distance may be addressed by the governing bodies before we take any action.

I think the former USGA president may have just suggested he senses action is coming.

I’m sorry, I interrupted…

In doing so, we fully recognize that the issue of distance presents difficult questions with no easy answers.  But please know this:  The USGA and The R&A do have the best interests of the game at heart.  They recognize the importance of their future actions.  You can be assured that we will continue to advocate for industry‑wide collaboration in support of the governing bodies as they resolve this very important topic. 

Of course, no resolution has been the stance of the PGA Tour, PGA of America and most major manufacturers, so the idea of a conclusion to the liking of Mr. Ridley and Augusta National would seem to include some form of new distance regulation. Or a new tee that they clearly do not want to add.

First Of First World Matters: Augusta Country Club Now Visible From Augusta National

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While Big Oak gabbers have been looking over shoulders for a more interesting conversation, some have noticed the shocking sight of Augusta Country Club in the distance.

Now, most people would appreciate such views to capture the scale and grandeur of a property, but Augusta National values its privacy. So the ability to see through may not be something the club is too excited about.

From Doug Stutsman’s Augusta Chronicle story:

After a land deal between the two clubs in 2017, Augusta Country Club underwent a regrassing and bunker renovation project through most of last year, while holes Nos. 8 and 9 received an architectural change. During the project, which forced Augusta Country Club to close its course for 5 1/2 months, trees were removed from No. 8, in turn leaving a more unobstructed view of both courses.

“Taking out trees to the left of No. 8 at Augusta Country Club really opened it up,” Mize said. “But, look, these are two great clubs. Two tremendous clubs. So this is OK. This isn’t a bad thing.”

2019 Masters Picks Roundup: Will A Soft Course Favor Bombers?

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The tradition unlike another other

I penned this almost-opinion piece for Golfweek about the soft conditions and whether the players who carry the ball longest will be an a distinct advantage. My instinct says yes, but Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and others made a case that distance will have just its normal advantage. In part, that may stem from the fairway cut here that has minimized roll in the last decade.

That said, here are the leaders in PGA Tour carry distance.

Remember, No. 5 adds another driver back in the hands of the big boys.

David Dusek looks at the statistics if you’re wanting to validate a case for longer players.

Dan Kilbridge reaches out to the last minute gamblers and fantasy players with his advice for Golfweek.

Ryan Herrington offers up nine "sneaky” picks for Golf World.

ESPN’s Chris Fallica is picking Jon Rahm and expanding his efforts to the Masters, reports Doug Stutsman for the Augusta Chronicle.

The Golf.com gang makes their picks here.

Players React To New Fifth: Long, Tough And The Driver Restored

I penned this piece for Golfweek rounding up player assessments of the remodeled 5th hole.

Jim McCabe at Masters.com looks at the changes and there is a fantastic flyover where the new left hole location resored is visible.

Fred Ridley spoke about the changes today:

As has been reported, last summer, the fifth tee was moved back and shifted away from the fourth green.  In doing so, the fairway landing area was regraded and the bunkers were repositioned.  While this hole now measures 40 yards longer, we believe this change maintains the original design philosophy of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, and not only continues our commitment to keep the course in step with the changing state of the game, but we believe it will have a positive impact on pace of play. 

As part of this renovation, we took the opportunity to rebuild and slightly enlarge the fifth green.  In doing so, we were able to make adjustments to the back left portion of the putting green in order to support new hole locations. 

But an exciting byproduct of this instruction is the improvements to our patron experience.  For the first time, we will route patrons down the right side of the fourth hole, as well as behind the green, providing an attractive vantage point for this challenging par 3. 

The new tee at No. 5 also provides for additional viewing areas, so we feel these holes have been much improved from a patron perspective. 

Here is the Masters Instagram post and flyover embed.

The bunkers are just a bit large off the tee and overwhelming in scale and difficulty given what both Bob Jones and Alister MacKenzie detailed (they were conflicted about those bunkers, with Jones adding them after the course opened and after having shot down their initial inclusion). A drive over those bunkers—314 carry—may not be rewarded with a clean look at the green from the fairway if there is any run to the ball.. It feels like the location of the old bunkers was not adequately filled in, so I suspect the tee shot will actually favor a left to right shape.

The green complex still looks intimidating and in firmer years may prompt a run-up, with the new left hole location an almost impossible birdie unless a player sinks a long putt.

Did Brooks Koepka Slim Down For A Magazine Shoot?

It’s a question on inquiring minds given that he won two majors last year: why did Brooks Koepka go on a diet? When first mentioned, it sounded like a health matter. But as Eamon Lynch notes in this wrap up of Koepka’s Masters press conference where Koepka revealed the recent end to a 1800-calorie-a-day diet, blood-testing and no gym time has his energy levels coming back.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year attributes that to some minor health issues that began at the Players last month. “Just had a bunch of blood work and trying to figure out what was going on.  The diet I was on was probably not the best,” Koepka admitted. “I was like 1,800 calories a day.  I mean, you’re not going to be in the best physical shape at that point. You look at somebody like Michael Phelps or somebody like that eating 6,000 or 7,000 calories by lunch time. But I wanted to do it and try to lose some weight, and maybe went about it a little too aggressively for just a long period of time and the intensity of what I was doing.”

One possible reason for Koepka’s intense effort to get lean: according to reports, the famously buff golfer will appear in the buff in ESPN’s Body Issue, which will be released later this summer.

Golfers know the history of the sport has seen players transform their bodies in short time with poor results, but as Brandel Chamblee notes last night on Live From, this one may be unprecedented in sports history given Koepka’s recent form.

Patrick Reed Concerned His Family Will Try To Watch His Masters Defense

Excellent reporting by Karen Crouse of the New York Times on Patrick Reed’s continued family issues, including his frustration with an inability to have his estranged dad ejected from tournament spectating.

Make sure to take in the full story: it’s strange and of course, sad. And maybe unprecedented for golf:

Reed’s parents live six miles from Augusta National Golf Club, in a two-story, Southern-style Colonial replete with a bedroom shrine to their first child and only son, who hasn’t stepped foot in the house since 2012. This week should be a joyous homecoming for Reed, who led Augusta State (now Augusta University) to back-to-back national championships and will preside over Tuesday’s legends-laden Champions dinner. But instead it has all the makings of a nightmare, with his acrimonious relationship with his family threatening to become as much a part of this year’s Masters narrative as his attempt to become the first golfer since Tiger Woods in 2002 to successfully defend his title.

“I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they show up,” Reed said.

Bryson's Pace Of Play Theory: Walk Quickly Then Analyze Deliberately

This was an interesting and legitimate claim made by Bryson DeChambeau in his Monday Masters press conference, unfortunately for him, the rules only address the amount of time taken when reaching the ball.

Q.  Where is that balance between trying to play at a pretty good pace, and getting all the information you want to get before hitting a shot? 

BRYSON DECHAMBEAU:  Well, that's a great question.  I think we do a fantastic job of taking all the information we can in the allotted amount of time. 

Now the one piece of information that a lot of people miss is the walk to the ball.  There's a three‑minute walk, 2 1/2 minute walk that people don't take into account.  You can gain a lot more time by walking 15 seconds quicker to the ball than you can by five seconds over a shot. 

So people don't take that into account when we talk about slow play.  I may be a guy that hits it up there farther than someone, and they are taking their merry time getting to their golf ball and it's behind me and I'm already up there and I can't get any of my numbers because I'm right in their line of sight. 

Once they do their whole process that takes maybe 25 seconds compared to my 35‑second to 40‑second preparation to hit the shot, by the time we walk back over and get the number, do all that, you can view me as a slow player.

In the end I look at it from another standpoint saying there's a whole other piece to this puzzle that we are not looking at yet.

Answers For Masters Bucket Listers: How to Make the Most of Your Masters Visit

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One of the great privileges of covering a few Masters comes in the form of emails I now annually receive asking for the best way to maximize a day at the Masters.

Since practice rounds and events like the Augusta National Women’s Amateur have added more opportunities to visit here, short term visits to the Masters have become more commonplace. This adds a sense of urgency and dare I say stress to a visit.

In this long-form piece for Masters.com, I try to cover all of the key questions about folding chair placement, Founders Circle photos, the Golf Shop, best places to watch and Georgia Peach ice Cream Sandwiches, all so you can focus on what matters: watching golf and having a great time.

1939: When The Masters Became The Masters

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Most of us would be giving the wrong answer if we said the Masters was officially born in year two of the tournament, but as John Steinbreder explains in this Masters.com story, the rollout was not really official until 1939. There’s hope for The Tournament Players Championship/The Players Championship/The Players/The PLAYERS!

As much as Jones disdained the name, it had more than its fair share of early adopters. In fact, Roberts relates how a mutual friend of theirs, Tom Barrett, was so disappointed that the competition was not being called the Masters that he told a newspaper reporter friend about it. That person then wrote a story on the matter, which was one reason several members of the media referred to the event during its inaugural playing as the Masters Tournament.

“By 1935, most of the media did so, and in 1936, no one except the Club called the Tournament by any other name than the Masters,” Roberts wrote.

The First Masters Since 1950 Without His Ownself

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Bill Fields with a nice remembrance and Masters history of the late Dan Jenkins’ era, a record of attendance (68 years)n and productivity unlikely to be matched.

Here’s how it all started:

It was 1951. Jenkins was a 22-year-old Texas Christian University student and golf-team member moonlighting as a sportswriter for his hometown newspaper, The Fort Worth Press. His beat essentially was Ben Hogan, a native son, who made Jenkins’ maiden journey to Georgia a memorable one with a two-stroke victory.

“The press tent was indeed a tent and open at two sides to catch the breezes,” Jenkins said in 2018 of the first time he reported from Augusta National. “Table-model typewriters were provided, but you brought along your own portable in case the one at your assigned seat wasn’t worth the struggle. Light bulbs dangled from the ceiling above. A crowded row of Western Union operators was on hand to send your stories, often turning them into puzzles in their haste. You kept a carbon copy to use when calling the office to clean things up. Almost everybody smoked every waking moment.”

His Ownself’s seat this week. Boy I’ll miss those drive-bys to ask a question!

How About A Little Drive, Chip And Putt During Masters Practice Rounds?

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The PGA of America brought back the old long drive contest at the PGA Championship and it’s been a nice practice round addition.

After another successful Drive, Chip and Putt at Augusta National, I sense the format has not picked up enough steam outside of this event. Why aren’t more junior tournaments kicking off with a fun DCP, or club invitationals or…Masters practice rounds?

I present a short case for Golfweek and suggest that many in the Masters field could not pull off what two national finalists accomplished in 2019: making both putts on the 18th green. Amazing. These kids today.

ANWA: Highest Rated Amateur Golf Event Since 2003, Women's Event In Almost Three Years

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The Augusta National Women’s Amateur final round on NBC was the highest-rated overnight rating for a women’s golf telecast since the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open final round on Fox according to Nielsen Company.

The .96 was also a big number in the amateur golf rating world. For Immediate Release from Golf Channel:

INAUGURAL AUGUSTA NATIONAL WOMEN’S AMATEUR ON NBC SCORES HIGHEST-RATED AMATEUR GOLF TELECAST – MEN’S OR WOMEN’S – IN 16 YEARS

AUGUSTA, Ga., (April 7, 2019) – The final round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, won by Jennifer Kupcho (Senior, Wake Forest University), is the highest-rated amateur golf telecast – men’s or women’s – in 16 years, with a .96 Overnight Rating (Noon-3 p.m. ET/9 a.m.-Noon PT) Saturday on NBC (1.36 Overnight Rating, 2003 U.S. Amateur Men’s Finals won on the 37th hole of a sudden death playoff, from 4-6:15 p.m. ET on NBC), according to data released today by The Nielsen Company. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur began with a GOLF Films short, When I Grow Up, I Want To..., which has garnered nearly one million views on social media this weekend.

Before We Move On: The Inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur Exceeds Nearly All Expectations

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When Fred Ridley shocked the Masters world a year ago with the announcement of a women’s amateur event to precede the Masters, it was admittedly hard to see the event working out of the chute. There were just too many questions about how the event could click on a golf course untested by female players who would only get one practice round.

Not only did the skeptics have their questions answered by a magical performance from two exceptional talents in Maria Fassi and winner Jennifer Kupcho, something unthinkable happened: we were reminded of a better time for Augusta National when the course functioned…just better. The patrons noticed on site and even viewers reached out to ask if the pace was as fast as it looked (it really wasn’t…I explain why it seemed that way in this course assessment for Golfweek.)

Beth Ann Nichols files a wonderful account of the day and the stellar performance by Kupcho shooting 67 even after a migraine appeared at the 8th tee for the first time since her freshman year in college.

The day will forever be remembered by this epic, foot-on-the-pedal shot from Kupcho. She was two back at the time.

And as if scripted, she put the exclamation point on the round with this birdie putt at the 18th:

As for improvements, a few thoughts:

—The one day gap between the opening two rounds and the finale at Augusta National actually worked thanks to players suggesting they enjoyed the reprieve after the cut was made. It still should be changed. A Wednesday practice round for all competitors followed by a Chairman’s dinner at Augusta National seems more fitting of a proper championship. Two rounds at Champions Retreat, followed by the Saturday final round at Augusta National would require less explaining.

—A merchandise shop closure around noon ET in future years should get more patrons out on the course watching some stellar golf. I get it people, you came to shop but you were a little slow to find your way out to…Augusta National on a perfect day for spectating.

—Better merchandise. Even with a fantastic logo that already took on a timeless appearance, the offerings were slim and uninspired. Oddly absent given the club’s understanding of history, there were few items with the “inaugural” designation for this historic day (a poster playing off the original Augusta National Invitational program cover would have been outstanding).

Any thoughts from out there on what you saw via the broadcast or from on site as a patron?

ANWA Final Round Is Here: Augusta National Hosts Its Second Non-Masters

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A year ago when the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was announced, it prompted mostly questions and a healthy dose of skepticism.

As a big crowd rolls into ANGC this morning, I note for Golfweek a few of the questions already answered by the Friday practice round. Of course, the players were assessing golf on a quiet, relaxing day. Things will inevitably change a bit with 20,000 on hand.

You can follow scoring here.

One stroke back, Maria Fassi’s diary after day three and first round at Augusta was once again entertaining.

The Forecaddie spotted another new female member Friday.

There were two magnificent moments on the first tee Saturday morning. Beth Ann Nichols tells the surreal story of Anna Redding returning to Augusta National and hitting the first shot after just making the cut.

For history buffs, the answer to a great trivia question is answered by Ward Clayton, who explains how this is the second non-Masters tournament played here.

And I was fortunate to witness the honorary starters ceremony. Safe to say, they do great openings here in Augusta and all four legends hit perfect tee shots. Incredible stuff:

NBC’s telecast starts at 12 ET and kicks off with this mood setter:

The Female Golfing Greats Who Changed Bobby Jones' Life: Golf Channel Feature Debuting Today

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I’m very excited to share the story this week of Bobby Jones and the great female amateurs who intersected with is life at key times, influencing his temperament, humility and ultimately, his vision for Augusta National.

The new women’s amateur event underway and concluding Saturday on NBC allowed us the opportunity to showcase three of the all time great female amateur golfers, but also explain how, as with so much of his life, Jones was an outlier when it came to admiring, respecting and benefitting from his friendships with Alexa Stirling, Joyce Wethered and Marion Hollins.

A Golf Channel feature produced by Dominic Dastoli and written and voiced by yours truly appears today on Live From The Augusta National Women’s Amateur (around 10:30-11 ET on Golf Channel.) . I’ll be on to discuss the story and why went about this. There will be other airings but please tune in and share your thoughts!

In the meantime, David Owen, who contributed to our feature, continues the great work of David Outerbridge and Bob Beck in telling the story of Marion Hollins, 1921 US Amateur champion, giant figure in the 1920s golf world and an underrated figure in shaping the development of Augusta National.

From Owen’s New Yorker piece this week:

Hollins, in addition to providing the original model for Augusta National, made one small direct contribution to its golf course—as I myself discovered in the late nineties, while I was researching my book “The Making of the Masters.” In 1931, Roberts complained to MacKenzie, in a letter, that MacKenzie wasn’t spending enough time in Augusta during the construction of the course. The main reason was that MacKenzie had money troubles of his own, including the fact that Augusta National had stopped paying him. But in his place he sent Hollins, who at that point was more than flush. “She has been associated with me in three golf courses, and not only are her own ideas valuable, but she is thoroughly conversant in regard to the character of the work I like,” he wrote to Roberts. “I want her views and also her personal impressions in regard to the way the work is being carried out.” Roberts was unhappy not to have MacKenzie himself, and he said that Jones would be unhappy, too. But MacKenzie defended Hollins in another letter, to the engineer who was supervising construction of the course. “I do not know any man, who has sounder ideas,” he wrote, and added, “She was most favourably impressed with it.”

And the magic of the Internet, it’s now posted: