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The Red Sox, for whatever cosmic reasons, have proved remarkably championship-prolific at the beginning of centuries. By 1918 they had claimed more World Series titles (5) than any team in Major League Baseball. That they wouldn’t win another until 2004 has been, erm, well documented. But listen: They just had a bad century, like the post-Opium War Chinese. Come the Millennium, Deng Xiaoping had re-established his people in the Middle Kingdom, while the Sox, by 2018, had won another four World Series.
The years between 1918 and 2004 weren’t exactly dark. They were periodically robust and eventful, at times heart rending and/or darkly comic. Yet 20 years ago this week, the Red Sox as modern baseball fans know them today — the post-Curse, billion-dollar-appraised, theme-park-residing, culturally monolithic Sox — first revealed their curiously revived championship character to their fans, to the region, and to the Major Leagues at large.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly lightning is caught in a bottle, but here it’s rather clear — coming back from 2 games down to beat the Oakland A’s in the 2003 A.L. Divisional Playoff. The affable-if-mercurial Derek Lowe emerged from the bullpen to close the decisive Game 5, striking out Terrence Long on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to preserve a 1-run victory.
The precise date: 6 October 2003.
Boston would not win the World Series that year. It would lose another, even more dramatic series to the New York Yankees later in October. That epic encounter, and the victory over Oakland, have been further obscured by the Bloody Socks, Idiots, unlikely stolen bases, and fan-enabled 3-run homers of ALCS 2004 — to say nothing of the four World Series that followed. Nevertheless, Boston laid the championship foundation the year prior, with its unlikely victory over the Athletics, long-time nemeses in their own right.
The recent passing of Tim Wakefield, another of this era’s complicated talismen, got me thinking about these emotional building blocks from 20 years ago. It’s only fitting that we celebrate that clinching Game 5, that oft-overlooked Oakland series, its own unlikely heroes, and the hilariously drunken adventure I experienced watching the finale from Spokane.
The Build-Up: Looking back, Red Sox Nation in the fall of 2003 remained hopeful but hopelessly naïve. Unwitting fans actually believed Boston could reverse a century of futility with Grady Little pulling the strings, with Trot Nixon in right, with Nomar at short, with Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson closing games. What’s more, we actually dared to assume the team might win post-season series without David Ortiz performing like a Dominican Paul Bunyan. Ortiz produced a fine 2003 regular season, his first in Boston, but he went 2 for 21 in the Oakland series. Not until 2004 would he cement both his legend and the Big Papi sobriquet, courtesy of the RemDawg.
Accurate foretelling is hard. Even in the direct wake of Oct. 6, 2003, The Nation and its long-suffering citizenry had zero understanding of what was happening, of what was to come. I mean, how could we? The Mo Vaughn Sox made some playoff appearances during the 1990s, including an ALDS elimination game, courtesy of the Albert Belle Indians, on Oct. 7, 1995 (my wedding day). That performance laid the title-winning groundwork for exactly nothing. The acquisition of Pedro Martinez in 1998 did result in an American League Championship Series appearance the following year, but the Yankees proved way too good. Historically dynastic, in fact. And let’s be clear-eyed about those Sox: No team featuring Troy O’Leary batting clean-up was ever that close to winning anything.
The 2003 experience, in the moment, felt similarly competent and perhaps substantial, but never touched by the fates — not until Derek Lowe willed us into the ALCS.
Here’s another important differentiator: Few had realized that a powerful new karma had only recently settled over Fenway and the Red Sox, starting in 2002. That’s the year Ted Williams passed away. As I wrote at the time, Mr. Ballgame had been born in 1918. His all-hit, no-field career didn’t just symbolize Boston’s 80-plus years of championship futility. His carbon-based life form embodied it. The Splinter’s death, however tragic, was tantamount to removing a giant karmic thorn from the paw of Red Sox Nation.
[Ed. This feature was published by McKellar magazine in the spring of 2019. True to its motto — “a golf companion” — McKellar exists entirely as an analog/print entity. It maintains no online incarnation. Accordingly, please see below at PDF version of the story, to read here or via download.]
[August 12, 2023]
My parents, like so many elder Americans, loved The Band. And so it was no surprise the Aug. 8 passing lead guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson resulted in a major outpouring of praise and reflection. Yet very little of The Band’s renown ever made obvious sense, including why its reputation has proved so very durable and Robertson himself so controversial.
It doesn’t follow, for example, that the group responsible for founding the Americana movement would feature a lineup that was 80 percent Canadian. During the late Sixties and Seventies, when the rest of rock and roll grew increasingly psychedelic, star-driven and glam-orous, The Band emerged as a countrified ensemble whose oddly antiquated sound was driven by collaboration and the vocal abilities of not one but three superb lead singers. Robertson wasn’t even one of these front men. Instead he played lead guitar and wrote songs about rusticated figures from the Civil War era. As he would later explain, The Band got famous by zigging when the rest of the rock world zagged.
When one picks over Robertson’s legacy, these signature elements — and his role in them — come easily to mind. It was Robertson, along with pal Martin Scorsese, who organized and filmed The Last Waltz, the much-praised concert movie and easily the most effective, brand-building farewell in music history. Robertson went on to make a bunch of movie soundtracks for Scorsese, including one for the 2023 release, Killers of the Flower Moon. The two collaborated again on When We Were Brothers , a classy rockumentary that framed The Band in a gauzy historical context of Robertson’s devising. Note the title tense: Before anyone else did, his former colleagues came to resent Robertson for his legacy-building facility.
This is not to underplay the man’s artistic gifts, or The Band’s. When Music from Big Pink was released in 1968, it was rightly billed as a transcendent debut from Bob Dylan’s O.G. electric backing band. Dylan himself contributed to the album — and to The Basement Tapes, recorded around the same time, bootlegged for years, but not formally released until 1975. These two works set The Band’s collaborative reputation in stone. Yet Robertson had started writing/arranging most of the songs on subsequent albums because, to hear him tell it, those three lead singers — pianist Richard Manuel, drummer Levon Helm, bassist Rick Danko — had all started abusing a wide variety of drugs in unsustainable quantities. Eventually all three took issue with Robertson’s claims to sole authorship (to say nothing of the royalty money), right up until the day they all died.
I play in a couple bands that cover several Band standards: The Weight, Makes No Difference, Up On Cripple Creek, Rockin’ Chair… They never fail to elicit from Boomers and Gen X folk visceral, sing-along responses that often veer toward the ecstatic, or the weepy. In fact, folks of all ages, including country and bluegrass fans, tend to respond the same way. Their songs come from a curiously nostalgic place, one that Bruce Springsteen has remarked upon: “It’s like you’d never heard them before, and like they’d always been there.”
Robbie Robertson wasn’t solely responsible for this music. Yet, in large part, he did prove responsible for curating, over the course of decades, these ideas and feelings about The Band. He may have understood branding a bit too well, and many longtime fans of The Band reviled him for that, right up till the day Robertson died.
[Ed. The fine folk at Global Golf Post saw fit to publish this column of mine back in June, when the PGA Tour’s partnership/merger with the Saudi Public Investment Fund took everyone by surprise. You can find the full text here.]
In hailing the all-world talents of Nikola Jokic, now an NBA champion (and the most influential Serb since Gavrilo Princip), let’s also recognize that this cornerstone figure was taken #41 in the 2014 NBA Draft, behind Doug McDermott, whom the Nuggets took that year at #11. Don’t get me wrong: Dougy McBuckets has enjoyed a longer NBA career that most. He is, in fact, one of 20 Nugget draftees from the past decade who remain active in this league. That’s the extraordinary organizational lesson delivered by Monday’s clincher.
Observers journalistic and otherwise spent considerable time discussing teambuilding during these playoffs. First, it was the Heat’s predilection for making serviceable NBA squad players of undrafted castoffs. Then, when Denver started to look inevitable, the conversation moved to canny roster-development via the draft, wherein Joker remains Exhibit A.
Yet the larger takeaways for NBA clubs and fans alike are simpler and self-evident: Denver is the league’s best talent evaluator, full stop, thanks to Vice President of Scouting Jim Clibanoff (pictured above) and his crack staff. The Nuggets not only draft more effectively, they also better assess the potential value of Europeans and players discarded by competing NBA franchises. They’ve shown these traits for a decade or more, as I will detail below, and theirs is the best, most practical example of how to develop championship-ready rosters in 2023.
Free agency remains vitally important, of course. I read somewhere during these playoffs that Denver’s title is the first from a Western Conference team not located in California or Texas since the 1979 Seattle Supersonics! Big markets/money will always give “coastal elites” a leg up in luring/landing established stars. Yet Denver has shown league peers how to nullify these advantages in the 21st century. Once the new collective bargain agreement takes effect, and teams cannot afford three max stars going forward (thereby more evenly distributing plus-players around the league), the primacy of talent assessment is only enhanced.
By contrast, it’s time to get real on the most overhyped aspect of any NBA teambuilding discussion, the Draft Lottery. Based on the amount of media attention paid to these first half-dozen picks, one assumes this approach to be a proven strategy. It’s not. The Golden State dynasty was not built via reliance on or maneuvers to enable high lottery picks. LeBron James was a lottery pick 20 years ago; his fellow Laker, Anthony Davis, ran out on the team that picked him no. 1. Kawhi Leonard went 14th and somehow managed to be the best player on two NBA Champions, just north of two separate borders (San Antonio and Toronto).
What’s more, it seems clear to me the Lottery affects championship fortunes and overall roster strength less and less. Lottery picks are, of course, getting younger and younger. It’s no coincidence they are less and less able to produce at the NBA level, especially within the 3-year rookie contract window. Joel Embiid and Zion Williamson are great players, when healthy, but they’ve delivered nothing in terms of playoff success to the teams that contorted their long-term fortunes to acquire them. The demonstrable abilities of these younger and younger men, imbued with evermore AAU-enabled, one-and-done skill sets, makes them less and less NBA ready with every passing year. Why tank any season, much less two or three, to acquire them?
Ed. I’ve contributed dozens of stories to GOLF Magazine through the years (I’ve served on the mag’s world top 100 course-rating panel since 1997). But none landed with such a thud as this one, published in the March 1999 edition. I’ve heard nothing since re. the ill-health or subsequent removal of diseased loblolly pines at Augusta National GC. But then, trees are removed, tees are added, and greens thoroughly renovated at ANGC and we are none the wiser — not until the club issues an official statement, or we see it on television the second weekend in April. The place is leak-proof. For the record, The Eisenhower Tree pictured above was a loblolly pine. It was taken down in 2014, because it was hit by lightening. Or so reads the party line.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Overlooking each fairway like a glowering gallery of green giants, the stately Georgia pines here at Augusta National Golf Club represent arguably the most recognizable feature at a course replete with recognizable features. Because The Masters is the lone major championship played at the same venue year after year, competitors, spectators and television viewers have established an unrivaled connection with and affection for Augusta National. Where else could a slow-moving stream and a few magnolia beds take on such mythic, eye-moistening qualities? Of course, fabled Rae’s Creek comes into play on just three holes whereas the towering pines frame nearly every shot. Their lower limbs pruned up to 100 feet, these majestic loblollies stand silent, like so many Doric columns, quietly lining the verdant corridors of America’s foremost golfing shrine.
Okay, reality check: Nothing lives forever. The patrician powers-that-be at Augusta National may have kept commercialism at relative bay and held the price of a chicken salad sandwich under $3, but they can’t fight Mother Nature. Trees are organic. They die, and a number of Augusta’s trademark loblolly pine are doing just that; some allege before their time.
Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which comprise 90 percent of the trees at the National, can be felled by myriad “stress factors,” as arborists like to call them: lightning strikes, disease, root pathogens, even the dreaded southern pine beetle. They can also whither and die following long, healthy lives of some 300 years in their natural, forest environment. Yet some of Augusta’s prized loblolly aren’t so healthy and may not witness their second century of shot-making — or so say certain tree-savvy visitors to Augusta who have noticed a change. Robust loblollies sport needles so darkly green they appear almost black from a distance. However, a disturbing jaundice has afflicted the relatively young pines that stand hard along Augusta’s 18th fairway — a clear sign of ill health, the experts say. Last year, during his first trip back to Augusta in a quarter century, architect Desmond Muirhead was floored by their lack of vitality. Other veteran observers of Augusta, most of whom insist on anonymity, believe there is a problem in paradise.
In his forthcoming book, “The Masters: Golf, Money and Power in Augusta, Georgia” (published by Villard, a division of Random House), author Curt Sampson isn’t nearly so discrete. He alleges that many more loblolly pine, especially those positioned along Augusta’s fairways, are suffering from poor health — a matter not unrelated, he says, to the club’s obsession with Edenic course conditions. Tipped off to the pine problem by his friend Muirhead, Sampson maintains misplaced fertilizer and overzealous irrigation practices have wrought considerable havoc with the loblollies, which are xerophytes — a fancy word for plants accustomed to dryer conditions. Further, for many years Augusta National maintained turfgrass well into wooded areas off the fairways. Today, this practice is an acknowledged horticultural no-no, as experts agree that trees and grass compete for the same nutrients.
Sampson — who claims to have consulted “an arborist who worked with Augusta National” but won’t name him — asserts the ailing loblollies, overfed for too long, have been living too fast and will die young. “If you stand on a promontory like the 10th tee,” Sampson says, “you can see the difference between the interior trees and those along the fairway; it’s like new denim compared to faded blue jeans. The pine lining certain fairways are saggy and yellowish. The difference is striking.”
There are significant factors to ponder when considering anything at Augusta National Golf Club, especially an unauthorized book alleging what amounts to horticultural malpractice. First, only Chairman Jack Stephens can speak for the club, meaning horticulturist Tom Crenshaw and consulting arborist Ken Knox cannot publicly address Sampson’s assertions. Second, while Augusta employees are allowed to share pertinent research information with colleagues, few people in the golf industry care to speak “on the record” regarding the National, so extensive and powerful is the club’s reach. Arborists enthusiastic about discussing golf courses issues tend to become quite concerned with anonymity when the course is Augusta National.
That said, there are some meaningful distinctions to draw when discussing the health and life expectancy of trees on any golf course. First and foremost, experts agree they simply don’t live as long on golf courses as they might in a natural forested environment. Indeed, trees don’t live as long in any man-made setting, as it’s impossible to duplicate the complexity of any tree’s natural ecosystem — the ecosystem most conducive to maximum life expectancy.
“A tree living outside its natural environment — on a golf course, a city street or a suburban lawn — is far more likely to encounter stress factors incited by humans,” explains Dr. Jay Stipes, a plant pathologist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. “For example, soil compaction: Feet and tires compact the soil, reducing pore space for oxygen. Too much compaction and roots get oxygen deprivation, and they begin to die.”
“Golf course trees simply do not live as long as forest trees, all things being equal,” said one arborist who is familiar with the situation at Augusta National but requested anonymity. “Only a fool would say no trees are unhealthy at Augusta. It’s not a magical place. God isn’t treating Augusta any differently. But it would be very unfair to say they’re dying prematurely… Of the 20, 30 or 40 things that play a role in tree health, water and fertilization play relatively minor roles. Augusta isn’t different from any other golf course; they have problems. But, if anything, the life span of these trees has been enhanced by the work being done there. That’s for sure.”
Let’s take the gloves off and settle this, right here/right now, for the greater basketball good: Another bout of March Madness is nearly upon us and the current NCAA men’s basketball tournament format — 68 teams, with 8 playing off/in to create a field of 64 — begins with the worst sort of capricious, competitively arbitrary folly. From the moment the current play-in gambit was instituted, in 2001, the slope got very slippery indeed. At first, just two small-conference champions squared off for the right to get boned, on 36-48 hours’ rest, by a top regional seed. Let’s skip over mere half measures, or further regression, and proceed straight to the ultimate solution: tournament berths for every last Division 1 program, all 351 of them.
Don’t freak out: Here’s how it would work:
1) The regular season ends when February does. All 351 teams in Division I Men’s College Basketball retire briefly to their ever-more plushly appointed training facilities, where they wait on the tabulation of a final computer ranking — 1 through 351. In essence, the period now devoted to “Championship Week” is given over to a 287-game, three-round, six-day tournament that produces the familiar bracket of 64.
2) The opening round — comprising 95 games and held the first Tuesday & Wednesday in March — pits the team seeded 351st against the team seeded 161st. In between, #162 takes on #350, and so on. You like Cinderella? I’ll give you Cinderella: Imagine the crazy shit that will inevitably stem from a 190-team Round I — contested over two nights, at on-campus venues all across these United States. Elegant in its mayhem, Round I rewards the top 160 with a bye (thus lending meaning to the our otherwise meaningless regular season) and quickly reduces the field to 256, a perfect multiplier of 64.
3) Round II takes place Thursday and Friday, whereupon those 256 remaining teams — the bye teams and the Tuesday/Wednesday winners — contest 128 games and symmetrically reduce the field to 128. Traditionally, the Thursday/Friday segment of NCAA Tournament week delivers 32 games and a dependably crazed bacchanal of buzzer-beaters, nail-biters, upsets and blowouts, all in the space of 36 hours. A universal-bid Thursday/Friday takes that spectacle and quadruples it.
4) The 64 games comprising Round lll, on Saturday and Sunday, would approximate a mere doubling of the traditional Thursday/Friday pandemonium, while neatly and cleanly winnowing the field to the recognizable 64. Sunday night the remaining teams — retaining their original seeds — are assigned opponents and regions in the traditional manner we’ve come to expect.
Rounds I, II and III would essentially form a massive, universal play-in bracket unto itself — producing more money in less time, via a more competitively honest framework than the current play-in scheme combined with the odious, so-called Championship Week. All 287 games are necessarily played on campus, at the higher-seeded school. This mechanism is critical because, in rewarding higher seeds, it assigns another, much needed element of meaning to the college basketball regular season. It also guarantees kick-ass atmosphere and avoids potential scheduling conflicts at neutral sites, while reducing site-rental and travel costs. There is no reseeding between rounds. The bracket holds its shape and schedule all week, meaning teams are locked into either a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday schedule, or a Wednesday/Friday/Sunday schedule.
What’s more, there is no good reason why a 350-team women’s tournament could not, or should not, be administered in exactly the same way.
One of the great attractions of March Madness, perhaps the greatest of all, is the meting out of champions based purely on game performance. Polls don’t matter. Bowl traditions don’t muck up the works. Ultimately, seeds don’t either. By winning six games in a row, a deserving champion is invariably crowned. The universal-bid system preserves and enhances this dynamic. As an added bonus, we dispense completely with any and all “bubble” and “snub” talk. Crucially, the regular season is dramatically transformed, for the better, in myriad ways (see below). The bloated frippery of conference tournaments is eliminated. Bracketology? That irksome construct and the tiresome, flatulent conjecture that wafts about it are similarly put out to pasture.
The original play-in scheme, instituted at the turn of the millennium, was shameful enough. The 8-team “First Four” we’ve endured since 2011 is that much more arbitrary and capricious. I wish I could tell you these “expansions” of the tournament were first undertaken in the name of inclusiveness and equity. But let’s not kid ourselves: In fact, let’s add a third descriptor, “mendacious,” because this peculiar arrangement was first advanced and expanded entirely in service of annually preserving tourney revenue and exposure for no more than a dozen would-be, at-large, major-conference also-rans — at the expense small-conference champions. Today, the Atlantic Sun Conference title-winner is obliged to play-in against its Summit Conference counterpart because, if they did not, there would be no room in the field of 64 for some seventh- or eighth-place team from the Big Ten — a conference that will soon have 16 basketball members.
This is shameful. If you think about it, the entire bubble/Bracketology thing — as a media construct — is built around whether and which second-tier, major-conference teams make the tournament, at whose mid-major expense. It defies logic that such expansive hoo-hah fixates on a group of teams ranked 55-75 in the country, teams that will not win the title, almost certainly won’t make the Elite 8, and may not even win a tournament game. Accordingly and appallingly, play-in games have eventuated so these demonstrable haves might make more money — at the direct expense of have-nots.
But here’s the good news: From the moment this play-in component was introduced, we began the inexorable move toward the final, most competitive, most equitable, most evolutionarily mature, most lucrative solution: a pair of all-in, 351-team NCAA basketball tournaments. This format is nothing less than our hoop destiny. It will generate way more money and fan interest. There’s no practical reason why all-in men’s and women’s tournaments cannot run concurrently.
[Ed. This piece from 1998 was assigned and purchased by, but to my knowledge never appeared in, Downeast Magazine. At that time, the U.S. was opening 400 new golf facilities every year. When I moved to New Gloucester that same year, only Fairlawn GC and Poland Spring existed nearby. In 2-3 years, Fox Ridge in Auburn (pictured above), Spring Meadow in Gray, and Toddy Brook in North Yarmouth all opened for play. Heady times, as the story below relates. The correction arrived in 2008, when the U.S. golf course stock began to suffer a net loss of some 150 golf facilities each year. That annual trend slowed somewhat during Covid, but not much.]
Developers of water parks don’t venture into the amusement industry because they’re particularly enamored of sharing flume capsules shaped like giant logs with so many screaming adolescents. Nor do hoteliers invest in that business because they “have a thing” for walking down antiseptic hallways looking for ice machines. It’s understood these business decisions are calculated — based on demographics, market niches, the potential for profit and perhaps a paucity of existing competitors. Romantic notions don’t often enter into feasible commercial equations.
Golf is a different animal, an arena where the line between work and play has always been somewhat blurred. While “business” conducted on the golf course remains a genteel hybrid of recreation and vocation, data gatherers at the National Golf Foundation (NGF) — the industry’s research and information organization based in Jupiter, Fla. — are continually amazed at the scads of starry-eyed golf devotees who fund/build their own facilities because it’s always been their dream. “It’s sort of like, ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’ ” said Barry Frank, a vice president at NGF. “Unfortunately, a great number of shirts have been lost in this process.”
Even so, new golf construction continues to boom nationally and Maine’s dreamers have proved no less fanciful in their ambitions. An astounding number of golf course projects, many spearheaded by first-time golf developers, are now underway here in Vacationland. A dozen new 18-hole layouts have just opened or remain in some phase of construction while another 10 facilities are adding nine. When Point Sebago Golf and Beach Resort opened for play in 1996, it was Maine’s first new 18-hole course since 1988. This sort of inactivity won’t characterize the next eight years.
“As a former banker, I know golf construction in Maine has lagged in past years, especially compared with national growth patterns,” said Arnold Roy, a Turner resident whose development syndicate, Fox Ridge Partners, will soon break ground on an 18-hole course in Harmon’s Corner, on Auburn’s south side. “We know there’s another golf course going in 15 miles down the road in Gray, but in the last 20 years there have been no new golf holes built within 20 miles of our site. And the interest in golfing has never been higher, as far as I can tell.”
Following another national trend, Fox Ridge will be laid out on former farm land — so will the Gray course [Spring Meadows], a project developed by the owners of Cole Farms Restaurant on a fallow parcel directly across the street. Agricultural pursuits have also given way to golf down in Berwick; father and son Tim and Tom Flynn obviously believe their 160-acre parcel will prove more fertile when Outlook Farm Golf Club opens for play there next summer.
“I think what we’re seeing is pent-up demand,” said Brian Silva, the course architect who designed Outlook Farm. “Maine has been underdeveloped, in terms of golf for some time now. And the state certainly has its share of farmland which has seen better, more productive days.”
Ed. LINKS Magazine published this star-studded piece back in 2006, prior to the Masters Tournament claimed by Phil Mickelson. He prevailed over a course measuring 7,445 yards; Augusta National GC plays another 105 yards longer today. Yet the back tees continue to require but a single forced carry. Length would not be the issue: If our mythical 16-handicapper can’t make 5-footers, there’s no way he breaks 120.
Sitting in the sports book at the MGM Grand surrounded by hundreds of television sets and the milling masses of Vegas hopefuls, one has the opportunity to place any number of over/under bets. But here’s one you won’t find on offer in the Land of Neon, or anywhere else for that matter: If a verified 16 handicapper were to play Augusta National Golf Club under tournament conditions — from the newly lengthened tips, playing to Sunday pins, putting everything out — would that average, workaday chop break 120?
“That’s a very interesting question,” answered Greg Norman. “On the surface, it looks promising for a 16 handicap, because he has about 30 shots to play with. But I think those 30 shots would go away in a hurry.”
One hundred and twenty strokes: Over or under?
We put this proposition to a collection of tour pros, golf course architects and high-profile swing gurus. All agreed our mythical 16 (the average USGA handicap is actually 15.2) would post a big number. But how big, and why? Have the recent course changes at Augusta, engineered in response to technology-aided balls and equipment, put 120 — that’s 12 triples bogeys and six doubles — beyond reach of the common man?
One of golf’s great appeals is its ease of transference — that is to say, while we can’t readily imagine ourselves shedding 280-pound tacklers on the floor of the Rose Bowl, we can see ourselves playing Pebble Beach or Pinehurst no. 2. And on a good day, the average handicapper can expect to produce a performance that is at least recognizable beside that of a professional. The response to technology, however, has begun to render this transference less and less tenable, and no major championship venue illustrates the growing disparity between pros and average golfers better than Augusta National, where back-tee yardage has gone from 6,985 yards to 7,445 in just six years.
“I think the golf course is a lot harder than people realize, in large part because of elevation changes and uneven lies,” Norman added. “The only true level lies you get at Augusta are on the tees! You can’t really appreciate these nuances on television, and they make club selection very difficult. And it’s a whole different ballgame now that they’ve added so much length.”
That said, our panel of experts felt the putting surfaces — for years, the layout’s primary defense against scoring — would bedevil our mythical 16 handicapper most of all. Back-to-back 490-yard par-4s, like 10 and 11, might oblige an average player (a smart one, at least) to simply play them like par-5s. But this sort of damage-control isn’t possible on the greens at Augusta, where flat-stick marvel Seve Ballesteros once described his four-putt at no. 6 thusly: “I miss. I miss. I miss. I make.”
“People would be amazed at the number of putts they would take,” said architect Jim Hardy, himself a former Tour player and noted swing teacher. “The average 16 playing to tournament pins, with Sunday green speeds, could easily — and I know this sounds peculiar — take 55 putts at Augusta. If he normally shoots in the low 90s, he’s going to take 20-25 more putts than normal. That’s 117, so your over/under is right on the money.”
But would he break 120? “Just barely,” Hardy decided.
Rich Beem, PGA champion in 2002, has even more faith in the average player: “Every once in a while a 16 is supposed to shoot 88, so he can’t be that bad — and here we’re giving him another 32 shots. If the weather’s fine, our guy’s not completely intimidated by the course, and he can move it out there just a little bit, I’ll take the under.”