While we all needed a November Masters in 2019, we missed the April rendition that features the Augusta National Golf Club golf course in peak condition. Firm, speedy greens, preceded by similar fairways and exquisite bunkers, were in evidence on day one of the 2021 competition. Mr. Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter, then chairman Fred Ridley proclaimed the tournament underway. The golf that followed was excellent, and the day’s events provided many lessons to the faithful. We’ve distilled them down to five, and are pleased to open Masters week with five things that we learned on Thursday at ANGC.
1. “The margins are tiny” (Some big names played poorly)
We are always caught unaware when one of the game’s grand names turns in a poor first round at the Masters. Perhaps poorly is too strong a word; as Scott Verplank noted in the online coverage of the 15th and 16th holes—the margins for error are tiny.
This year was no different, as Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Lee Westwood each turned in a round above 75. This wasn’t horrible when the leader stood at 69, but when that number dropped late in the day, recovery became daunting. Will a mid-60s round on day two, bring them back into the thick of things? Absolutely. In fact, we’d be surprised if at least one of them doesn’t turn in a 66 or better on Friday.
2. Some smaller names played well
No names, outside of the amateur invitees, are of the smallish variety. They arrive via Washington Avenue as top 50-ranked players, or PGA Tour winners, or with some other laurel to create their stature. That said, some of the names are newer to us, and Christian Bezuidenhout, Will Zalatoris, and Brian Harman ended the day inside the top five. The first is a young lion from South Africa, with a game seasoned on the European Tour. The second is a young Demon Deacon from Dallas, who took the Korn Ferry Tour by storm in 2019, and has not let up. The third is the most recognizable name, but with two wins to his credit, Harman wants to trade the “journeyman pro” nametag for one that reads “major champion.” He has challenged in majors before, which should stand him well over the next 54 holes. For Bezuidenhout and Zalatoris, the task will be a bit more arduous.
3. There was a little bit of crazy on Thursday at the Masters
We’re not talking about Vijay Singh holing a long putt at 15 for an ocho moments after he hit the same putt into the pond with his sixth shot (although that did happen.) We’re not talking about Justin Rose’s afternoon round (that one gets its own number further along). We’re talking about Viktor Hovland tossing a triple bogey on the first hole, posting five birdies as a rebound, but adding three more bogeys to shoot one over par. We’re talking about Sungjae Im making a nine at the 15th after clearing the water in two. Hovland is still in site of the leader at +1, but Im followed the big number with a bogey at 16, and signed for 77, twelve back of the lead. Other than Rose (number five, but don’t jump ahead) there were no low numbers on the board. Patience was the order of the day, and Hovland trumped Im in that category.
4. If you go long on 15, stay long
We usually speak about golfers in “Five Things we Learned,” but today, we recall the inspiration for Bobby Jones’ Augusta National: the Old Course at St. Andrews. At the home of golf, strategy at times dictates a play beyond the hole, and even beyond the green. It asks you to play to flat areas for your approach, rather than claim distance and an awkward lie. Nowhere was this more evident than beyond the 15th green. Im and Singh notwithstanding, it was all right to play long on the par 5 as long as you didn’t try to gain too much back with your third. Should the course remain firm this week, players will take a page, nay, a chapter, from the books of Jones and Hogan, and figure out where best to miss.
5. The Rose Series: Justin Rose from the 8th tee on
Do you remember when Sergio Garcia won his green jacket in 2017? He overcame Justin Rose (at that time, the recent Olympic champion and not-too-distant U.S. Open winner) for his first and only major. That loss must still smart, because Rose came out with desire in his eyes this morning. Problem was, he stood at plus-two as he walked off the seventh green, looking anything like a contender.
Over the next 11 holes, Rose posted one eagle and seven birdies, to jet past the clubhouse leaders.
Rose’s drive at the eighth split the fairway, and his metal approach caromed off the left mounds (better lucky than good, unless you’re both) to 15 feet. He drained the putt for eagle, returned to even par, and pressed the accelerator to the floor. After birdies at nine and 10, he played a gutsy recovery from the left pine straw. Landing no more than eight yards from the left pond, Rose reached the green and two-putted for par. He conquered Amen Corner with birdies at 12 and 13 to reach four under, then added a trio of chirpies at 15, 16, and 17, to post 65 on the day.
Rose’s number is all the more impressive when you consider that he was the only golfer toward an afternoon tee time to shoot anything near the 60s. If he can take advantage of an earlier tee time on Friday, his four-shot advantage might grow considerably by the weekend.
Top pros call out NCAA over canceled women’s regional debacle
12 of the 18 schools competing at the NCAA Women’s Regional in Baton Rouge, La., were left angry and heartbroken this week after the NCAA pulled the plug on the event to put an end to their dreams of competing at the NCAA Women’s Championship.
The event was due to be a 54-hole contest played over Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but was initially delayed after a deluge of rain hit the course over the weekend.
Officials had hoped to play 18 holes on Wednesday to decide who would qualify but instead adjudged the course unplayable and canceled the event in its entirety.
Without a single ball being hit, this decision meant that the top six seeds in the regional advance to nationals and the top three individuals of the six that were competing.
Those teams are LSU, Mississippi, Baylor, Oregon, Maryland and Alabama, with the following players Karen Fredgaard, Houston; Nataliya Guseva, Miami (Fla.); and Hanna Alberto, Sam Houston.
Eliminating seeds 7-18: Oregon State, Houston, Miami (Fla.), North Texas, Purdue, Mississippi State, Tulsa, Sam Houston State, Kennesaw State, East Tennessee State, Jacksonville State and Quinnipiac.
In a statement outside the clubhouse of The University Club, Brad Hurlbut, the Director of Athletics at Fairleigh Dickinson, announced the news saying:
“Look, this is one of the most gut-wrenching decisions and announcements that I’ve ever been a part of. Even though the course is playable, it’s not playable at a championship level.”
The statement was understandably received with shock and anger by the players of the teams who felt cheated out of the opportunity to win a place at the NCAA Women’s Championship, with cries of “You should be ashamed of yourselves” and “Thank you for ending our careers!” directed at Hurlbut.
So here it is, the LSU regionals at Baton Rouge has been cancelled due to the course being “PLAYABLE BUT NOT AT A CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL”!!!!! Disgraceful how this whole week has been handled!!!! Every player worked so hard for this week and this is how we are treated!!! SHAMEFUL!!! pic.twitter.com/Z8FGrfYKLN
— Sara Byrne (@sarabyrne01) May 12, 2021
The decision to cancel the event has also caused indignation amongst some of the most prominent names in professional golf. Here’s a look at the reaction of some of those on social media:
The NCAA Women’s Championship takes place in two weeks as the fallout from this week’s controversial decision continues.
Interesting photos from the AT&T Byron Nelson
GolfWRX was on site at a very wet TPC Craig for practice rounds ahead of the AT&T Byron Nelson, and we weren’t going to let the rain wash away the opportunity for interesting photos.
We have six general galleries for your viewing pleasure
- 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson – Tuesday #1
- 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson – Tuesday #2
- 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson – Tuesday #3
- 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson – Tuesday #4
- 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson – Wednesday #1
- 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson – Wednesday #2
…and a number of special of galleries as well.
- Cameron putters (including James Hahn’s T-12) – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Russell Knox testing an Axis 1 putter – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Cole Hammer – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Fitzpatrick’s and Kuchar’s Bettinardi putters – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Odyssey putters – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Rickie back to his old Cameron – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Tim Wilkinson testing lefthand Axis 1 – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Jhonny Vegas’ custom Cameron with LA Golf shaft – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
- Daniel Berger “testing” Titleist driver – 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson
We got a look at University of Texas Junior Cole Hammer’s sticks as he prepares to put a peg in the ground at the Byron Nelson on a sponsor’s exemption.
Equipment free agent Daniel Berger was seen testing a Titleist TS3 driver with a Fujikura Ventus Black shaft.
D.J. Trahan once again solidifies his status as the Tour’s biggest Deadhead.
Kevin Chappell’s Wilson Staff irons have taken on a lovely patina.
Tidy stamping on Jhonattan Vegas custom Cameron.
Also on the Cameron front: James Hahn’s T12 Prototype.
More putter photos: Matt Kuchar had two center-shafted Bettinardi blades built for testing. (More photos here)
Rickie Fowler has gone back to his Newport 2 with “Cameron” stamped in the cavity rather than “Rickie,” which is in his other wand. He’s also been back in a steel shaft in the putter for a while.
Russell Knox was spotted testing an Axis1 putter.
New to us, this Odyssey “Sir Makes-a-Lot” putter cover is clever.
Odyssey Tri-Hot insert sighting!
Michael Greller displays Jordan Spieth’s new 2021 Pro V1x balls. Did he stop in the pro shop to pick up a sleeve?
AT&T Byron Nelson Tour Truck Report: Details on Spieth’s ball change, Kuch’s new putters, more
There’s not a ton of tinkering going on at presently soggy TPC Craig Ranch where Monday was wet and Tuesday was a washout. With it being the week before a major championship and the heart of the season, most players are committed to dancing with the one that brought them and are only soliciting the tour trucks for spec checks and regripping.
Perhaps most interestingly this week, Jordan Spieth has switched from a previous generation of the Titleist Pro V1x into the current iteration of the golf ball (Exhibit A: The photos of Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller holding up the wares below).
Check out all our photos from the Byron Nelson!
Matt Kuchar continues his flatstick experimentation as he looks to find his form on the green. Bettinardi built him a couple of long-neck center-shafted blades to tinker with. Face-on view of one of the models below, and more photos here.
More of what’s up with major OEM staffers, below.
Sean O’Hair is testing a TSi2 (10 degree) driver and TSi2 (15 degree) fairway.
Per Titleist, Spieth offered this about his switch into the new Pro V1x
“I’m trying to optimize launch conditions through the bag. For me, the 2021 Pro V1x, I get more spin around the greens. It’s softer, spinnier around the greens with my short game shots. And then when I went up the bag, I started to get a little bit higher launch, but it didn’t add spin in the long clubs. It just added ball speed and launch. So it’s a little higher window, but it just looks like it’s screaming through the air. And then from the 7-iron on down, I didn’t see much difference in the full shots, just like I said more action around the greens.”
“I’m trying to just hit optimal windows and if I can gain – really, in my long clubs – just a little bit better peak height with a little bit faster ball speed, it actually helps fill my gaps a little bit easier. And then it’s just coming down – it has the potential to come down a little bit softer, which is obviously important. But I’m not seeing a massive difference through kind of that mid iron into short iron. And I still can hit each shot that I want to with the scoring clubs. So being able to tee off and all you do is change the ball and it’s actually in a similar window that’s going 3-4 yards further, that’s nice. And then when I get to the scoring range clubs, I feel like if anything, I just have the ability to hit an even softer shot if I want to. But the rest of them were all still there.”
View this post on Instagram
And while Titleist is mum on any further details, there is this…
There’s only one chance to make a first impression, and we’d say it went well.
@JordanSpieth and @WillZalatoris got a sneak peek at some new irons earlier this week and gave them a test spin. Their feedback… ?? pic.twitter.com/03npRpmsgy
— Titleist (@Titleist) May 12, 2021
Sam Burns had set of raw Apex MB irons built for testing.
Talor Gooch is testing a 15-degree Epic Speed Triple Diamond with a Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 80 TX shaft.
Jamie Lovemark is testing a new Epic Speed Triple Diamond LS ([email protected] degrees) with an Oban HB Kiyoshi 05 shaft.
Wesley Bryant added a prototype full-face 58-08C (@59 degrees) MD5 wedge to his arsenal.
Beau Hossler switched into a SIM2 Max (12 degrees).
Daniel Berger (non-staffer) added a 15-degree SIM2 Max to his arsenal.
Making his pro debut, amateur Pierceson Coody had this combo set built: P790 (3), P7MC (4-6), P7MB (7-PW).
Non-staffer Rory Sabbatini added a SIM2 driver (9 degrees) and P7MC to his bag (5-PW).
Others, free agents
Rickie Fowler returned to the Scotty Cameron with “Cameron” rather than “Rickie” at the Wells Fargo Championship, but this is the first good look at the flatstick we’ve gotten since the switch.
Daniel Berger was spotted testing a Titleist TS3 with a Ventus Black shaft.
Russell Knox was spotted testing an Axis1 putter.
In a pretty wild story we’re looking for more information on, notorious gearhead Chris Baker is rumored to be putting a set of irons belonging to Cobra rep James Posey in play. Incidentally, Baker is also testing a Kali White shaft.
Free agent Dominic Bozzelli is testing a Titleist TSi3 driver (9 degrees).
James Hahn is reportedly testing a number of shafts: prototype Aldila in a fairway wood, and Mitsubishi MMT in a hybrid and long iron.
PXG staffer Danny Lee switched out of Project X 6.5 and into KBS Tour V 125 shafts (5-PW) and KBS TGI 110 in 3 and 4-iron.
Tom Lewis has moved back into KBS S Taper 125 in his full set. He was playing Nippon 125’s in his irons and a Fujikura Ventus Black 115 HB in his Srixon ZX5 3-iron.
Check out all our photos from the Byron Nelson!
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K.H. Lee WITB 2021 (May)
K.H. Lee WITB accurate as of the AT&T Byron Nelson. Driver: Callaway Epic Max LS (10.5 degrees @9) Shaft: Graphite...
Alex Noren WITB 2021 (May)
Equipment is accurate as of the 2021 AT&T Byron Nelson Driver: Callaway Epic Max LS (8.5 degrees @7) Shaft: Mitsubishi Ka’ili...
Sam Burns WITB 2021 (May)
Sam Burns’ equipment accurate as of the AT&T Byron Nelson. Burns has switched from a 58-degree wedge to a 60...
Wyndham Clark WITB 2021 (May)
Driver: PXG 0811 X+ Proto (10.5 degrees) Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana TB 60 X 3-wood: PXG 0341 X Gen4 Irons: PXG...
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