For the first time in the history of The Masters Tournament, it will take place in November. This would feel out of place in any other year, but for 2020, it feels fitting. Normally, it would be held in April right after March Madness concluded. A perfect stretch of sports.
The Masters is built on tradition. It’s even the tagline for the tournament, “a tradition unlike any other.” It’s the most prestigious and important golf event. It’s also, traditionally, the first major of the four. This year, it’s the last one.1Not counting The Open, which used to be called the British Open, because that was canceled this year.
It’s the perfect sporting event. It has elements of March Madness, where the competition happens over multiple days. It has the magnitude of the Super Bowl as the biggest event of the sport. It’s one of my favorite sports days and weekends of the year. You could argue that it’s the best championship event in all sports.
Golf isn’t a sport that’s often discussed alongside the more popular sports, like football, baseball, and basketball. It’s different when The Masters is part of the conversation though. This is the one time golf dominates sports coverage. What is it about this event that makes it so special?
The first Masters was held 86 years ago in 1934. It’s the only major of the four to take place at the same location every year. The other three majors alternate their location. Having The Masters at the same location adds to the lore of the Augusta National golf course.
It’s one of the many traditions that surrounds this event. Traditions that are formal and plenty more that are informal. There is the Par-3 contest, which is golf’s equivalent to baseball’s home run derby or basketball’s slam dunk contest. There’s the opening tee shot to kick off the tournament, performed by one or more legendary golfers. There’s also the famous pimento cheese sandwiches.
Some of these traditions won’t be observed this time around. The Par-3 contest was canceled. Fans will not be allowed to attend, which means no screams of “get in the hole” after someone hits a tee shot on a par 5.
Not having fans will be the strangest part of this Masters. This is the first sporting event I’ve watched and genuinely missed the fans. Football, basketball, and soccer all did a good job of pumping in fake crowd noise into games. You can’t do that with golf and when it comes to The Masters, the fans add a different element to the entire experience. You need those roars from the crowd when a player hits a huge shot. You need to hear the groans when a golfer makes a mistake. If Tiger makes a run to the top of the leaderboard, the fans will be sorely missed. There’s no telling how much this will impact the play. Players feed off the energy of the fans. The anxiety ticks up a level when there are fans. It will feel very different for these players and anyone watching it on TV.
That will add to the intrigue of this storied tournament though. The Masters always has plenty of elements to draw someone’s interest. It has all the best parts of sports. The best athletes in the sport competing to win. The storylines of those athletes, whether it’s Phil Mickelson trying to win his first ever major like he did in 2004, or Sergio Garcia trying to win his first ever, and only, major like he did in 2017, or Tiger trying to make a comeback and win his 5th Masters, 14 years after winning his 4th, like he did in 2019.
Tiger plays a huge part in my love of the Masters. He won his first green jacket in 1997 when I was 7 years old and old enough to care about sports and comprehend what was happening in sports. He went on to win 4 more over the coming years. It was like watching MJ dominate the NBA from ‘91-’98. With Tiger, he’s the golfer I know the most. I was able to follow his entire career. It’s always more fun when Tiger is competing. If Masters traditions had always remained though, we would’ve never gotten to see Tiger play at Augusta. It wasn’t until 1975 when Lee Elder became the first Black man to play in the Masters. And that was 15 years before Augusta National admitted its first Black member, Ron Townsend.
That’s what makes Tiger’s dominance at the Masters all the more impressive. He’s taken an event that traditionally excluded Black golfers from participating, to become the first non-white golfer to win the Masters. Then he went on to win 4 more times and completely dominate the sport during the 2000s. Tiger made winning the Masters his own tradition. On Sundays, we wear red.
Not every moment at the Masters is all rainbows and butterflies. There are also meltdowns and mistakes that cost people the championship. There’s Rory McIlroy’s collapse in 2011, or Francesco Molinari’s huge mishaps in 2019 to give way to Tiger’s victory, or Greg Norman falling apart in 1996. The results can sometimes look eerily similar to a normal round of golf for me.
And despite all of that, sometimes even parallel to these heartbreaking moments, are moments that live on in Masters history. Shots like Sergio’s on the 15th hole in 2017 that led to his victory. Tiger’s chip in on the 16th hole in 2005. Nicklaus’s putt in 1986 on the 17th hole. A golfer cements their place in golf history the moment they win a green jacket. It changes everything.
There are a lot of great rewards for winning the Masters. There are the obvious ones like the green jacket, the money, and the gold medal. One of the best perks of winning though is what it provides you in the future. The most notable being that if you win the Masters, you earn a lifetime invitation to compete in the Masters. Imagine if you won the Super Bowl, and then every year after, you had the ability to join one of the 2 teams that made it to the Super Bowl. That’s basically what this benefit is. Not only that, but you also earn automatic invitations to the other 3 majors for the next 5 years, as well as membership on the PGA tour and an invite to The Players Championship for the next 5 years.
The most recent winner also gets to select the menu at the Champions’ Dinner. That’s right. The defending champion gets to decide what everyone else has to eat that night. The power winning provides you is incredible. You could take the approach of picking all of your favorite foods, like when Tiger won his first Masters in 1997 and picked cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, french fries, and milkshakes. You could also take the more conniving approach and pick a menu that would give some of your competitors an upset stomach.2This was my wife’s idea. She’s very competitive. I would probably go the Italian food route. Pepperoni pizza, pasta carbonara, cacio e pepe, garlic bread, and cannolis for dessert. As Michael Scott would say, “time to carbo load.”
The green jacket is the crown jewel though. One of the most coveted and unusual sports trophies. While every other sport gives out an actual trophy, the Masters gives you a green blazer. It’s a way for you to walk around and show off to the world, in the most casual and humble way, that you are the best at something. You can’t walk around comfortably carrying a huge championship trophy without looking like an asshole.
It has strict rules attached to it, adding to its lore. Golfers get to keep the jacket for a year after their win, and then you return it. It then sits in the clubhouse for you to wear when you return. It can’t leave the grounds and only members and Masters winners get a green jacket. It’s the best trophy in sports.
The reason it’s the best trophy in sports is because of how it’s rewarded to the winner. The person that won the previous year has to put the jacket on the new winner. Twice. Once inside the clubhouse after doing an interview with Jim Nantz. The second time on the golf course in front of all the fans. This is someone that, unless they retired after winning the previous year, just got beat in this tournament. They could’ve finished second and come close to winning back-to-back championships. They could’ve played horrible and not made the cut. They might not have even been able to participate. And yet, they have to be there to watch one of their competitors celebrate this moment and also participate in the ceremony. Let’s take the NBA for example. The Cavs and LeBron James won the 2016 NBA title against the Warriors. The Warriors then beat the Cavs in the 2017 NBA Finals. Imagine if LeBron had to hand the trophy to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant? There’s nothing more savage than having someone you just competed against and beat, have to hand over the prize they just lost.
The only thing that would make this ceremony better is if the winner got to pick which player they wanted to put the jacket on them. Maybe not for winning it one year, but at least after they’ve won it multiple times or if they win back-to-back. That would be the ultimate way to celebrate.
Nothing beats hearing Jim Nantz narrate the events as they unfold. The shots of all the beautiful scenery. The classic Masters music. All of it makes the experience as memorable and invigorating as it is. The 2020 Masters may be unlike any other Masters, but the heart of this tournament remains. The golfers will still go out and compete. One may win for the first time ever to cement their place in golf history. One may add another green jacket to their collection.3Theoretically, of course. Even if you win multiple green jackets, you only have one. And one may add to their already legendary status. No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, the tradition of being the greatest championship event in sports won’t change. On Masters Sundays, we wear green.