With the first major of the year now in the books, eyes will turn to The US Open at Oakmont Country Club on the 3rd weekend in June for the next chapter on the road to the Ryder Cup this Autumn.
So many intriguing story-lines are set to carry over to Pittsburgh in 2 months time. None more so than the final day of the US Open falling on Father’s Day and what better way for Danny Willett to possibly celebrate his first as a Dad than lifting his second major of the season?
With that in mind, here are my take-aways from this year’s opening major, The Masters.
#1. Danny Winnit
The 28 year old Yorkshire native produced a stunning bogey free, 5 under par round on Sunday to seal an unlikely maiden major win in more ways than one.
Willet was the 89th and final man to register for the tournament following the pre-mature birth of his son Zacariah (his wife’s due date was April 10th).
While people will build this as a true underdog story, those who follow Golf closely won’t subscribe to that theory. Willett was ranked no.12 in the world coming into the tournament and boasted 4 career wins on the European Tour, the latest of which was in February of this year.
He finished T38 on his first outing at Augusta last year and has the composed short game and accurate driving which many perceive as essential for success in Georgia.
Was his win unlikely given the situation halfway through his final round? Yes. Is he going to be a Stewart Cink or a Lucas Glover and disappear after this win? Definitely not. This is a catalyst for a Ryder Cup appearance later in the year and a confidence boost for a player who has the game to contend at any major tournament he turns up at.
#2. Jordan Speith is Human After All
Given the imperious nature of his short game, Speith has had 156 one putts in his 288 holes at major tournament’s in the last year, you could be forgiven for mistaking his robotic approach to the game for a lack of a nervous system.
But at around 5pm local time on Sunday April 10th, Jordan Speith showed that he is one of us after all.
Stepping onto the 12th tee with a 3 shot lead, seemingly unassailable given his previous track record, we all know what happened next.
Two heartbreaking dunks into the water later and the aura he has built up since he burst on the scene here in 2014 was shattered and for the first time I can remember, the 22 year old looked visibly shaken by a poor shot on the course.
How he reacts to this over the coming weeks and months will be very interesting to say the least. Rory McIlroy suffered a similar final round collapse in 2011 and he went on to win the US Open 2 months later. He has since said that if he didn’t bounce back in such a fashion, he doesn’t know whether he would have had the nerve to win his 3 subsequent majors.
Given that the Texan has already proven his nerve in winning two majors, the biggest question he will have to answer is, will that tenseness we witnessed over the closing holes become a problem or was this just a blip experienced by every previous great of the game.
#3. Career Grand Slam continues to elude Rory McIlroy
With two rounds behind them, The Masters looked like it was going to give us the McIlroy vs. Speith shootout over the final two rounds that millions of golf fans are dying to see.
Unfortunately for everyone, the Northern Irishman by his own admission was struggling mentally to deal with the pressure of the possible Grand Slam and the thrill of achieving one of his lifetime goals.
His continued failures at the Azalea covered course since his now infamous collapse in 2011 raise serious questions about if he will ever be able to overcome these mental lapses and close out one of the biggest achievements in golf.
Two of the main reasons for McIlroy’s struggle at the course are his inconsistency with his wedges and more than anything, his struggles with the putter. Too many times he fails to sink clutch putts to make birdie or save par inside 10 feet and his touch from 15 feet plus was sorely lacking this week compared to his rivals atop the leaderboard.
His length off the tee, usually a massive advantage on the modern golf course (long and wide) are nullified by the short tight fairways at Augusta National and unless he finds a way to adapt his game or has some form of epiphany with the short stick, it is hard to envisage his struggles around Georgia ending anytime soon.
#4. Similarity Breeds Success
The Masters is my favourite major each year.
Not just because of the possibility of many twists and turns right up until the final few holes, but mostly because you come back to the same location every year and watch the course grow, develop and confound some of the best players in the world no matter how many rounds they play.
Paul Azinger once said:
“This place always seems to have some kind of a ghost waiting around a pine tree or something for me. I remember all the places I don’t want to be.”
While it is great that the other majors can turn up at any given course any year and present different challenges is amazing but the tradition bred over 82 years at Augusta National is un-paralleled in any competition across most sports.
The history at every hole is evident when you see modern players attempt similar shots seen at previous tournaments and you can compare how players of many different eras played the course.
If you were to ask the entire PGA and European Tour if they could only win one career major, which one would it be? I vouch that a good 85-90% would reply with The Masters and that is an endorsement in itself.
Similarity breeds success but familiarity breeds contempt. Augusta National is one of the few places that can confound this saying. Talk to any of the longstanding patrons of the course or even players who traditionally qualify for the tournament yet struggle at the event say that they still love coming to the course.
Maybe it is time more events adopted a traditional approach perfected by this beautiful course in Southern Georgia.
#5. Course Management is King
When looking for a possible winner of The Masters, obvious aspects to look for are a strong wedge game and a hot streak with the putter.
Inevitably it pays to look at tournament leaderboards and stats from the couple of months leading up to the event but one aspect is routinely overlooked and that is course management.
Winner Danny Willett would probably known as an aggressive player but this week he judged perfectly when was the right time to go for the pin and when a lay up or avoiding the hazards was essential to low scoring.
A trait highlighted by Jordan Speith in recent season’s “whoever makes the least mistakes tee to green will have all the chances to win the tournament.”
Are you going on safari off the teebox? Your chance is diminished.
Are you having trouble finding the dance-floor with your irons and wedges? Your chance is diminished.
To be in a position to win The Masters you need to plot your way methodically around the golf course avoiding the many pit falls and traps naturally sprinkled menacingly on each hole. It is one of the few courses where bombing a driver 330 yards down the fairway is not necessarily the smartest play as it could leave you nastily stuck with an awkward stance on one of the many undulating areas of Augusta National.
It is important to keep this in mind when parting with any of your hard earned cash each year.