Much has been made through the early part of the week about the condition of Augusta National for the 85th Masters Tournament.
Talk of players describing the greens as a shade of purple, reports of firm putting surfaces with audible feedback from approach shots landing and extremely quick putts has everyone interested to see how the course will play this week.
“When it hits the green, you can tell the sound of it. You can tell – you can hear the spin or you can hear no spin. It sounds – I wouldn't say it sounds hollow, but it just sounds a little harder, harder hit on a green, even just on a chip shot, so you can hear it and you can tell the difference of how the course is playing real fast,” Two-time winner Bubba Watson said Monday.
The concept of Augusta bearing its teeth and playing with run and less receptive greens is an exciting one for some of the field and certainly a good portion of those watching on both on the grounds and via television coverage around the world.
“I think it would be a shame if it did,” Adam Scott said Wednesday when asked if he was hoping for rain. “It's been a long time since we've had a really dry golf course, and I think it will be fun for everyone playing, but also watching, to see it play a little dry and see some shots and some strategy that maybe has been a few years, at least in my memory, since we've had to think this hard around here.”
Scott is certainly not alone in his thinking as pundits and players weigh in on Augusta presenting as its truest test of every aspect of a player’s game. Particularly less than six months removed from a very different course that hosted the 84th Masters in November amid heavy rain and in a different slot on the calendar than ever before.
“I don't think I learned that much because the course is completely different now,” Abraham Ancer said today while making his final preparations for his second Masters start.
“But I love courses that are firm and fast. It's a good challenge and lot more imagination as well, and I like this kind of golf.”
However, for all the talk about how the course is currently playing, the experienced members of the field know all too well that by the time they put a tee in the ground on Thursday morning, things could be very different.
“Not as much grass on the greens as previous years. Definitely a lot quicker, firmer. Although today I didn't think they were as firm as they were yesterday,” Brooks Koepka said describing conditions on Wednesday afternoon.
“Never know. This thing can change overnight. They can do what they want with the course. They can soften it or make it rock hard.”
The capabilities of Augusta to tailor the course to play as it wishes that Koepka alludes to is renowned in the golf world.
"This is probably the first year probably going back to 2013, when we actually came into the week with the golf course playing firm and fast, as it is right now. Our intention would be to maintain that throughout the week." - Fred Ridley.
SubAir systems lie beneath the greens and other typically damp areas of the golf course and can be turned on to suck any moisture from the soil base to dry things out. The sound of the system whirring away is audible on the grounds when in operation as the club alters the course to its wishes.
Of course, Augusta primarily uses this system to dry the course after heavy downpours, but given the scoring record set on a damp layout in late 2020, there is reasonable suspicion the club will attempt to gain something back from the players in terms of shots to par.
This is of course not the score-obsessed USGA at the helm, but Augusta National would not enjoy another birdie fest. And while firm and fast greens may help its case, so too would slightly softer fairways limiting run.
“We had a lot of rain leading up to the tournament, and I think the time of year combined with the wet conditions produced an extraordinarily soft golf course,” Chairman Fred Ridley said of 2020 in his annual address on Wednesday. “So it was ready to be played very well with a lot of red numbers. But that really had nothing to do with the way the golf course is playing right now.”
“This is probably the first year probably going back to 2013, when we actually came into the week with the golf course playing firm and fast, as it is right now. Our intention would be to maintain that throughout the week.
“In the past, we might have started out a little soft and then got firmer as the week went on and vice versa, and last year we were pretty soft all week. I think we have the golf course where we want it. It's playing, as I said in my comments, firm and fast, and not only the greens but the fairways.
“The ball really is rolling.”
“I've seen it change so much from playing a Wednesday afternoon practice round to Thursday morning golf course is completely changed before. It's up to them whatever they want to do.” - Brooks Koepka.
Ridley’s comments suggest that not much will be done to alter the natural condition of the course over the coming days.
And despite the control of almost every finer detail in the tournament, Augusta National does not control the weather.
Storms are listed as a chance in the forecast over the coming days, however, the weather, and any attempt to forecast it, at Augusta at this time of year can be notoriously fickle.
And while Scott will be hoping the similarities to 2013 (the year he won) mentioned by Ridley bode well for him, he, like Koepka, won’t truly know what he is facing until the tournament proper gets underway.
“I've seen it change so much from playing a Wednesday afternoon practice round to Thursday morning golf course is completely changed before,” Koepka said.
"It's up to them whatever they want to do.”