In many cases, the best things in life are built around the anticipation they create.
Christmas, for example. Despite the holiday calendar being stretched back to October these days, there’s still something to the feeling that comes as Christmas approaches.
It’s the anticipation.
It’s the same with first dates, beach trips and dinner at a favorite restaurant.
And the Masters.
In a year like no other, the upcoming Masters has become a unique curiosity, trading April for autumn and sending imaginations swirling about how it will look, how it will play and how it will feel.
Now it’s time to find out.
“I’m in for a surprise next week when I get there, but I have no doubt that it will present incredibly well as they always do at Augusta National,” Adam Scott said.
Autumn in Augusta is a captivating notion and since the professional game restructured its schedule back in the summer, the prospect of the Masters being played when pumpkins are on porches and the leaves are changing has seemed a bit like finally arriving at the Emerald City.
There has never been a Masters played like the one that will be played this week.
Other than a few members, there will be no galleries gathered behind greens and on hillsides, their sounds telling the story as each day unfolds. Like this year’s PGA Championship and U.S. Open, this Masters will feel empty in spots.
“The crowd really enhances the atmosphere, if they’re not responsible for most of it, to be perfectly honest,” Scott said. “There will be something missing, for sure.”
That’s part of why this Masters feels strangely special. Every Masters cuts a notch in the game’s history but this one stands alone in the mere fact that it’s being played. It could have been canceled like the Open Championship was but it wasn’t.
For an event built on history, tradition and familiarity, the defining characteristic of this Masters, at least until a champion is crowned on Sunday, is just how different it will be.
“It looks like a different golf course,” said Dustin Johnson of playing Augusta without fans. “It’s still going to be good, it’s Augusta, it’s the Masters, I’m going to enjoy it, but the look’s going to be quite strange.”
The game’s cadence is off because of COVID-19 but as the week unfolds, it again will be about what’s happening around Amen Corner, who’s handling the par-5s most efficiently and who’s holing the most 5-footers to save par.
There is a romanticism to the Masters that no other championship possesses. Some of it is built on its place in the springtime, when the year still feels fresh and it’s the first major championship on the calendar.
This time, it’s near the end of a draining year, darkness will fall around 5:30 p.m. and the days are getting cooler, not warmer. But avoiding the fairway bunker off the first tee is still a must, turning a tee shot over at the 10th is essential and not being tempted to fire at the Sunday pin on the 12th remains the golden rule.
If Phil Mickelson hit his 6-iron through the trees at No. 13 in 2010, would it be remembered differently had he done it in November?
Would Rory McIlroy’s final-round 80 when leading in 2011 sting any less had it happened this time of year?
Would Tiger Woods’ fifth Masters victory, the most unlikely of them all, been any less heartwarming had he done it two weeks before Thanksgiving?
The Masters is built on moments big and small. It’s the honorary starters making their old-man swings on a chilly Thursday morning. It’s the big white scoreboards telling the story chapter by chapter. It’s remembering what Arnie meant and what Bobby Jones still means.
This year, it starts with attention focused on Bryson DeChambeau and his intention to reshape how the game is played, at least by one man. It’s possible that with one dominating performance DeChambeau could instigate a change that’s been talked about for years regarding distance.
It still seems unlikely that any significant change is coming because, as Scott put it, golf shouldn’t be the game that is going backward.
Maybe this is the year Johnson finally wins a green jacket. Maybe McIlroy completes the career grand slam. Maybe Jordan Spieth finds what’s been missing or Matthew Wolff breaks through the way Collin Morikawa did at the PGA Championship.
If this were April, we’d be talking about the same things. Whose time is it? Who is a good darkhorse pick? What’s Ian Poulter planning to wear?
No one will be rushing out when the gates open to put their green chair at their favorite viewing spot. The par-3 course will be empty on Wednesday afternoon. Everyone will have to make his or her own egg-salad sandwiches.
But Thursday morning after Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player officially start the tournament, it’s going to be the Masters again.
We know what’s coming. That’s the best part of it all.