AUGUSTA, GA. – It’s been a strangely quiet week at Augusta National.
There is no human lightning rod in the form of Tiger Woods, which means there is no Lindsey Vonn.
There is no vegetable lightning rod in the form of the Eisenhower Tree, which no longer guards the left side of the 17th fairway after succumbing to an ice storm in February.
There are no social controversies, now that Augusta National has finally admitted minority and female members.
Without such easily-digested topics available, The Masters isn’t exactly creating a buzz. But there are a lot of new players here who might.
There are 24 Masters rookies scheduled to tee off on Thursday. Since 1935, only one player has won in his first attempt: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. But rarely have so many rookies been this highly regarded.
Fourteen of the 24 Masters rookies are ranked in the world’s top 60, and those players have combined for 24 victories.
Jordan Spieth is ranked 13th in the world at the age of 20. Victor Dubuisson is ranked 21st at the age of 23, and another 23-year-old, Patrick Reed, is two slots behind him. Harris English and Billy Horschel are among the best first-timers in the field.
Veteran players say that conquering Augusta National requires course knowledge. Henrik Stenson, ranked third in the world, agrees with that assessment.
“When you come here the first time, you still think that it’s a good idea to hit a nice little draw left of the bunker on No. 2,” Stenson said. “But then you overturn it and it goes in the pine needles and ends up in the creek, and you realize that wasn’t the case.
“It’s a course I think you normally need to play a few times to get the hang of. … Even if someone else tells you that it’s not a good idea to miss it left, until you’re actually standing there dropping the ball, it’s a bit like when your parents told you not to do stuff and you still did it.”
Spieth spoke at length about the subtleties of the course. “If I came here without playing a practice round, I would be in a lot of trouble,” he said. “You can’t play it like a normal golf course, I don’t think. The greens are just so diabolical that you have to really think your shots into them.
“There’s just more thought that goes into it on this course. And then the most amazing thing about this place isn’t the layouts or the humps here or there; it’s the subtleties of the straight putts and the pull of Rae’s Creek or behind the 12th green, the 11th green, and just how amazing that kind of gravitational pull is on putts that you think would be so straight.”
There is a different kind of course knowledge that comes into play: the knowledge that you, as a Masters rookie, are playing a course that has been walked by every legend of the game.
“If I can put myself into contention on the weekend and have an opportunity to win this golf tournament, then more and more will come up and I’m sure that will be a feeling that I haven’t experienced yet, but it will be one that I’m looking forward to channeling positively,” Spieth said. “I don’t think emotion is a bad thing here. I think it needs to be controlled. I don’t know exactly how to do that yet.”
There is a good chance that a Masters rookie will contend. History casts doubts on whether one can win.