AUGUSTA, Ga.—They work in complete anonymity: predicting weather, setting holes and taking moisture readings. The job perks are swell if you don’t mind four-hour sleep windows, wearing a tie every day and never bragging too loudly about the job.
Because if you get it wrong at Augusta, you might not be coming back. And you’d also have to live with having tainted a Masters. While overnight rains helped the cause, Thursday could have seen a play stoppage, dreams of a green jacket dashed and defensive responses from men in green coats.
Instead, Round 1 of the 2017 Masters actually stuck to the weather script and hole location sheet put out by golf’s most anonymous course and competition preparers.
The predicted high winds rolled in around mid-morning just like the fine print said, turning bunker sands into cruel exfoliating blasts for players. When patron headwear started flying around midday, the predicted westerly gusts from 35-40 mph induced the expected misery.
The gusts had 18th hole tower mates Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo “holding on for dear life.” Even the small scoring numbers started flying off the iconic Masters leaderboard.
Still, the 74.978 scoring average was not close to the all-time worst (78.6 in 1936).
Though we don’t talk to them and never see them work, the “Cup And Tee Marker Placement Committee” took the forecast and planned for it with a setup by shelving the traditional Wednesday evening effort to ratchet up the course to Masters speeds.
Instead, they put holes in safe spots—if there is such a thing on these severely contoured greens—and let the wind do the ratcheting. The result produced a course that could be conquered. Just ask 65-shooter Charley Hoffman.
Former Masters champion Larry Mize said the day ranked with the toughest he’s seen in 33 previous Masters starts. The 58-year-old made the cut in 2016 and, following an opening 74, he complimented the committee for a sensible setup.
“I think the setup is really good, because, under these conditions, it’s just going to be hard,” he said. “They put the tee up on 4. I think they made the pins accessible. I think they did a really good job. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, but I think they did a great job.”
The golf course presented a brutal challenge, but it never tipped over the edge. Oh sure, epic scoring averages were posted at the par-4 first (4.548, first in difficulty) and par-5 15th (5.215, ninth in difficulty).
So who are these mysterious Cup and Tee placers?
They are chaired by Robert H. Chapman III, Spartanburg, S.C., world famous weekend marker Jeff Knox of Augusta, John W. Swigart of Maumee, Ohio, Dirk E. Ziff from New York and former U.S. Open champion David Graham of Dallas. They work with the agronomic team, an army of green moisture documenters, and are never seen by most because they work before the course’s 8 a.m. opening time and well after play.
And the weatherman? Well, a few familiar faces to PGA Tour golf have been seen on the grounds, but the club says it’s the competitions committees that receive the credit. It’s a standing ovation they deserve.
In recent years we’ve had U.S. Opens, Open Championships and even last year’s Players Championship tainted by either pushing the boundaries of green-speed sanity or misreading the forecast. Not today.
So what are they preparing for Friday?
The official forecast warns of “a chilly start, then partly cloudy, breezy and cooler.” Count on a low of 43 degrees, a high of 65. Prepare for similar winds from the west turning to the northwest at 12-18 mph, with gusts from 25-28 mph.
Another tough day lies ahead for the players and the preparers, but nothing as ominous as they faced Thursday. You’re only as good as your last success, the saying goes. But what a success Day 1 of the Masters turned out to be.