Golf ball (Photo by Shaun Roy/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images)
With long drivers like Bryson DeChambeau threatening to overpower Augusta National, club chairman Fred Ridley vowed Wednesday that the Masters course won’t be made irrelevant without a fight.
“I think we’re at a crossroads as relates to these issues,” the Augusta National supremo said on the eve of the 84th Masters, adding, “We’re coming close to a call for action.”
Augusta National has lengthened in the past to its current 7,475 yards to combat technology advances that have boosted driving distances, but DeChambeau has taken the challenge to a new level with his US Open victory.
World number six DeChambeau, who bulked up during the three-month PGA Covid-19 shutdown, humbled Winged Foot to capture his first major title, driving the ball for maximum distance and position despite dense rough so he could use wedges and shorter irons into greens.
“What Bryson has done has been absolutely incredible,” five-time Masters champion and 15-time major winner Tiger Woods said. “We’ve all been amazed at what he’s been able to do in such a short span of time.”
After proving his strategy could win a major, he came to Augusta National experimenting with a maximum-allowed 48-inch driver to add more length off the tee and said the course played as a par-67 to him instead of a par-72.
“Once he starts messing with that longer driver and has a little bit more free time, as crazy as it is, he might be able to hit it further,” warned third-ranked Justin Thomas.
“It’s a very gettable course for him. It’s a substantially easier course for him than it is for everybody else.”
Ridley and other golf leaders are pondering all sorts of ways to handle the aerial bombardment.
“As it relates to our golf course, we have options,” Ridley said. “We will take the necessary action to make sure we stay relevant.”
DeChambeau is planning on soaring tee shots over trees at Amen Corner’s par-5 13th, the 27-year-old American also making his own unique paths to other holes.
Regarding the 13th hole, Ridley said it “still provides a lot of drama, but its challenge is being diminished. We don’t think that’s good for the Masters. We don’t think it’s good for the game. But the issue is a lot larger than Augusta National and the Masters.”
Ridley said last year he never thought the Masters would need a special ball to limit distances, but that was before DeChambeau started blasting 400-yard drives.
Ridley supports the R&A and US Golf Association, golf’s governing bodies, on the issue but hopes a planned April study will show the way on what actions should be taken.
“They are great stewards of the game,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that with the work and the studies that have been ongoing for some time… I do think that we’re coming closer to a call to action.”
It has to work for novice and PGA star alike.
“We want to grow the game and on the other hand we’re saying we’re worried about distance,” Ridley said. “I think everybody just has got to get their head together and figure it out.”
Ridley ruled out any changes before next April’s Masters, but added, “Beyond that, I wouldn’t speculate.”
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson predicts DeChambeau will have plenty of chances to win at Augusta National.
“He’s going to end up winning here at some point, whether it’s this week or in the future,” Mickelson said. “He has got the game, the brilliance, the work ethic and dedication.”
Ridley also announced a $10 million contribution to Augusta to redevelop two nearby areas of the city, including a youth club and community centre.
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