A golf ball sits on a tee in the grass.

The Masters, 2023. What a strange and wonderful trip it was – John Cardullo

by John Cardullo, sportswriter

“The Masters… a tradition like no other!” this has been the catch phrase for the first leg of the four major professional golf tournaments of the year. The U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship are the other three. But all due respect to the other three, the Masters rises above the others by a wide margin. Ask any professional golfer if he had to choose one of the major tournaments to win, they most likely would select the Masters!

Back in 1930 when the great Bobby Jones first laid out the course design, in Augusta, Georgia, he had the foresight to see into the future to what this event was going to grow into. Keeping in mind that during his era, the sport did not embrace professional golfers with open arms. To the contrary, professional golfers were looked upon as “hustlers” and did not have the sport’s best interest at heart. At that time, it was the true amateur golfer that were the heroes of the sport. This is why, even today, the top amateur golfers are invited every year to play in the Masters.

Construction began in early 1931 and completed in 1932. The course was “formally” opened in 1933. About the tradition? That did not become official until 1934, and didn’t become the event that we have now until March 22, 1934, and it wasn’t until 1940 that the Masters was scheduled each year to be held the first full week in April.

When you think about the Masters, the true star of the weekend is the course, Augusta National. Each of the 18 holes has their own name and its own unique twist or variation that makes the entire 18-hole trek an individual journey and challenge onto itself. A 3-hole swing called “Amen Corner” can make or break around, depending how a golfer survives it. The lay out goes from elevated to steep from hole to hole, the greens are lightning fast, and the round-to-round pin placements can be wicked and cruel! In order to win the Masters, the golfer must be at the top of his game both physically as well as mentally as they try to string together four strong rounds.

Little did they know when they teed off on Thursday’s opening round, the golfers themselves were only going to be a part of the 2023 Masters story. Starting off innocently enough on a bright, sunny, but cooler than normal day, the golfers would soon learn that the conditions of the early rounds would have a huge impact on the entire weekend. In the field there would be 20 past Masters winners. Of those there would be two past winners that would total 8 Masters championships, Tiger Woods who won in 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005 & 2019, and Phil Mickelson who won his green jackets in 2004, 2006 & 2010 would head the list of past champions that included Fred Couples (1992) who would be the oldest member of the field to make the cut and play on through the weekend. Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Danny Willett, Scottie Scheffeler, Shane Lowery, Hideki Matsuyama, Zack Johnson, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Bernard Langer, Rory McIlroy, Vejay Singh, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Sandy Lyle and Jose Maria Olazabal all returned to try to take another run at a green jacket.

The test of the golfer’s endurance would begin in the second round when weather conditions began to worsen, and the rain and heavy wind would cause three trees to crash to the ground between the 17th green and 18th tee box. As the weather deteriorated, it forced the 3rd round of the tournament to wrap up on Sunday before the 4th and final round was to begin.

After making his historic 23rd consecutive Masters cut, a visibly hurting Tiger Woods was forced to withdraw from the tournament. It was later revealed that a screw that was surgically implanted in Woods’ leg after his serious car accident in 2021, began to dislodge and needed attention immediately.

So far, the 2023 Masters had seen below average temperatures, high winds, torrential rains, play stopped for tornado warnings and uprooted trees. Brooke Koepka holding a two-stroke lead going into the final round and amateur golfer Sam Bennett within striking distance of the leader in 3rd place.

The final round of the event had a lot of moments in the field. Sam Bennett faded as the fourth round played out, finishing in a tie for 16th shooting 2 under par for the tournament and earning the top amateur trophy. Jordan Spieth, Russell Henley and Patrick Reed jumped to a third-place tie. Brooke Koepka who was the leader going into the final round dropped 6 strokes to finish tied for 2nd place 8 under par. But it was Phil Mickelson who came charging out of the pack, behind 6 strokes after round 1, then 8 behind in round 2. In round 3 Mickelson began to gain ground on the field but was the low golfer of the day in the final round shooting a 65, and putting himself within four stroke of the leader who was now John Rahm.

With his four rounds completed, all Mickelson could do was wait and watch the leaders play and hope that they will fade, and he will be able to get into a play-off. Unfortunately for Mickelson and Koepka, John Rahm increased, as the Spanish born golfer hit shot after shot and putt after putt. Appearing to feed off the pressure and the momentum of the crowd, each shot that Rahm took landed where he wanted and did what he expected. As he stood over and watched his final putt hit the bottom of the cup for his first Masters Championship he was ready to stand beside the great Spanish golfers who won and wore the green jacket with great pride. Rahm credited the late great Seve Ballesteros who was the first golfer from Spain to win the Masters, when he won his first in 1980 and again in 1983. He embraced fellow countryman Jose Maria Olazabal who won in both 1994 & 1999 but failed to make the final cut this year and Sergio Garcia who finally won in 2017 after many years chasing his own dream but didn’t make the final cut either. But for the country of Spain, it was a great day.

One thing is for certain with all the happenings of the 2023 Masters, it will take a while before another major golf tournament lives up to the twists and turns, the ups and downs of what happened from April 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th, 2023 in Augusta Georgia, but one thing for certain is that John Rahm will never forget, for he will forever be known as a Masters Champion!

John Cardullo, sportswriter

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