The Masters is nothing if not traditional, which is what made the 2020 edition so noteworthy considering it had to be postponed from April to November and staged without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The beauty of the Masters that ended on Sunday with Dustin Johnson winning by a record 20-under score was, not the azaleas in bloom, but rather that they were able to pull off the event at all at Augusta National Golf Club.
Certainly, that’s what Johnson thought when he capped a year in which the world’s No. 1 player won the FedEx Cup points championship plus three of his final eight tournaments, including his second major championship. "I know 2020 has been a really strange year, but it’s been good to me," Johnson said. "I’ve played some good golf. You know, I can’t thank Augusta enough for just having the Masters. Obviously, when it was canceled in April, none of us knew if we were going to be able to play in it. I was just happy to be here playing, and it worked out OK for me."
Johnson actually contracted the COVID-19 virus in October and had to drop off the PGA Tour and quarantine for two weeks in a hotel room in Las Vegas. But he returned in early November with a second-place finish at Houston that set him up perfectly for a Masters he led wire-to-wire.
Asked if he worried the disease might cause him to skip Augusta, Johnson said, "I knew I was going to play the Masters for sure because I already had gotten COVID and had to quarantine. I knew there was no chance of me missing the Masters, so, that gave me a little bit more drive to practice. I knew I was playing well."
Johnson became the first player in Masters history to record two scores of 65 in the same event, and he had a record-low four bogeys the entire week. He credited midweek rains and simply the nature of the fall season for creating a "soft" course that invited players to attack the pins rather than having to be more cautious and try to control their golf ball in the fast and firm conditions they are accustomed to seeing during the Masters’ traditional date the second week in April.
If all goes well, the Masters will be the next major on the golf calendar in April if the pandemic does not grow far worse and force another cancellation. "I hope they make it as firm as possible, the complete opposite of what we saw this week," world No. 2 Jon Rahm said. "I was joking with Patrick Reed walking down the last few holes [on Sunday], saying, ‘It’s like you almost have to hit the delete button from what you learned this week because it’s never, ever going to play this way again. I kind of hope we see the opposite and see a more challenging Masters."
Rory McIlroy echoed Rahm’s thoughts about how soft the course played and how often shots landed on the greens and either plugged or backed up. But what really struck McIlroy was the quiet.
"The atmosphere, the crowds, the patrons, the feelings that you normally have here that you didn’t quite have," he said. "More than any week of the year, I feel like you’re nervous a little more often, and it didn’t quite have that. Not saying that’s a bad thing; I loved the feeling of being relaxed out there. It’s something I need to try to adopt in five months’ time."
There are three more events on the PGA Tour in 2020, but most of the top players in the world will take off until the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in January. As rough as 2020 was, including a three-month shutdown from mid-March to mid-June, the sport managed to play three of the four majors with the exception of the British Open.
"We all quickly realized that this year is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced," Tiger Woods said. "We were lucky to have our sport continue to go . . . Normally, we would have this tournament in April. We didn’t have that opportunity, but there have been so many people that have put the work into giving us this opportunity to have this even here in November, and all of us who have been a part of it were so very lucky.
"Hopefully, if everything continues the way it is going right now, then, we’ll be able to have this event in April."