Instead of signature roars, the 2020 Masters gave us polite applause and the sound of breezes sighing through Augusta National Golf Club’s towering pines.
Instead of blankets of blooming spring flowers, we got dabbles of fall colors.
Instead of Sunday drama with contenders riding elevators of momentum up and down the leaderboards, we got a coronation of the game’s best player.
Someone said during this (hopefully) unique Masters week that it was a hollow experience compare to what we’re used to. Not through the fault of the players or the tournament organizers, who worked hard to put on the best show possible, but the all-permeating coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps we will appreciate even more the typical Masters experience when we get it back next year … or the next.
Perhaps we have come to appreciate new Masters champion Dustin Johnson more as well.
There was truly no day ever like Saturday at the Masters.
It’s hard to say the No. 1 golfer in the world got undervalued coming into this year’s tournament. But with all the attention on U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and his new-age approach to the game, and with a continuing nod to reigning and five-time green jacket winner Tiger Woods, there seemed to be little time to give Johnson his due.
Before the tournament, DeChambeau said par for him at Augusta National wasn’t the 72 listed on the card but 67. DeChambeau ended up shooting 18 over his par for the week, a 286 total, but Johnson was right on his number. He smashed the Masters scoring record of 18-under par 270 shared by Woods and Jordan Spieth with a 20 under 268.
That looked about right for Johnson. He always looks relaxed, even under major championship pressure. Though he said the final round was a grind from beginning to end, he only looked to be in trouble for a brief stretch.
Johnson dumped his pitch shot third into a green-side bunker on No. 2 but made par. He three-putted from just off the green on No. 4 and made bogey after driving into one of the cavernous bunkers left of the fifth fairway. But those were only two of the four bogeys he made all week, a record low for a Masters champion.
“I felt like I played really solid,” Johnson said. “Drove it really well. Hit a lot of quality iron shots and gave myself a lot of looks at birdies.”
How dominant was DJ? Cameron Smith, who won the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans with Jonas Blixt, became the first player to shoot four Masters rounds in the 60s (67-68-69-69). But all it got him was a tie for second with Sungjae Im, five distant strokes behind DJ.
Johnson is famous for showing little emotion, little insight into his psyche. Asked Tuesday what was his favorite thing about the Masters, Johnson said, “the sandwiches.”
Well, yes, those are nice. But we think that green jacket Woods helped him slip into in the Butler Cabin will move to the top of the list, though munching on a pimento cheese sandwich while wearing your new green jacket probably tastes pretty good.
Born about an hour away from Augusta in Columbia, South Carolina, the former Coastal Carolina star waited a long time for his ultimate golf moment. Yes, he won the 2016 U.S. Open at brutal Oakmont Golf Club, ascended to No. 1 in the world and won this year’s season-long FedEx Cup championship, but this was the title he wanted most.
“Growing up as a kid, on the putting green, hitting chips or putts, it was always to win the Masters,” Johnson said.
The full weight of his victory washed over him and came out in tears as he was interviewed by CBS’s Amanda Balionis afterward on the putting green.
“It still seems like a dream,” he said, “winning the Masters and having Tiger put the green jacket on you. As a kid I always dreamed of being the Masters champion …”
He paused to try to compose himself.
“It’s incredible, as you can tell,” Johnson said.
The first world No. 1 to win the Masters since Woods in 2002, Johnson doesn’t look finished winning majors yet. He’s 36 and only halfway to the career grand slam, but wins in the British Open and PGA Championship don’t seem like far-flung possibilities. He might be three-quarters of the way there were it not for a dreadful penalty at the 2010 PGA (he missed a playoff because of a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker he didn’t know was a bunker).
Johnson said winning the Masters under such strange circumstances didn’t diminish the achievement for him, but the rest of us were left wanting a bit. With only a smattering of fans on the grounds, there was definitely something missing.
“Stepping on this property and not having the amazing fans just lining the fairways and the echoes that go through the trees, those are things that are missed because it's not the same without them,” said 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, the former University High golfer who tied for 10th at 9 under. “Instead, you're hearing drives and iron shots echoing through the trees rather than the fans.”
The Masters is scheduled to return in 2021 in its traditional slot the first full week of April (8-11). Though there are signs a coronavirus vaccine(s) will be coming soon and will start to be widely distributed by then, there are far from any guarantees that patrons will be ringing Augusta National’s greens and fairways less than five months from now.
But we can hope for a whole Masters next time around. One guess who the favorite is likely to be.
Have a victory sandwich, Dustin. We'll see you in April.