Tuesday, November 10, 11:00 a.m. I chase Bryson DeChambeau from the driving range on his way to the court. He goes with his caddy, Tim, who does not carry the bag of clubs, and with his coach, Chris Como. “The Scientist” has a wedge and putter in hand and instead of hitting the tee, he walks straight onto the green of this 445-yard par 4, “Tea Olive.” He stops near the green and hits four balls. As he said at the press conference this morning, he hopes to hit 375 yards on this hole to drop just a second-throw 60-degree wedge from about 70 yards. Then walk to the green to practice putting. He does it from all possible places. There are three people looking at him, two are court officials, the other is me. I go up to his coach and ask him: “Hi Chris, it must be very interesting working with Bryson, who is teaching whom?” Chris Como laughs heartily, looks at my press pass and says: “Good question, Ignacio, it’s very interesting to work with him. I always let the players draw their conclusions “Another question:” What did you think when you wanted to gain so much weight to gain distance? ” And he replies: “I wasn’t sure if it would work, but there was a possibility and we tried it. I believe that everything changes and the players should try to change as well “
When he reaches the tee at hole 2, Gary Woodland approaches, and seeing him with the wedge in hand, he says: “Are you hitting so long that you are going to use an exit wedge at par 5?” General laughter celebrates the joke of the 2019 US Open champion.
This will be a Masters too different. There are no people on the court and there are no flowers. There are no grandstands. The silence is strange. Neither are the ropes that delimit the sectors where the public should not go. You can only see the occasional dark green line painted on the grass that indicates to us, the privileged few who can visit this marvel as if it were a weekend club, as far as we can go with our curiosity. The harsh volunteer officers who routinely monitor the public are few and far between and boring. Tim, a tall, gray-haired man who looks like he’s been across the 8th fairway for the past 20 Masters, asks me where I come from. When I say Argentina, his quick response is “Oh Angel Cabrera … great champion.”
Very few things indicate that it is not the beginning of April and that it is not spring but autumn. The green of the fairways and greens remains intense. The white sand in the bunkers continues to dazzle when the sun shines on it. The trees seem to have waited to release their leaves. It was supposed to be cold, but it’s hot. Some said green jacket owners could do anything but dominate the weather. It seems they were wrong.
This Tuesday, at 7:30 in the morning, I was in line to do the mandatory swabbing to enter the field. The negative result was ready in 15 minutes. A great relief. Breakfast in the press room must be ordered the day before through the Bartlett Lounge “to go” website, the restaurant that this year will obviously be closed. The press room, “The Arena”, which is usually filled by about 420 journalists, will only be occupied this year by about 130 people from the press.
Traveling in times of Covid is less rare than I imagined. At airports in the United States, except for chinstraps, sanitizer dispensers, and warning signs, everything looks normal. Inside the planes the seats are filled as usual.
I shared the trip with the family of Abel Gallegos, the Argentine fan who will play this Masters after his resounding triumph at the LAAC (Latin America Amateur Championship) in January 2020 in Mayakoba, Mexico. Abel, the father, Guillermina, the mother, who permanently took out her bottle of alcohol gel to disinfect the hands of the whole family. Morena, her sister and Miguel, her brother, with his black Argentine gaucho beret. From May 25, in the province of Buenos Aires, to Augusta, Georgia. “It seems that tomorrow he will play with one of the best, Rory, I think his name is,” Abel told me excitedly as soon as we met at the airport. As he told her who Rory McIlroy is and what he represents for world golf, his eyes grew larger and his chest swelled with pride at the achievement of his eldest son. “And today he played with the southpaw Mickelson and Tommy, with a strange last name, an Englishman with long hair.” Guillermina also came closer and, hugging, they listened carefully to my explanation about Fleetwood and Phil. According to Abelito, these idols of his, whom he always saw on television in big tournaments, are very common people when it comes to sharing a round of golf.
During Masters practice, Spaniard Jon Rahm hit a hole in one by bouncing the ball over the water.
On Tuesday Abel went out to practice only for the 10th hole, at 1:25 p.m. His dad accompanied him. There was also his coach, Hernán Rey, a renowned instructor at whose school in Orlando Abelito had been training in recent months. The team is completed by “Juani” Gil, who is his caddy and also a great player, and Matías Anselmo, director of High Performance of the AAG (Argentine Golf Association) who accompanies Abel at this very important moment in his career. The 18-year-old hit very good shots. He was relaxed and comfortable, and most of all, very focused on deciphering some of the countless secrets of this gem that is Augusta National. The absence of an audience will be a huge loss in this Masters special, but it will benefit rookie players who, like Abel Gallegos, are not used to crowds.
Another of the traditions that this year were left behind by the pandemic will be the traditional Par 3 Contest, the tournament that takes place every Wednesday of the Masters week. It is a party for the public and for the families of the players who relax with that colorful Augusta tradition, which unfortunately will have to wait until April 2021.
With the shorter days of fall the Masters will start very early on Thursday. The first starts will be at 7 in the morning, on holes 1 and 10 respectively.
Everything ready in Augusta for a different Masters, which will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the history of this spectacular tournament.