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Dan Bickley

Wretched serenity and stifling silence: The 2020 Masters Tournament

Lanto Griffin tees off on the 18th hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Masters is for purists. It’s golf’s green heaven.

The Waste Management Phoenix Open is golf with an attitude. It requires cocktails and a rideshare strategy.

These two tournaments are on opposite sides of the PGA Tour experience. They are contrasts in decorum, civility and sobriety.

Yet they’ve never been so close in spirit or sense of loss.

Seven tournaments down the road, the WMPO will take place at TPC Scottsdale. You’ll never see a golf course look so empty, toothless or benign.

Nine tournaments after that, another Masters will be played in Augusta, this time with brighter colors and later sunsets.

Each time, we will be reminded that no other PGA Tour stops rely so heavily on the crowds, fans, galleries and patrons. And you’ll notice the wretched serenity this weekend.

Augusta National is a perfectly-constructed echo chamber, a sloping track built beneath an immense canopy of loblolly pines and dogwood trees. It’s a gorgeous tapestry that captures and catapults noise. It’s a golf tournament that practically broadcasts itself.

The legendary roars at Augusta clearly impact the outcome. Birdies become battle cries that fuel dramatic comebacks. They conspire against the leaders and the leaderboard because they intimidate those in front, the golfers who hear can’t help but hear the footsteps of their surging competitors.

It’s poetry in motion, really.

The 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open will also look and feel dramatically different. The course is built on gently sloping hills that allow for huge crowds and user-friendly sightlines. Its vibe is fueled by parties, slurry conversations and record galleries. The tournament attracts more people for its Pro-Am than most tournaments draw for the final round.

The WMPO will look undressed, embarrassed and exposed under the constraints of severely-limited attendance. There are even whispers that the iconic 16th hole will undergo a radical transformation out of sheer necessity.

Tournament organizers might be forced to build a limited-capacity ring around the 16th hole, one that seats as few as 1,000 people at social-distancing intervals, with zero corporate presence involved.

The structure might be the only one on the course. It will also serve as fencing around the hole, a deterrent to those who will naturally gravitate to the energy and scenery at No. 16, like they do every year.

It will be a sad moment for a hole that’s become a bucket-list item, the hardest easiest par-3 in the world.

In the long view, the pandemic might be a huge boon for the business of golf. Local courses are filling up tee sheets, reviving an industry that was sagging before Covid-19. The PGA Tour was among the first professional sports to return amid a pandemic, gaining new stars and casual fans along the way. Weekend hackers were inspired by the lure of outdoor activity.

But the pandemic will hurt the WMPO in the short-term, just like it will the Masters. During Thursday’s opening round, the silence was so stifling that you could hear recurring police sirens outside the grounds of Augusta National.

For a place built on sensory overload, a golf course known to paint the Azaleas when necessary, the intrusion must’ve been appalling.

One final difference:

The pandemic will most effect the WMPO on a Saturday, when our golf tournament reaches its raucous crescendo. The Masters will feel it on Sunday, when golf’s green jacket and its greatest prize are on the line, the most compelling day on every golf fan’s calendar.

This one is going to hurt.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Bickley & Marotta

Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier