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  • Writer's pictureSean Vowells

The Masters

The Masters

The Masters Tournament is the first major of the professional golf season. Typically, it takes place in the first week of April at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. The winner of the tournament is awarded with the famous Green Jacket, which they can keep for a year. After the year it must stay in their personal locker at Augusta National where they can wear it for the future Champions Dinners. The Champions Dinner is a tradition at the Masters. The previous year’s champion picks the menu for a dinner the Tuesday night before the Masters begins. Another Masters tradition is the Wednesday Par 3 contest, which is meant to be a fun escape from the stress of the competition that lies ahead. Many of the players choose to spend the Par 3 contest with their families, and often let them hit shots on the last hole. With the help of the media, the Masters truly presents itself as a sporting event that has stood the test of time. Jim Nantz even starts off some of his monologues with the phrase, “a tradition unlinke any other…The Masters.”



Masters and LIV Golf

The Masters and the professional golfing world has not been immune to the sportswashing narrative going around the media. With the recent emergence of LIV Golf, the Masters was put squarely in the spotlight of the argument. The Masters is run by Augusta National Golf Club, so it is independent of the PGA Tour, which means they create their own invitation criteria. The PGA Tour permanently banned any of the golfers who decided to join the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour. Many looked to the Masters to see if their invitation criteria would be amended to either restrict LIV golfers or allow them to play. The Masters ended up going with a neutral view, saying that the invitation criteria wouldn’t be changed. This allowed past champions Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and others to gain entry to the field. The most common way of getting invited into the Masters is to be in the Top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), which is very tough for the players who have spent the last year on the LIV Tour, as their events don’t give any OWGR points. So they may have qualified this year, but with so few opportunities for OWGR points, it is more than likely they will miss out in the future.

In “Sportswashing Comes to America,” Busbee argues that LIV Golf is an example that sportwashing works. The two examples given in the reading are LIV Golf and Newcastle United Football Club, who play in the English Premier League. Busbee used a quote from Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open Champion, to prove that sportswashing is working to “scrub the sins of guilty nations.” DeChambeau said, “I think as time goes on, hopefully, people will see the good that (the Saudis) are doing and what they are trying to accomplish rather than looking at the bad that’s happened before. I think moving on from that is important.” In this quote, DeChambeau is trying to rationalize his decision to join the tour which also proves pretty clearly that sportwashing, in this instance, has worked as good as they could have hoped for. The Masters was thrust right into the middle of this debate and found a way to come out without much backlash. After all, in the golf world, the fans got to see the best in the world compete against each other on the same course for 4 days. For the most part, the LIV players in the field competed, with Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson tying for 2nd. (Busbee: Sportswashing)



note: Koepka, Mickelson, and Reed are play on the LIV Golf Tour

The Augusta Atmosphere

The mythology of the Masters Champion goes far beyond the 4 days in April. Them receiving their Green Jacket will be replayed year after year, everytime the tournament comes around. The Masters is the only one of golf’s four majors that provides a lifetime exemption for a champion. It is one of the hardest sporting events to get tickets for and has some of the strictest rules for those who do make their way to the tournament. Patrons must “check” their phones as soon as they enter the grounds, which does not happen at any other sporting event. The patrons on the grounds must be fully immersed into the action. It just means more to the fans than a regular tour event or regular sporting event.

I was lucky enough to attend the practice rounds of the 2012 Masters and I can still say that it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Despite it being a day where the actual competition didn’t occur, the patrons were able to build the atmosphere of noise. It would be the equivalent of the crowd being equally hyped up during the warmups of a basketball game and the actual game. Many golf fans would select it as their favorite of the 4 major championships.



Rise of Fantasy Sports and Sports Betting

The rise of fantasy sports and sports betting has not skipped over the Masters Tournament. Many websites offer Masters Pools, where people can select players based on their ability and can win by having the least amount of strokes. In the 2023 Masters, many betting promotions were centered around 15-time major champion, Tiger Woods, and whether he’d make the cut or not. Odds were offered at -135 ($135 wager pays out $100) before the Tournament started that Woods would make the cut. The 5-time champion was once the best in the world, but constant back injuries and a leg injury resulting from the terrible car crash leave Woods very frail. An overwhelming percentage of the wagers were on Woods to make the cut, which he did. It allows fans to have something to root for while they consume the action.

Fantasy sports have been around since the mid 1990s in the United States, but are still on the rise. It is estimated that just under 60 million Americans participate in some kind of fantasy sport. The most common is fantasy football, but other sports such as basketball, hockey, golf, and baseball are relatively common. The journal distinguishes the difference between traditional fantasy sports (TFS) and wager-based daily fantasy sports (DFS). Traditional fantasy sports are the season long or tournament long competitions between a set group of players. Wager-based daily fantasy sports where people select players to compete against others in a shorter time frame such as a day or week. So many different options are available, so the odds of someone’s specific fantasy sport preference being available have never been greater. In the journal, the conclusion was made that participation in a fantasy sport correlates to higher interest and viewership in that sport. (Ruihley: Fantasy Sports Context)



The Return to Glory

The 2019 edition of the Masters was one of the biggest comeback stories in all of sports. Going into the final round, Francesco Molinari had a 2 stroke lead over Tony Finau and then 14-time major champion Tiger Woods. The tee times had to be moved up to the morning because of impending inclement weather, this meant that the tournament would be finishing around 2pm rather than in primetime around 5-6pm. Molinari was able to hold the lead until the beginning of the back nine before he made a double bogey at the 12th hole, thus tying him with Woods. Woods birdied the 13th, 15th, and 16th holes before bogeying the 18th to give him a 1-stroke win. Woods won his first Masters in 1997 at the age of 22 by 12 strokes. He did it again 22 years later at the age of 44 by just a single stroke.

Due to the many back injuries and personal troubles Woods went through in between his Masters wins, many dubbed his 2019 win as one of the best comeback stories in sports. Woods was propped up as a larger than life hero, as he was when he dominated golf in the early 2000s. It was unheard of to that point to see someone so dominant in a sport to completely out of the game to being back on top. After Woods made his final putt on the 18th at Augusta, announcer Jim Nantz said, “we doubted whether we’d ever see this again….The Return to Glory!”

As Woods exited the 18th green after his victory in 1997, he went to hug his father. As he exited the green after his victory in 2019, he went to hug his son in the exact same spot as his father 22 years prior. These parallels were identified almost immediately by the CBS Sports crew, to hit on the emotions of the viewers. The two clips were played side by side to show the similarities as the announcers were silent, letting the viewers be in the moment. Lasting heroes are hard to find in today’s sports media climate, which makes Woods even more impressive.



Woods and Dimaggio: Larger than Life

Tiger Woods and Joe DiMaggio are two of the greatest athletes to ever play their sports. They exemplified greatness on the field or course, but their legacy will go far beyond the athletic achievements they won. DiMaggio was a symbol for all Italian-Americans in their effort to become a part of American society. DiMaggio was able to fight the negative stereotypes associated with Italians at the time to become a household name decades after he stopped playing baseball. His number 5 has been retired by the New York Yankees since shortly after he finished playing. (Yoseloff) Tiger Woods can be thought of in a similar way (although he is still playing). As an African-American, Woods fought many of the potential barriers that restrict men (and women) of color from competing in professional golf. Despite playing very few tournaments, Woods won the PGA Tour's Player Impact Program (money awarded to those who bring eyes to the game) in the year 2022 despite playing only 9 official rounds of golf all year. Woods will be remembered for generations to come.



Sources:

Anthony A. Yoseloff(1999)From ethnic hero to national icon: the americanization of Joe Dimaggio,The International Journal of the History of Sport,16:3,1-20


“Official World Golf Ranking.” OWGR, https://www.owgr.com/.


Ruihley, Brody James, et al. “The Fantasy Sport Context: Altering the Uses and Gratifications of Sports Fandom.” Journal of Sports Media, vol. 17, no. 1, 2022, pp. 1–23., https://doi.org/10.1353/jsm.2022.0000.


“Sportswashing Comes to America.” Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo!, https://sports.yahoo.com/sportswashing-comes-to-america-153014884.html.



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