'Eerie' Masters readies for sound of silence

The golds and reds of autumn leaves will replace spring blooms as the traditional opening major of the golf season was delayed from April to November, creating a Masters showdown unlike any other.

FILE: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks on during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on 10 April 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. Picture: AFP

AUGUSTA - From deafening roars to the sound of silence - COVID-19 safety measures mean next week's 84th Masters at Augusta National will be played without spectators for the first time in history.

The golds and reds of autumn leaves will replace spring blooms as the traditional opening major of the golf season was delayed from April to November, creating a Masters showdown unlike any other.

"This year it's going to be eerily quiet," said England's Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open champion and twice a Masters runner-up. "You're going to have to kind of remember the atmosphere almost to get inspired."

For many of the world's best golfers, those are memories of ground-shaking, nerve-jangling moments of spectator ecstasy.

Five-time major winner and three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson recalled being on the 18th green in 1991 as Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus made amazing putts at the 16th.

"One of them made the putt from down below to the front right up-on-top pin and the place erupted to the point where the ground actually shook and you could feel the vibrations in my feet," Mickelson said.

"And moments later the other player made the same putt and the place erupted again. You can hear the echo through the pines and it lasted a long time and you could feel the ground shake."

Mickelson created his own roar at 16 in 2004 on the way to his first major title.

"I could feel the ground shake there and the energy and my hair standing up and my body's almost shaking from the vibration of the ground," said Mickelson.

Defending champion Tiger Woods, a five-time Masters champion and 15-time major winner, expects electric moments even without a live audience.

"The atmosphere will be completely different. I won't say the intensity, but just the atmosphere in general is going to be so different," Woods said.

"You make putts and you don't have the big roars. You hit a shot in there, get momentum, you're not going to have any of that this year.

"But it's still the Masters. That's still the best players in the world. You still have the traditions and it's just we're not going to have the roars."

Woods recalled a "Jack roar" in 1998 when Nicklaus shared sixth at age 58 and charged with a final-round 68.

"We knew it was Jack behind us," Woods said. "The roars were so much louder. Those were Nicklaus roars. And that's what I had grown up watching and got a chance to experience it in person. It was loud.

"And there's no other place like it. It echoes there, it travels... It's unlike any other place in the world."

Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, recalled Jordan Spieth grabbing the Masters lead in 2000 with a birdie at the 16th.

"He made about a 35-footer and that was the loudest roar I've ever heard in my life," Thomas said. "It felt like the ground was moving. It was insane. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it. It was unreal."


Woods will miss Masters patrons for another reason. Sometimes errant shots entering the crowd would find their way into good landing places.

"We have a couple of the holes that if you do bail out, we have had the patrons knock a few balls back in play," he said. "It'll be interesting. Some of the angles may be a little bit better."

Rose shared ninth at the PGA in August and missed the cut at the US Open in September in a season disrupted by the pandemic and a three-month shutdown from March to June. He has adjusted to the major silences but would welcome the return of fans at next April's scheduled Masters.

"I think all of these majors, they haven't quite felt the same, for sure, without that intensity that the crowd bring and the adrenaline that they kind of create," Rose said.

"Hopefully we get the opportunity in April to see crowds, but even that remains a bit optimistic possibly."

Thomas figures that, even in cooler conditions with autumn winds, the challenges the course offers will remain basically the same.

"It's still Augusta National. The holes have been the same for a long time. You just have to go out and execute," Thomas said.