For golf fans and sports fans alike, the 2023 Masters finish wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was memorable. John Rahm played nearly flawless golf as Brooks Koepka faltered to win his second Major and his first Green Jacket as Masters Champion. In doing so, Rahm becomes the first European player to ever win the US Open and the Masters during his career and the third international player to accomplish that feat. (Gary Player and Angel Cabrerra are the first two.)
Starting Sunday with thirty holes to play, Rahm was four shots behind Koepka as they returned to the seventh green to continue their third round. A made birdie putt by Rahm and a missed par putt by Koepka instantly cut that lead in half. From there, steady play by the Spaniard and a series of weird occurrences surrounding Brooks led to a cruise around the back nine and victory on Sunday afternoon, April 9th, what would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 66th birthday.
When Koepka said, “I didn’t get any breaks” it didn’t sound like a complaint, just a statement of fact. A weird, air-mailed seven iron on the sixth hole led to a bogey. The ball staying on the hill at the ninth green seemed almost impossible, as did how his second shot hung up behind the thirteenth right next to the bunker. While there is trouble lurking on every hole at Augusta National, Rahm navigated the back nine with the lead with a cautious confidence that led to victory.
Plenty of “We play seventy-two holes here,” jokes were going around in reference to Koepka’s exit to the LIV tour last year, but that was just low hanging fruit. LIV players Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, and Koepka were competitive and sharp, despite many in the media’s claim that they’d have enough rust in their games to falter up against The National’s tough conditions. In fact, two-thirds of the LIV players invited to the Masters made the cut.
It was great having the best players in the world compete against each other, but it was a bit strange how CBS downplayed the LIV players accomplishments as almost an afterthought. Mickelson’s 65 on Sunday is one of the all-time great accomplishments in golf and certainly Masters history. But it seemed underplayed by the network who has a business deal with the PGA Tour. Even Jim Nantz’s reference to “Koepka is on the CW,” which he immediately explained meant “crosswalk” seemed out of place. (LIV golf has a TV agreement with the CW network.)
I agree with Fred Couples assessment of the schism in professional golf. He said he doesn’t mind players going wherever they want to play but “When they start to criticize and run down the Tour where I’ve played and made a living for the past forty-three years, I’m going to push back.” He’s right. Go play wherever you want, but you don’t have to degrade your former employer in the process. The Athletic’s profile of Harold Varner III was solid and instructive, with Varner explaining that he went to the LIV tour because they offered “generational wealth.” That might have been the case for some others as well. And they are professional golfers. For some, it’s about the money.
While I thought PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’s immediate adversarial stance towards LIV was the wrong tact to take, some see it the other way, saying as a businessman, he had to protect his product right away. Nonetheless, the 2023 Masters showed us that seeing the best golfers in the world playing against each other is great theater and can be riveting sports television.
The PGA Tour has responded with “designated” and “elevated” events, a move, if done five years earlier, might have negated the seed for a LIV Tour altogether. There’s always been money in professional golf, now there’s big money in professional golf at the highest level. John Rahm won $3.2M for his Masters victory out of an $18M purse. Scottie Scheffler took home $4.5M for winning the players out of the $25M the PGA Tour put up for its championship.
In my four-decades plus career as a reporter, I’ve had a chance to cover just about everything. From the Olympics to the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, NCAA Championships, you name it. The Masters is the best run sporting event in the world. Hands down. When former Chairman Billy Payne once told me, “It’s The Masters, we need to be the best,” he wasn’t bragging, just giving an assessment of their philosophy on how to approach their club and their tournament. When presented with three options to solve a problem, Augusta National and The Masters always choose the best. Look at their web site at Masters.com. Incomparable. The press facility at the end of the practice range at The National? Nobody’s a close second.
It would be easy to say that they have the money to do those things. But it’s their philosophy and pride in getting it right that drives the decisions. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then look no further than the PGA Tour’s crown jewel event, The Players. While Augusta has green everywhere, including the sandwich wrappers, the Tour has adopted a dark Navy blue as their color, covering everything from TV stands to on-course bathrooms. The Players is expertly and efficiently run, beautifully executed. A different competition for sure, but a noble runner-up.
If you’ve ever attended The Masters, you know there’s a politeness and a calm that is pervasive throughout the club and the tournament. Everybody, from security guards to staff to patrons, is unfailingly polite. No running is allowed, and no cell phones on the golf course. Everybody has time, time to do whatever: Watch golf, people watch, have a cocktail overlooking the first tee, it doesn’t matter. There’s a chorus of “Good Morning’s,” Good Afternoon’s” and “Have a nice evening’s” that you look forward to each day.
As a yearly event, The Masters is also a reunion of sorts. I see people there, once a year, and we greet each other as old friends. The Super Bowl is a de facto convention for the sports media world as well, but with a much more peripatetic pace.
No matter the weather, or the competition, Augusta National, and The Masters, never disappoint.