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A Bunch Of Hot Air Swirling winds swept away the clamor for change at Augusta National

April 20, 1998
April 20, 1998

Table of Contents
April 20, 1998

Golf Plus

A Bunch Of Hot Air Swirling winds swept away the clamor for change at Augusta National

The classic wind gauge, or anemometer, is essentially four soup
spoons welded to the top of a five-iron shaft. When motionless,
the spoons register calm. When spinning freely, they measure
wind velocity. The Augusta National Golf Club has an anemometer.

This is an article from the April 20, 1998 issue

But as Bob Dylan reminded us, you don't need a weatherman to
know which way the wind blows. Last week, during the first and
second rounds of the Masters, anything that wasn't bolted down
served as a weather vane or wind sock. Hats blew across
fairways. Flagsticks bent like politicians' principles.
Jumpsuited litter cops tried to round up and spear airborne
squares of waxed paper without breaking the club's "no running"
rule.

It wasn't just inanimate objects that were influenced. When the
wind comes up, golfers turn into numbered Lotto balls, dancing
on bursts of air.

Wind favors short guys. Wind favors fat guys. Wind favors guys
with heavy, mallet-headed putters. Wind favors guys who learned
to play golf in Texas and Oklahoma, where spring gusts topple
trees and overturn small aircraft parked outside hangars. Wind
favors Jesper Parnevik, whose tight pant legs don't flap
distractingly when he's putting.

Wind does not favor high-ball hitters, golfers in wide-brimmed
hats and golf prognosticators. This year's April zephyr made
fools of all of us who spent the past 12 months on our
soapboxes, declaiming that Augusta was obsolete and needed to be
Tiger-proofed. Grow rough, we implored. Plant trees. Hoe up the
15th fairway and put briar patches around the 8th green.
Otherwise Tiger Woods and the other young sluggers will
routinely shoot 18 under par, as Woods did last year.

That sigh you hear is the sound of air escaping a thousand
windbags. In Thursday's gale only 10 players in the field of 88
broke par, and nine of the world's top 20 players shot 75 or
higher. On Friday the wind diminished slightly but turned
quirky, gusting one second and swirling the next. By the end of
the day only eight players were in red numbers; half of them had
seriously bad hair.

Tom Watson wasn't surprised. Two days before the start of the
tournament, with shouts of "Bring on the bulldozers" still
echoing among the magnolias, the two-time Masters champion
reminded us that golf is not played indoors. "The wind
conditions here are the most difficult to judge of any course
that I play for a living," he said. "You can talk all you want
about British Open courses. You know where the wind's coming
from there. Here you don't. You get up to the practice tee here,
and the wind's blowing left to right. But it's in your face at
17, which is the completely opposite direction. How does that
happen?"

A north wind, in particular, causes mischief at Augusta
National. It makes the course play longer, but short hitters
benefit because Woods and the other long knockers can't reach
the par-5 13th and 15th holes in two. Thursday's north wind
surely had something to do with this curiosity: The world's
10th-ranked player, Tom Lehman, shot 80, while the tournament's
fifth-oldest entrant, 66-year-old Gay Brewer, shot a par-72.

The north wind also gave us Paul Azinger, a low-ball hitter
whose game is usually not suited to Augusta's tight pin
positions and fast, hard greens. Zinger's clothesline-high iron
shots sneaked under the gusts like a fox under a fence. His
fifth-place finish was his best ever in the Masters.

In the old song, every little breeze seems to whisper Louise.
But in a major, they call the wind pariah. At the 1992 U.S. Open
at Pebble Beach, a gale blew on Sunday and only five players
shot par or better in the final round. The event was won with a
score of three-under-par 285 by--who else?--a Texan named Kite.

Wind favors guys named Kite.

To be sure, the '98 Masters will not end the debate over
Augusta's design. We excavators can point to the weekend's play,
when flags waved languidly atop unstressed poles. A young fellow
named David Toms shot 29 on the back side on Sunday, and winner
Mark O'Meara was nine under for the two days. But Woods, looking
a bit winded, finished 15 shots off his record score of '97.

That wind in the pines had something to say, all right: "Leave
the course alone."

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK HAIR-RAISING The wind whipped Brad Faxon.
"The wind conditions here are the most difficult to judge of any
course I play," said Watson.