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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Ridley rules out ‘Masters Ball’ but protecting integrity of Augusta is top priority

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While Masters Chairman Fred Ridley dispelled any talk of an Augusta tournament golf ball, the club seems determined it will not rule out measures to help protect the integrity of Augusta National. And those measures could include going against the decisions by golf’s two ruling authorities – the R&A and USGA.

Ridley, who indicated he’s now been a member at the famed Georgia club for 20-years, delivered the now ‘State of the Masters’ address an hour before noon local US time Wednesday in the Media Centre at Augusta National.

Much has been stated in recent years of Augusta National becoming out-dated as the advances in golf technology leave many courses around the globe at the mercy of today’s drivers.

Augusta National has sought to keep pace with changes to the course that first hosted the Masters in 1934, sometimes subtle changes that can go unnoticed, though last November much of the pre-Masters talk was on fears muscleman Bryson DeChambeau would bring Augusta National to its knees.

That did not happen but instead Dustin Johnson won with a record-setting 20-under par victory tally and Aussie Cameron Smith, who finished joint second and five shots back of ‘DJ’, became the first player in 84 Masters to incredibly post four rounds in the 60s.

Ridley was asked his reaction to Johnson’s winning 20-under score and about strong rumours, as reported by Shane Lowry when he played two practice rounds earlier last month, that Augusta would be ‘toughened’ this week so there would not be a repeat of Johnson’s 72-hole victory tally.

“Dustin Johnson’s play was spectacular, and he was the champion that week but we don’t have any prescribed score,” said Ridley.

“The fact that Dustin was 20-under was a combination of his extraordinary play that at the same time, admittedly, the golf course was soft. We had a lot of rain leading up to the Tournament, and I think the time of year combined with the wet conditions produced an extraordinarily soft golf course.

“So, it was ready to be played very well with a lot of red numbers. But that really had nothing to do with the way the golf course is playing right now. We have had ideal weather. We had a cool January, we had a little more rain than normal in February, but all of those conditions have normalised, and you’ve seen the weather the last few days. It’s been terrific.

“This is probably the first year in the last — probably going back to — what year did Adam Scott win? 2013, I think — when we actually came into the week with the golf course playing firm and fast, as it is right now.

“Our intention would be to maintain that throughout the week. In the past, we might have started out a little soft and then got firmer as the week went on and vice versa, and last year we were pretty soft all week. I think we have the golf course where we want it. It’s playing, as I said in my comments, firm and fast, and not only the greens but the fairways. The ball really is rolling.

“You know, Bobby Jones said often he wanted to create an inland links course when he built Augusta National. So, when you think about that, we certainly don’t look like a links course because we have a lot of trees, but we can have the characteristics of a links course by having the ground play a big part in how the course is played, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

It prompted Ridley being asked, and it’s a subject that has been mentioned many times, about the possibility of Augusta National introducing their own ‘Augusta ball’ with all players obliged to use an ‘Augusta ball’ in competition. Well, Ridley buried that notion.

“I know there’s been some talk in the past of possibly a Masters golf ball or something like that. I would think that would be highly unlikely and would, in my view, be an absolute last resort,” said Ridley.

“We have had a long-standing position of supporting the governing bodies. I was very encouraged when I saw the areas of interest that were published by the USGA and R&A recently. I know there have been varying opinions among players and others, other stakeholders in golf, and that’s really how the process should work.

“I would add that as far as I understand what is being studied, that part of the study would be – – would not be intended to make it more difficult or to impose regulations that would make it more difficult for higher handicappers to play. We are concerned about that issue. Growth of the game is a big issue.

“But our position would be to support the governing bodies, and then if there is no action taken, for whatever reason, then we need to look at other options with regard to our golf course and what we can do to continue to challenge these great golfers and maintain the design integrity that was initially adopted by Mr. Jones and Mr. MacKenzie.”

Augusta National is constantly adapting, as reflected in the last 20-years with some 590-yards added so that this year it will play to 7,475 yards.

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