AUGUSTA — Amen Corner azaleas bloom on cue from Verne Lundquist, but Augusta National texture isn’t just visual. The sound of a sudden reaction to an eagle raises hair, roaring through the smell of pines, peanuts and cigar smoke from Rae’s Creek to the manually-operated leaderboard aside the No. 1 fairway.
It was French amateur Romain Langasque making eagle at No. 15 and former Augusta University national champ Patrick Reed at No. 8 on Friday.
It could have been Nicklaus, or Hogan. Or Fuzzy Zoeller.
Augusta as a “tradition unlike any other” (except maybe Thanksgiving) blends its precious past with progress. Friday it was the ovation for Tom Watson, 66, coming up to the 18th green on his final Masters hole and 22-year-old Bryson DeChambeau’s new-fangled scientific approach to better golf.
The Pimento cheese sandwich remains $1.50, same as the egg salad sandwich. It’s as if they’re marketing to Lee Trevino or Raymond Floyd galleries right alone with people at the 80th Masters who watched a bunch of longshots try to keep up with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Of course, this hallowed place isn’t about to let non-professionals reinvent the game.
But DeChambeau, an SMU physics major, might try.
One of only five people to win the U.S. Amateur and NCAA championships the same year, DeChambeau plans to turn pro before next week’s RBC Heritage at Hilton Head. On the way, he shot a second-round 72 Friday with a triple-bogey on 18 that knocked him out of second place. The Clovis, Calif., resident uses Vector Putting (a method for analyzing speed and distance). All his irons are the same length (37.5 inches).
Paul Casey, DeChambeau’s Masters playing partner in the Spieth group, quizzed the whiz kid.
“Yeah, basic rocket science,” Casey said, “how much thrust would it take to get out of the moon’s atmosphere.”
Old and new perfectly intertwined Thursday when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player came out for the ceremonial first shots (an ailing Palmer begged off but was present). DeChambeau made his way out of the locker room to watch “a memory I’ll never forget.”
The Ryder Cup team can use all the creative help it can get. While Masters champions were all Americans or South Africa’s Gary Player (three wins) from 1934-1979, 12 players from 10 countries have accounted for 17 green jackets since.
Is Ireland’s McElroy next?
Within the global golf village there were 49 international players in the Masters field this year after 50 or more the previous seven tournaments.
There were never more than 30 before 2000, never more than 20 before 1991.
International growth gets a boost this summer in Rio de Janeiro. Golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, when the Augusta National property was the Fruitlands horticultural nursery. The world’s best golfers have been debating whether an Olympic gold medal is as prestigious as a major championship; Bubba Watson says absolutely, Adam Scott says no.
Whoever takes charge in Augusta or Rio, future Masters will look different live and on your favorite viewing device.
Demo models of 4K television broadcasts, sort of like advanced HD, are on display in the Masters media center this week. DirecTV offers the three Amen Corner holes for customers with 4K TVs.
So that’s a coverage upgrade from the Craig Stadler-Dan Pohl playoff of 1982. But if the Masters is about to get more fun to watch, the course will get tougher to play. With Old Berckmans Road newly realigned to give Augusta National more room along the No. 4 (240-yard par 3) and No. 5 (455-yard par 4) holes and the relative dullness of No. 13 (510-yard par 5), changes are “under consideration,” said Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne.
Somehow, they will eventually alter those holes into challenges requiring completely new and perhaps scientific strategy to result in that familiar Augusta roar.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff