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A Bunch of Hot Air
John Garrity
April 20, 1998
Swirling winds swept away the clamor for change at Augusta National
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April 20, 1998

A Bunch Of Hot Air

Swirling winds swept away the clamor for change at Augusta National

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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.

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 highball 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.

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