Sobel: The Masters Is Postponed but a Later Date Will Only Heighten Anticipation

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Peter Dazeley, Getty Images.

This year’s Masters Tournament has officially been postponed.

Read those words again and try to comprehend the enormity of a situation that will delay a bastion of springtime tradition. March Madness? An unbelievably bitter loss from the annual sporting landscape. Opening Day? An institution which will be put on hold.

The Masters, though? The Masters is, as they say, “a tradition unlike any other,” but that’s not just some catchy slogan. This is the tournament that does what it wants, when it wants, how it wants. You can push around a Valspar Championship and it will flinch, but the Masters is supposed to be uncompromising, the one event on our collective calendars which can’t be pushed around by man or disease.

Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway here: For those who still aren’t sold on the global severity of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, this might serve as the slap in the face you needed. It’s one thing for the PGA TOUR and other governing bodies around sports to, if you don’t believe the seriousness of the current news cycle, acquiesce to governmental pressure and play things cautiously.

Augusta National doesn’t acquiesce. If you own a green jacket, that word is not in your vocabulary.

And yet, here we are. The powers-that-be who rule over golf’s richest pageant have deemed the current situation too significant to hold a tournament for the game’s best players next month.

That’s like robbing us of springtime itself, of keeping us from hearing the first birds chirping through the trees or seeing the first flowers start to bloom.

If there’s a bright side to Friday’s announcement, it’s that this isn’t a cancellation, just a postponement.

“We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date,” tournament chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement.

I’ll take the glass half-full perspective here. While I’ve never been to Augusta National later in the year, we do know that the club always shuts down not long after the Masters in April and opens up again in October.

From what I hear, early September isn’t a great option because of agronomical reasons. And I get that. But I also know that if the Augusta members want grass to grow, then they’ll make sure grass will grow — whatever it takes.

While no timetable has been given by Ridley or anyone else, the PGA Tour concludes its season during the last week of August, right down Interstate 20 in Atlanta. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to imagine the Masters being held on the back end of the FedEx Cup, when the world’s best players are still fresh and active and prepared to compete. It would be Labor Day weekend, signifying not the beginning of spring, but the end of summer. And let’s not be naive about logistics: On the weekend before the start of NFL season, the Masters would have an opportunity to rightly claim its place in the sporting spotlight.

Is that the scenario we all wish was taking place? Of course not, but desperate times like these do call for desperate measure – and in sports terminology, moving the Masters to September would be as desperate as it gets.

Allow me to push this optimistic viewpoint even further: Let’s assume the world returns to some sense of normalcy by this autumn, that we’re through the darkest days and ready for a time of healing. We already know that an extra five months of waiting for the year’s most anticipated tournament will only heighten that anticipation. If they can somehow replant a few azaleas and recreate the scene we’re so accustomed to seeing in April, then maybe we can use this year’s Masters as a rallying point around the world’s necessity for restoration.

Right now, that’s all an assumption. That’s all we have.

As Jon Rahm, the world’s No. 2-ranked golfer in the world, said before this postponement, “There’s bigger problems in the world than whether we play the Masters or not.”

He’s absolutely right, whether we like it or not.

Maybe, though, there might not be a bigger moment for the rejuvenation of society than witnessing this tradition being contested after the pandemic – finally. Maybe the months of added anticipation only make it sweeter, only make us appreciate it more when it arrives.

And maybe that’s all wishful thinking right now, with so much still unknown. In today’s somber news cycle, though, with so much anguish and anxiety running through each one of us, a little wishful thinking isn’t such a bad thing.

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