The NBA Finals ended 20 days before Halloween. The World Series was played in the same neutral stadium for eight days. Pro and college football games, like the other sports, are being contested in front of few, if any, fans.
Yes, 2020 is the sports year like no other. And now we have the Masters in November.
Like those other major events, our great game has adapted. We’ve grown accustomed to the eerie silence when a pro sinks a long putt. If the pro and his caddie don’t react, there’s no one else there to make any noise.
Our local golf courses have adjusted as well. We quickly got used to never taking the flagstick out of the hole and going without ball washers, water dispensers or rakes.
Then yesterday happened.
I was playing my home course, a track I’ve traversed about 50 times in the last few years.
All summer, we would pay through a window that opened to the outside. But this time the pro shop was open again. We could actually go inside.
Then we got to the practice putting green, and there were regulation-depth cups – not those shallow ones that don’t hold more than one or two balls.
And when we reached the first green, we were greeted by another remember-when sight: real, live rakes in the bunkers. I’ve never been so happy to clean up my footprints.
But there was an even bigger change that had nothing to do with COVID-19 and had everything to do with testing how healthy your game is.
On three par-3s, the tees were way back – on one of them, as far back as I have ever seen them.
The difference was startling. A routine little 9-iron over the water suddenly was a full 5-iron, and the pin was placed right behind the big bunker in front.
I was so startled, in fact, that I dumped it in the water and took my only double bogey of the day. That cost me a chance to break 80 in a good ball-striking round.
Afterward, all I could think about was how intimidating – and interesting – that one shot was. Here’s why:
Go to just about any course, and the various tees can be like playing two entirely different golf courses.
For years, I played the back tees exclusively. I didn’t want it any other way.
Playing the whites almost felt like cheating. It was a difference of at least two clubs, maybe three or four.
But I’ve been on the whites for about a decade as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve come to realize that I’m not built for the backs anymore. If I needed a reminder, that one shot yesterday did the trick.
I don’t want to play the tips anymore even though I’ve still got more length than most players my age. It’s just not fun. It’s especially not fun when I hit it a little heavy and a little to the right and splash it into the drink.
I’d rather take advantage of the white tees and see if I can shoot a good score once in awhile. At some point, you’ve got to give in to age.
The pros, on the other hand, don’t just play the tips – Augusta National is one of the many courses that has built new tees to try to defeat the prodigious distances they can hit the ball.
It’s useless, of course. Even if every par-3 was at least 200 yards, every par-4 approached 500 yards and every par-5 was more than six football fields, the pros still would be hitting a lot of mid-irons and wedges to the greens.
Still, I’ll enjoy watching the Masters at such a strange time of year. At least we’re still getting a Masters this year, just as we somehow got all those other sports, as weird as they sometimes looked.
That’s 2020 for you. It’s the year where you never know what to expect – even on your home course.