Gabriela Ruffels has won the US Women’s Amateur Championship to become Australia’s first winner in the 119th edition of the event.
Whether it be the course itself, its storied history or the sheer integrity of the event, the US Masters is the most poetic of international sporting competitions.
If, like me, you hauled yourself out of bed at ungodly hours to follow the fortunes of the Great White Shark – or fish finger, depending on your view – the romance of the Masters and the enormity of winning it will always be celebrated.
The tournament is dramatic, lawless and unique. From the early 1930s, when Bobby Jones dreamed of a place for wealthy, powerful and aristocratic men to meet and play cards, to the modern-day version of modern skill and power, the venue and event hold pride of place in the golfing calendar.
The ‘Fruitlands’ nursery was bought for a relative pittance and renowned Scottish architect Alister MacKenzie employed to lay out what would become the most famous golf course in the world.
Jones hit shot after shot to imaginary greens, avoiding bunkers and water in an attempt to craft the most strategic test of golf ever seen – and succeed he did. The original concept placed little emphasis on length, unlike the brutal test offered by some of the monstrous modern courses, where power is everything.
Augusta National was always about strategy and precision and the overall challenge stemmed from greens of immense speed and the difficulty created by the hole locations. (They are not pin positions at Augusta; they are hole locations, which actually makes grammatical sense.)
The fundamental reason for this was the simple fact that Augusta was originally designed as a place for Bobby Jones and his mates to meet and play golf.
Presidential campaigns were plotted on the grounds, multinational takeovers and mergers were planned, as black servants catered to the whims of the white, male aristocracy.
Thankfully, the days of black caddies with white players, a servant-based workforce and a sexist institution full of elitism and privilege has morphed into something far more in tune with the social mores that currently exist.
Yet there are still throes to the past in the monolithic pines and the holes so gracefully named after the flora. One can only imagine the way in which players are moved on their first journey up Magnolia Lane, as they enter the club.
The young amateurs will still stay in the cabins that align the tenth fairway and the Champions’ dinner will be hosting by the previous year’s winner with the menu hand-chosen by he and he alone.
The true majesty of the event lies in the arrogance of the club and its unwillingness to change or adapt to corporate influence. The field is limited in number compared to other majors, the corporate sponsorship is restricted to an elite few, and the mantra of the club is akin to ‘if you don’t like it, don’t come’.
As the players thrash and navigate their way through the epic scenery, they aren’t surrounded by corporate boardings, the fans aren’t charged exorbitant prices for food and beverage, and the tickets are passed down from generation to generation.
All this combines to give a feel of days gone by; just the way the club want it to feel. Jones, Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Player, Nicklaus and Woods are the key names at Augusta National. No first name or initial is required.
Since 1934 – when Horton Smith won the first Invitational, as it was called then – and Gene Sarazen holed his epic five-wood a year later from the top of the hill on what is now the 15th, the legacy has done nothing but grow.
What will always resonate with me is the sound of the striking of the ball in the trees as it reverberates through the pines and the roars of patrons in different sections of the course as charges are made by the greats.
This year sees a new breed and some of the seasoned veterans thrown together to fight out the title that will once again discover the best player throughout the course of the week. There are no flukes at Augusta, just quality shots, struck at the right time.
Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson loom as favourites early in the betting and their form is impressive. Past champions Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia will be seeking an additional title.
Personally, Henrik Stenson appears the most dangerous threat to them all; when he is on his game there isn’t a player out there that can match his skill.
Astonishingly, Tiger Woods is back in the discussion and, on recent from, he needs to be considered on a golf course he loves.
It is one of the sporting weeks of the year and commercially, we get to watch one of the most professional television broadcasts of sport in the world.
The beauty of the tournament lies in the fact that it will only ramp up to full volume at around 6am Monday morning (AEST) when the back nine begins. As with all great events, something extraordinary will occur and another Masters chapter will be written.