The Masters never fails to amaze golf fans around the world and the 2021 tournament was no different.
Following postponement and an unfamiliar – yet strangely vibrant and nonetheless fascinating – autumn tournament last year, the first major of the year returned to its traditional April spot.
With Azaleas once again in bloom and the echo of tee shots bouncing around Amen Corner, golf was able to celebrate one of the sport’s great traditions at a time of ongoing uncertainty.
Yet there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future – it was a tournament full of firsts.
For the first time in two years, The Masters once again had patrons at the tournament.
Autumn’s 2020 Masters tournament demanded a mental adjustment for the players and the people watching on the television. Not only did the course look and feel different for the late time of year but it lacked the echoing cheers and groans of ‘patrons’ during the week. These were the effects of a global pandemic and restrictions on group sizes, meaning The Masters would be a closed-shop event, at least for spectators anyway.
But this year was different. Whilst numbers were restricted, patrons could once again walk across the property of Augusta National Golf Club and once again be part of what was an unexpectedly dramatic final nine holes on Sunday.
The return of golf fans within recent weeks at many golf tournaments signals a real sense of optimism for golf tournament organisers – from global golf tours and governing bodies running major tournaments, right the way through to local PGA Professionals and their respective club events.
For the first time in history, Japan could celebrate a home-grown Major Champion in the men’s game.
Ten years since Hideki Matsuyama claimed the Silver Cup for being the lowest amateur, the 2021 champion joined fellow major champions from the women’s game – Hisako Higuchi and Hinako Shibuno – to become only the third Japanese golfer of all time with a major title.
Having held a six-shot lead during the final round at one point, Matsuyama managed to hold on to claim the victory by one shot. Nerves were aplenty, particularly around the back nine when he overshot his approach into the water at the back of 15 to make bogey but with such a comfortable margin earlier on, Matsuyama had the room to make those mistakes.
For Japanese golf, it is a moment for huge celebration and has been a long time coming.
JOSÉ MARÍA OLAZÁBAL
It was the first time that José María Olazábal had made the cut in seven years.
Olazábal, who is a two-time Masters champion, a Ryder Cup Captain and a Spanish golfing great, was perhaps an unexpected story that surfaced during the week. First and second rounds of 75 and 71 respectively were enough for the 55-year-old to make his first cut in The Masters since 2014. It was a monumental performance from the Spaniard but one of self-confessed surprise as well, having not played competitively since the November tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
It coincides with the upcoming ten-year anniversary of the passing of his close friend and European golfing legend, Seve Ballesteros, so this performance from Olazábal will be with Ballesteros in mind and coupled with a strong showing from Jon Rahm as well, the week was a fitting tribute to one of Spain’s great players and champions.
It was also a first, quite literally, for the rookies of the tournament.
Will Zalatoris finished solo-second on his Masters debut in what was an incredibly calm and poised performance from the young American. Throughout the week rumours began to build around the fact that Zalatoris could become the first debutant to win the tournament since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
It wasn’t quite to be but his performance and that of Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, who also finished under-par for the week of his first showing, were debuts not often seen during the first major of the year.
It sets up an interesting and compelling narrative for the remainder of the golfing year, whilst also signalling a new wave of young talent emerging into golf’s highest ranks.
Furthermore, the many stories from last week’s tournament signals a cautiously-exciting narrative for the golf industry and golf fans across the world, who so often revert to The Masters as a start-gun for the remainder of the year.