Indeed, the pandemic hardly seemed to rattle most of the winners, many of whom saw the golf and Augusta’s traditions as too great to ignore, even in 2020. Sixteen past champions are playing this week and even though Player and Jack Nicklaus are not, they started the tournament with a ceremonial tee shot around daybreak on Thursday. Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, tested positive for coronavirus in March.
“I just played three months in a row, so why wouldn’t I come here?” asked Bernhard Langer, who turned 63 in August and won in 1985 and 1993. “I can social distance. I don’t have to hug anybody or whatever or do high-fives.”
Others who are competing had feared that they would not make it because of travel restrictions.
“It seemed very hard because I was marooned in Scotland for seven months, eight months,” said Sandy Lyle, the 1988 champion. But there he was at sunset on Monday, practicing putts and hoping to string together sufficiently low scores to make the Masters cut, set this year at the low 50s, for the first time since 2014.
“We’re still getting through this,” Lyle, 62, added about the pandemic. “We’ve got to be very happy that we’re even playing golf for prize money right now.”
So to look around Augusta National this week was still to spot winners, an exercise made easier than usual because of this year’s ban on spectators. Fred Couples, the 1992 winner, and Tiger Woods practiced together, as did Langer and Lyle. A few minutes after Vijay Singh, the champion in 2000, started hitting at No. 1 on Tuesday morning, Patrick Reed, who won 18 years after Singh, started a round from nearby No. 10.
More came for the Champions Dinner, a closed-door rite of the tournament for past winners and the club chairman.