By E. Michael Johnson
The Masters is well known as a “tradition unlike any other.” That extends to those who work on the competitors’ equipment. There are a few reasons for that. Just as the club has its patron policies against using cellphones and running on the course, it has a couple of rules that differ from a typical week on the PGA Tour as it relates to equipment vans and the tour reps who man them.
Most notably, the vans are not allowed on the grounds at Augusta National. Instead, they are set up across Washington Road in a shopping complex parking lot. Access to the Masters tournament range also is somewhat restricted. On most weeks the tour reps are free to roam the range, along with caddies, agents, media and anyone who owns an inside-the-ropes pass. At the Masters, there’s a “player, plus two” policy, where the player can be on the range with only two other people at a time. Additionally, whereas most weeks tour reps and players can connect via cellphone, the ban on those devices at Augusta National changes the logistical equation.
To a novice, these rules might seem a bit extreme. But for tour reps who’ve worked the tournament before, they are challenges they’ve become accustomed to and, in some instances, even view them as a welcome respite from the weekly grind.
“It’s a different week, but we have a few different weeks on tour,” says Ping’s Christian Pena. “With no cellphones, players need to understand that communicating their needs is key. Sometimes you’ll have a player pull up by the vans in their courtesy car—usually a veteran—because they know that makes it easier on them and us.”
Adds Cobra’s Ben Schomin: “When you do something 35 to 40 weeks a year one way and then you have to do it a different way, it takes some getting used to. You realize scheduling is important; but like everything at the Masters, it works really, really well. It’s a very efficient work week. There’s less idle chit-chat. That’s because there’s less time to get things done and the players are more focused. J.J. Weaver and Tony Sessa [Augusta National’s two golf professionals] are super helpful and they make the back and forth very easy for us.”
Almost without exception, the reps mentioned the fact that the Masters is played at the same venue every year as being a plus for working with their players.
“They know the course, they know what the conditions are like,” said Titleist’s Aaron Dill, who works with many of the players on their wedges. “We do, too. If a player wants a specific wedge grind for the Masters, they will get me that request well in advance. The same with a custom stamping, which a lot of them like for Masters week [Justin Thomas, for one, had a special request]. I make it a point to mention it to them three, four weeks out. I want to do it right.”
Rodney McDonald, who heads up tour operations for Cleveland/Srixon is a Masters veteran, has seen the evolution of the equipment end of things at Augusta.
“We’ve always been off-site, but it used to be that you would walk in and walk out with a coloured sticker dot on your credential,” he said. “Now you have to show your ID. And while it’s OK to bring clubs to the range, I once made the mistake of trying to get some irons out on the course and was politely turned away. That was a number of years ago. I just didn’t know the rules. But a few years ago Keegan Bradley cracked his driver on Wednesday and I needed to get a new one out to him. They were very good about that.”
Emergencies aside, most players have Augusta on their mind well before Masters week when it comes to their bats. Pena notes that 2009 Masters champion Angel Cabrera almost always will ask for a set of the company’s wedges with the TS (thin sole) grind, one designed to work well on the firm, close-cropped surfaces. Dill notes some will simply get new wedges in order to have fresh grooves to produce the maximum amount of grab, while Schomin said he has worked with Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau on new iron shafts in recent weeks. Rusty Estes, who reps for shaft makers Mitsubishi and Aldila, notes there is not a lot of trials as most of the component-makers don’t have credentials for that week, but if conditions change some players might look to do something different to create more carry if it’s wet.
“It’s less hectic than most weeks,” Pena said “You don’t have a lot of players you’re seeing for the first time. The players are mostly all business this week and the less-crowded atmosphere on the range contributes to that.”
Making it an equipment environment, unlike any other week on tour.