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Tiger-proofing

The 1998 Masters: No Tiger-proofing required.

On the heels of Tiger Woods' record performance in 1997 (18 under par and a 12-shot margin of victory) there were many voices heard suggesting that this performance was evidence that technology was winning the war against tradition. It was also suggested that unless Augusta National was ''Tiger-proofed'', then the white flag of tradition's surrender would soon fly over the structure that was once the Berckman family residence. As late as the 1998 tournament week itself, those same voices could be heard suggesting unless the golf ball were made to fly shorter or restrictions were put on driver length and materials, then the integrity of the course and the game would be irreversibly compromised.

With the 1998 Masters now a matter of record and in the spirit of looking at the century-long balance between tradition and technology with the head as well as the heart, what is interesting is how the 1998 results compare against those of past Masters tournaments played in this decade:

Maybe, just maybe, Tiger Woods' 1997 performance was what many of us felt it to be; one masterful performance. What many seem to forget is that in 1997 the second-best score was six under par and, from a starting field of 86 players, only 20 players shot par or better for the 72 holes. Was Tiger-proofing required? Apparently not. Augusta National Chairman, Jack Stephens said it best: ''The record was broken after 32 years, then only by one shot. We do not think that's any great cause for alarm.''

That is not to suggest that the professional game played today is not distinctly different from that played some twenty years ago. Today's professionals are bigger and stronger, clubs are better designed, balls are more consistent, on-site swing doctors are more readily on call, week to week course conditions leave little chance for bad lies, and fitness trailers keep everyone's muscles stretched for maximum performance.

Is technology winning out over tradition? I don't think so. Is it a balance that must be watched closely? Yes, indeed. Was Tiger-proofing required? The answer is no. What is required are open minds and all parties to be heard. Frequently, in the grand debate of tradition and technology the only voices heard are those with access to the media tent. We all have an obligation to hear as well as listen to opposing points of view. The 1998 Masters gave us a deserving champion, wonderful dramatics and a sixty-year plus golf course that proved resilient and challenging for all four days. In the end the balance between tradition and technology was preserved. The balance will only be preserved if clear heads continue to prevail going forward.

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