Rob Manfred unwittingly did his best to turn The Masters Tournament into collateral damage. Reacting to the controversy over Georgia’s election-law legislation, the MLB commissioner pulled his sport’s 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta less than a week before the start of an even more meaningful sporting event in the state.
Naturally, people who wouldn’t know a pitching wedge from a pitchers mound assumed Augusta would follow suit or should at least consider coming to such a decision. Instead, it’s Manfred who faces a decision.
The Masters isn’t your run-of-the-mill event
The 2021 edition of The Masters officially kicks off at 8 a.m. on Thursday when Hudson Swafford and Michael Thompson tee off at No. 1. Regardless of what the calendar says, the kickoff of the first of golf’s four major tournaments qualifies as the start of spring.
At the very least, it’s the point at which golf fans start paying closer attention. Aside from it being the first major, it’s a tournament that has generated great memories:
- The completion of the “Tiger Slam” in 2001.
- Jack Nicklaus winning at the age of 46.
- Larry Mize chipping in from 140 feet in a playoff with Greg Norman.
- Lee Elder breaking the tournament’s color barrier in 1975.
- Ben Crenshaw’s emotional victory a week after the death of mentor Harvey Penick.
Here’s why The Masters isn’t going anywhere
Rob Manfred triggered a golf crisis for about 30 seconds by moving the MLB All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Suddenly, Augusta National Golf Club was thrust into the spotlight as the uninformed started suggesting that The Masters could be moved, too.
Keith Olbermann, a former ESPN SportsCenter anchor who’s spent the latter portion of his career job-hopping, immediately made a ludicrous linguistic connection. Linking “The Masters” and Georgia formerly being a slave state, he called for a boycott — to which current ESPN anchor Matt Barrie responded, “Shut. Up.”
The PGA of America announced in January that it is moving the 2022 PGA Championship out of Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey in response to the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol that took place the day that the results of the 2020 presidential election were to be certified. Though moving a tournament is a logistical nightmare that will require a year of intense work, it is a viable option.
That’s not the case with The Masters. Aside from the fact that no professional golf tournament like the dozens operated by the PGA Tour can move in a matter of days, the only people who can actually do it are the members of Augusta National Golf Club. It is they rather than the PGA Tour who own and operate the tournament.
There was never even the remote possibility that the members would move or cancel their own event.
Rob Manfred has backed himself into a corner
Baseball and golf have more in common than the fact that both were scheduled to conduct major events in Georgia this year. It turns out that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is a member of Augusta National Golf Club, the site of The Masters. And that puts him in an awkward position.
By decreeing that Georgia voting reform legislation is unacceptable and deciding that the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will be moved from Georgia to Colorado — “The best way to demonstrate our values as a sport,” his announcement stated — Manfred has created an awkward situation for himself: If baseball is boycotting Georgia, then why isn’t he also doing so on a personal level?
Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential presidential candidate in 2024, asked that question this week in a letter to Manfred inquiring as to whether he will terminate his membership at Augusta National.
More than engaging in a “gotcha” media stunt, Rubio said MLB’s All-Star Game decision “will have a bigger impact on countless small and minority owned businesses in and around Atlanta, than the new election law ever will.”
The fact that Manfred hadn’t renounced his club membership as of early Wednesday afternoon amounts to Manfred telling others to “do as I say, not as I do.” Time will tell how that goes over with sports fans or the MLB owners who pay his salary.