Being tight-lipped at the Masters is part of the Augusta tradition

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08: Patrick Reed of the United States celebrates with his wife Justine after making par 18th green during the final round to win the 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2018 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The TV cameras had Patrick Reed well-covered, but among the announcers, a lot was left unsaid.

Jim Nantz’s trademark phrase used to describe the Masters — say it with me: “a tradition unlike any other” — has become so tied to the event that it actually is trademarked.

Not by Nantz, the CBS play-by-play voice who coined the phrase in 1986, but by Augusta National, which applied for the trademark in September 2014 and received it in June 2017.

Perhaps it is right that Augusta National owns the rights. Because “a tradition unlike any other” applies not only to the revered tournament itself, but also to the conservative, pretentious, and sometimes heavy-handed manner in which the club has long presided over CBS’s coverage.


Much has been made of CBS’s decision during and after the final round Sunday to ignore green jacket winner Patrick Reed’s controversial background.

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CBS told viewers that Reed was known as “Captain America” because of his successes in the Ryder Cup and other international events. It mentioned that he played on a two-time NCAA champion team at nearby Augusta State.

But it did not address what actually makes him a compelling figure.

CBS did not mention that Reed ended up at Augusta State because he was kicked off the University of Georgia team amid allegations of cheating and stealing by his own teammates.

Or that he has been estranged from his parents and younger sister since 2012, when he married his wife, Justine, apparently against the wishes of his family, who reportedly felt that at age 22 he was too young to get married.


Or that Reed received a tepid response from the gallery at Augusta after impressively fending off the far more popular Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth.

It’s not as if CBS were sitting on some secret. Reed’s complicated story is well-known now to even casual golf fans, due to reporting elsewhere. senior writer Alan Shipnuck spent Sunday at a watch party at Reed’s parents’ home in Augusta and wrote an illuminating and heart-wrenching piece that was posted on the website that evening.

CBS people aren’t talking about why the network ignored Reed’s backstory. A CBS spokesman said via e-mail Wednesday that there would be no comment from anyone at the network.

Given CBS’s steadfast decision to go silent on the matter, an easy conclusion is drawn: It wasn’t the network’s decision at all.


There is a long history of Augusta National dictating the specifics of how CBS and ESPN (which carries the first two rounds) cover the Masters.

And if something is done or said that doesn’t mesh with the pristine, bucolic, and exclusive image Augusta National aims to project, the person who did or said it might not have much to do or say in regard to the tournament for very long.

Gary McCord, a popular and irreverent CBS golf announcer for years, found this out the hard way in 1994.

McCord offered a couple of off-the-cuff one-liners during the tournament that year. When a ball was rolling toward a water hazard after an errant approach shot, he joked that “there are some body bags down there if that keeps going.” He also suggested that the greens were especially slippery because they were treated with bikini wax.

McCord made the mistake of being irreverent. Augusta National doesn’t do irreverent. It demands reverence. McCord was not part of the Masters broadcast the following year. CBS acknowledged that it was because tournament officials were not comfortable with his style.

McCord still calls golf for CBS. But he hasn’t been part of the Masters coverage since then.

He’s not the only broadcaster to face the wrath of tournament officials. In 1966, CBS’s Jack Whitaker referred to the gallery on the 18th hole as a “mob.” He was banished for five years, eventually returning in 1972.

It was long part of the Masters legend that Augusta National officials set rigid guidelines on specific words and phrases broadcasters could and could not use. It wasn’t Nantz’s decision to refer to fans as “patrons’’ or the rough as “the second cut.” It was the language Augusta National officials wanted used.

This was confirmed in 2015 when ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted a list of 33 broadcast rules that tournament officials had passed on to CBS before the 1979 tournament.

Among them:

  Never estimate the size of the gallery

  Never refer to the players’ earnings.

  De-emphasize the players’ antics.

  Do not compare any holes at Augusta National with those at another golf course.

And what should probably be called the Whitaker Rule:

  Never refer to the gallery or patrons as a mob or a crowd.

That’s a lot of nevers and don’ts. I’m surprised the list doesn’t include “Never let ’em see you sweat.”

Other reporters, including Will Haskett, then a golf announcer for SiriusXM radio, have since confirmed the existence of a more recent set of rules, one without many changes from the one Rovell unearthed.

As far as I can tell, CBS and ESPN have never acknowledged its existence. Which is probably another mandate from Augusta National: Do not tell anyone about this list.

The Masters controlling how its broadcast partners discuss the event and venue? Yeah, that’s a tradition unlike any other as well.

It shouldn’t even require a trademark. Even before choosing to tell just an unsatisfying portion of Patrick Reed’s story, the CBS/Augusta National arrangement was as obvious as the green of the grass in the course’s rough.

Chad Finn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.