The Masters
By joe jones on 4/4/13
As long as oobers like Joseph Jones submit well written guest columns, we're going to keep publishing them.

Augusta National has a reputation of being a bombers golf course and while that may be true it is not the only skill that is required to win. In many ways the challenge at The Masters also requires a player to be a great ball striker, a great putter and most of all a player that can think his way around the course. That is why young players always try to play practice rounds with past champions. They obviously can play or they wouldn't be in the field but they must learn not only where to hit the ball but more importantly where not to. That comes with experience.

In 1996 when Nick Faldo came from behind to catch and pass Greg Norman he won by averaging 267 yards off the tee. Norman averaged 291. Norman was at that time the longest and straightest driver in the game. Faldo used his shortness to advantage by hitting first on almost every approach which put pressure on Norman. Greg was unable to stand up to the stress. The common wisdom about The Masters is that the tournament is won or lost at the Amen Corner on Sunday. I would like to include holes 9 and 10 as part of the equation.

When hitting their approach to number nine Faldo hit a dead hand 8-iron to the middle of the green. Norman hit a wedge 20 feet behind the pin which spun off the front and rolled down the slope almost to his feet. He was leading at that point but this was the start of his downfall. He never was able to recover from what he felt was a perfect shot.

In 1997 Tiger Woods set a new course record of 18-under-par 270 while averaging 294 yards off the tee. He regularly reached the par fives with 8- and 9-irons and wedges. It caused Masters officials to undertake a program to Tiger proof the course. They installed trees to cutoff existing driving lanes. They started a practice of mowing fairways from green to tee which reduced run out in the fairways. They put in pine straw in some of the par fives to make recovery shots more difficult and they lengthened the course by 140 yards. The next year the Masters was won by Mark O'Meara with a driving average of 279 yards.

Short hitters have had great success at Augusta. In 1999 the Masters was won by Jose Maria Olazabal with a paltry 240-yard average. In 1995 Ben Crenshaw won averaging 259 yards. In 2007 Zach Johnson averaged 265 while never going for a single par five in two. Johnson won despite the fact that he laid up on every par five. He relied on tremendous ball striking and a knowledge of how to play the course.

The greens at Augusta are very fast but no more so than many of the course that are played on the PGA tour. Tho green speeds are not officially released but common knowledge suggests that they read in the 12 to 12.5 Stimpmeter range. Augusta's greens present a problem because there are very few flat spots and the contours are so extreme that it is almost impossible to leave yourself an easy putt. Each green has it's own swales and humps that can only be learned with experience. There are many holes where you can hit what appears to be a perfect approach only to watch the ball wind up 25 to 30 feet away.

Here are a few examples of the difficulty the greens can present.
  • Hole 9 — "Caroline Cherry", a 460-yard par-4. As mentioned previously it is hard to make anything stay on the green. If you are short or have too much spin the ball will come back down the hill. If you are above the hole three putts are a strong possibility.

  • Hole 10 — "Camellia", a 495-yard par-4. Bubba's famous hole. A good drive can leave you with a second shot above your feet to a green that slopes from right to left. A hookers nightmare unless you are left handed. Historically the hardest hole on the course. Another three-putt nightmare.

  • Hole 11 — "White Dogwood", a 505-yard par-4. You are faced with a long iron approach to a green that slopes both ways from the middle. The pond on the left comes into play on any ball to the left center of the green. Bailout area short right for the faint of heart.

  • Hole 12 — "Golden Bell", a 155-yard par-3. One of the greatest short holes in the world. Swirling winds make this short par-3 a thrill. Played with anything from a 6- to a 9-iron. Shallow green with front slope running down to Rae's Creek which swallows many a ball. Trapped in front and behind with woods long over green. Hit and pray.

  • Hole 13 — "Azalea", a 510-yard par-5. True risk-reward hole. A good drive is imperative. You must hit your approach shot with the ball well above your feet hitting to a green that slopes from left to right. A drive to the flat area on the left brings Rae's Creek into play and has ruined many a round over the years. The creek also runs in front of the green. Anything short is disaster.

  • Hole 14 — "Chinese Fir", a 440-yard par-4. The only hole on the course without a sand trap. It doesn't need any to be difficult. Trees on both sides of the fairway make the drive critical. The green has a small shelf that you can hit to. There is a ridge running up the center of the green with contours that are not receptive to even good approach shots and anything short will run off the false front. In my opinion this is the toughest green among many tough greens at Augusta.

  • Hole 15 — "Firethorn", a 530-yard par-5. Pines and pine straw on the right eliminate a previous shortcut. Reachable par five but pond in front and closely mown runoff area behind green present trouble on any miss hit.

  • Hole 16 — "Redbud", a 170-yard par-3. Tee shot must carry completely over water to a green that slopes from high shelf on right with very small landing area to a low side that has a trap that catches many balls. Huge breaking putts and chip shots are commonplace with Tiger Woods 180° chip-in being the most famous. All of that said back left pin position can be aced with ball landing high on the right side and slowly funneling down to pin.
Obviously there are many other holes that present there own difficulties. Most players say there are no give away holes on the course. No breathers or easy birdie holes. That's what makes it so special.

Augusta National is not only one of the most beautiful courses in the world but is a masterpiece of design. This course identifies who the great players are and also reveals players weaknesses and faults. The ability to think oneself around a course is imperative for success at The Masters.

This was written by Joseph Jones, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.

Have an idea for a guest column? Send it here!

Image via Flickr, Steven Snodgrass

[ comments ]
bducharm says:
Even with HD and 3D TV, it does not do justice to the greens when you see them in person! When I went last year, I marveled at the slopes and contours that I never saw on television!!! It truly is an amazing place.
jfurr says:
Nicely written, Joeseph, thanks
onedollarwed says:
Cool stuff! Thanks Joe; I hardly ever watch the game, so this will help!
joe jones says:
The pre tournament coverage on The Golf Channel could be using my column as a script. Many of the experts, especially previous winners have pointed out the problem with playing approach shots to the correct area of the green in order to leave yourself a make able putt.The only thing I left out of my article (tho it was in my notes) was the fact that many of the holes require longer irons than they did a few years ago.Hitting small greens that were originally designed to receive a 8 or 9 iron become almost impossible when you are hitting a mid iron. I will watch with great interest to see if some of the holes I described live up to my descriptions.
joe jones says:
The first day consensus is that the greens are more receptive and a little slower than in the past. They are expecting overnight rains with winds tomorrow afternoon. Augusta has the ability to speed up the greens and suck the moisture out of them overnight. It wouldn,t suprise me if they implement this strategy after some of the comments that Phil Mickelson made today. Of course that may be what Phil intended.Great putters love fast greens.
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