A look at Augusta's most challenging holes along with tips from Casper, Player, and other Masters champions.
With spring in the air and the dogwoods blooming along Magnolia Lane, we gaze at Augusta National through the eyes of those who really know it - those who've played the Masters under tournament pressure and felt the hallowed ground beneath their feet. They pick the course's toughest holes and give an insider's perspective on how to handle them. Helpful advice you can use wherever you tee it up.
WHITE DOGWOOD, 505 yards, par 4
Challenge: Welcome to the start of Amen Corner, the fitting name of a stirring three-hole stretch golfers often get through on a wing and a prayer. From a long, tight chute set deep in the pines, this brutish par 4 calls for a slight fade to a fairway that slopes down toward a treacherous green, tightly guarded by a lake on the left.
Track record: In a 1990 sudden-death playoff with defending champ Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd pulled his 7-iron approach on 11 and knew his ball was wet and his hopes were sunk. Bogey for Floyd. Another green jacket for Faldo. "This is the most devastating thing that's ever happened to me in my career," Floyd said. If only he'd missed right, a la Larry Mize, who, playing it safe in his 1987 playoff against Greg Norman, blocked his second shot on 11. The wayward iron left Mize with a long, ticklish chip to a back-left pin - a daunting challenge. But every armchair historian knows what came next: Mize holed out for a clinching birdie, one of the most famous shots in Masters history.
Lesson to learn: Making a Midrange Pitch From a Tight Lie
Two key thoughts to get you started: Hit down on the ball and accelerate through impact. To that end, keep your weight on your left side during your backswing with the ball slightly back in your stance. "Do not feel like you have to scoop or lift the ball," says three-time Masters champion Gary Player. The club itself should do the work. When you're faced with a tight lie, it also often pays to play a conservative shot. Better to leave yourself a long putt than to knock one in the water. And remember, Player adds: "The harder you practice, the luckier you get."
GOLDEN BELL, 155 yards, par 3
Challenge: How can such a short hole inflict so much suffering? The answer lies in its devilish design. Slender as a supermodel, the green sits at an angle, with Rae's Creek as its bodyguard, front and right. Short? You're wet. Long? You're bunkered - or worse, lost in the azalea bushes. The margin for error is painstakingly small. Throw in the swirling winds and the pressure of the moment, says Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who finished tied for 18th in the 1999 Masters, and "the hole creates this incredible cocktail of chaos that makes the game of golf such a beautiful thing."
Track record: For images of agony, it's hard to beat the picture of free-falling Greg Norman, who dunked one in Rae's Creek in 1996 and made double-bogey during an epic final-round collapse. But for sheer number of shots, no one tops Tom Weiskopf, who, in the first round in 1980, hit five balls in the water on his way to an inglorious 13. Not that disaster always strikes. Witness the case of a smiled-upon Fred Couples, who held the lead on Sunday in 1992 when his tee shot hit the shaved bank short of the green and, in violation of the laws of physics, refused to roll back into the drink. Couples salvaged par and hung on for the win. "The biggest break, probably, in my life," he said.
Lesson to learn: Playing in the Wind
Swirling breezes inspire indecision, and indecision yields unhappy results. So says World Golf Hall of Fame member and 1970 Masters champion Billy Casper, who learned a crucial lesson early in his career from an Augusta caddie named Matthew Palmer. As they stood on the 12th tee, Palmer handed Casper a 7-iron. "I said, ‘Are you sure this is the club? What about the wind?' " Casper recalls. "And he said, ‘It's a seven. But if you wait another five seconds, it might not be.' " The same counsel applies no matter where you're playing. "One of the worst things you can do is overthink," Casper says. "Gauge what you think the wind is doing, choose a club, and hit it. The more you hesitate, the more things can go wrong."=
AZALEA, 510 yards, par 5
Challenge: If you think of Augusta National as a lush, green casino, with every shot an opportunity to gamble, consider the 13th the high-roller's hole. The go-for-broke play? Cut the corner of the dogleg with a slinging draw or an aggressive tee shot that skirts the creek guarding the left. Then, the question: How much to risk? "There's this tug-of-war in your mind between caution and aggression," says Chamblee. "So many bad things can happen from that lie, and yet at the same time the shot is entirely doable." Odds are that something riveting will take place on this hole that Chamblee calls "without a doubt the best and prettiest par 5 in the world."
Track record: Historic lowlight? Tommy Nakajima, making his scorecard look all matchy-matchy with a 13 on 13 in 1978. Historic highlight? Jeff Maggert, draining his 3-iron second in 1994 for the only double-eagle on the hole in Masters history. Victims? Plenty. But also victors. Among them, Jack Nicklaus, who birdied the hole during his stirring 1986 Sunday charge. And, more recently, Phil Mickelson, whose swashbuckling shot between two pine trees, from the pine straw, helped seal his 2010 win. "On the back nine at Augusta, you can easily shoot 40, but you can also shoot 30," says Player, who did the latter when he won in 1978. "And the 13th is one of the reasons why."
Lesson to learn: Hitting a Long Iron With the Ball Above Your Feet
It's a daunting shot, but don't let it get you back on your heels. Two-time PGA Tour winner Brian Henninger, who finished tied for 10th at the 1995 Masters, means that literally. He says most amateurs fall prey to the same problem: With the ball above their feet, they slip back onto their heels during their swing, losing their balance and producing a weak slice or a duck hook. To maintain your center of gravity, Henninger says, you need to "really feel the ground with your feet. Place the ball back in your stance to compensate for the uphill lie, and keep your weight in concert with the slope, almost as if you're gripping the ground with your soles."
REDBUD, 170 yards, par 3
Challenge: In 1994, CBS announcer Gary McCord got booted from future Masters broadcasts when he used the term "bikini-waxed" to describe the slickness of Augusta's putting surfaces. Maybe he was taking too much poetic license. Then again, they sure are fast. For sheer terrifying pace, it's tough to top the sloping green on this picturesque par 3, which tilts severely back to front. Player calls it one of the toughest putting surfaces on the course. Adds Henninger: "There are so many difficult putts at Augusta, but 16 is a green that really resonates with me."
Track record: Over the years, the 16th green has served as a one-hole highlight reel. Among the images that flicker: Jack Nicklaus sinking a slithering 40-footer on his way to his fifth green jacket in 1975. Or Tiger Woods, in 2005, all but dead left of the green, lofting a wedge high up the slope, then pumping his fist as the ball trundled down, pausing to flash its Nike logo before dropping with its last breath into the hole. But the best might be the beautiful comic timing of Seve Ballesteros in 1988, when asked how he'd managed to four-putt 16 from a modest distance of 15 feet. Quoth Seve: "I miss, I miss, I miss, I make."
Lesson to learn: Putting on Lightning-Fast Greens
"For starters, relax," says 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, who stresses the importance of a soft grip. "The tighter you grip that putter, the more tension you'll have running up into your forearms. Tension in the putting stroke ruins everything." With your grip loose and relaxed, Goalby says, choke up slightly on the putter. This gives you better speed control. Lastly, Goalby says, think positive thoughts. "Say to yourself, ‘I love putting fast greens.' Anytime I hear a guy saying, ‘I can't putt greens like this,' I know he's got no chance to play well in that tournament that week."
HOLLY, 465 yards, par 4
Challenge: Augusta sure looks pretty from your living room couch, but the course's full scale doesn't come through on TV. The small screen has a way of flattening the layout, so from home it's hard to distinguish the Himalayan elevation shifts that make caddies work like Sherpas. This demanding par 4 serves as a fine example because it works its way through a slim corridor of pines, then up, up, up toward a multitiered green. "Unless you've been there, you can't really imagine just how steep it is," says Player. As for the tee shot, he adds, "You can't tell from the television either, but it's the narrowest drive I've ever seen."
Track record: A closing hole that often plays a decisive role. Think, for example, of Greg Norman, the snake-bitten shark, in 1986, blocking his second shot and making bogey when a par would have forced a playoff with Jack Nicklaus. Or the birdie bomb dropped on Sunday last year by Adam Scott on his way to becoming the first-ever Aussie to win the event. But never mind the trying putts and approaches. The hardest shot? That thread-the-needle drive, according to Player, who, in 1978, came from seven shots back with a Sunday 64 that culminated with a birdie on the last. "I knew it was paramount to hit the fairway," Player says. "You just don't make three on that hole from the trees."
Lesson to learn: Handling Tight Tee Shots
"You have to trust your swing and believe in yourself," Player says. "If you try to steer the ball, chances are you're going to veer off course." Here's another helpful thought: Go to your happy place. When faced with a drive that seems impossibly tight, Henninger plays a mental trick on himself. "I imagine I'm hitting a tee shot at my home club on a hole I'm very comfortable with," he says. "You want to do anything you can to put yourself at ease."