Masters 2019: The eight most underrated shots at Augusta National
Bob Jones once said of Augusta National, “We want to make bogeys easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play, and birdies—except on par 5s—dearly bought.” And over the years Masters fans, both in person and via television have come to recognize some of the more obvious places where that holds true. The tee shot at the par-3 12th or anywhere on the No. 11 through No. 13 stretch known as Amen Corner, for that matter. The second shot on the par-5 15th is another visible example. However speaking with more than 15 past champions for the hole-by-hole course tour section of the Masters Journal—including multiple champions Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Nick Faldo—has led to an appreciation for the more subtle but no less demanding shots one needs to pay close attention to if they’re to play well at Augusta National. Here are eight shots players face that might not capture our eye immediately, but surely command players’ attention.
The second shot on the par-5 second hole
Whether going for the green in two or playing for position short of the putting surface, what many think of as simply another fairway wood or long iron play is actually a precision play. The plan for how to approach this shot completely depends on where the pin is located. If the pin is back left, the second shot must be to the middle or right. In fact, well right of the green is never bad because the pitch shot is uphill. Conversely, missing left leaves a downhill shot that is tough to stop. Most Masters competitors will tell you the sand is a better place to be than left or long. As for going for it in two blows, that’s an awfully tough shot as it is off a downhill lie and you’re trying to hit it high and soft. That’s difficult for even the most skilled players. The par 5s at Augusta National are more about where you place the ball on your second shot than anything else and perhaps there is no better example than No. 2.
Second shot on the par-4 third hole
The shortest par 4 on the golf course at 350 yards also presents one of the approach shots Masters participants fear most. Although a mere pitch of only some 50 yards for those hitting driver off the tee, the elevated green (only some 35 feet in depth on the left side) can turn what appears to be a very simple situation to a trying one in short order. The shot, although short, must be exact. Come up the slightest bit short and the ball will embarrassingly roll back almost to where it was struck from. Take too much caution not to do that and the ball might end up over the green, leaving a nervy chip. Rarely has such a short shot provided so much consternation for players.
The putt from the top right of the green on the par-3 fourth hole
Usually hitting the green on the 240-yard, par-3 fourth hole would be a satisfying play. However, if the pin is located on the front left and the tee shot is equal or past the hole on the right, an argument can be made that the player is facing one of the most difficult putts on the entire golf course. From there the slope is falling away from you with a fairly big swing to the left and the odds of a two-putt drop dramatically. Tiger Woods had a chip shot from the right-hand side of the green in the final round of 2002 and said it might have been easier than Retief Goosen’s putt from the top right. Woods made par and Goosen made bogey, so apparently so.
The tee shot on the par-4 fifth hole
Although the tee shot on this hole in prior years wasn’t a gimme, it wasn’t exactly a cause for angst, either, as players had the ability to carry the fairway bunkers on the left or comfortably play out to the right side with a 3-wood. That’s changed in 2019 as the tee has been moved back some 40 yards and to the right, making it play straighter. The bunkers also have been moved (although, in true Augusta National fashion they look the same as ever to the eye), now requiring a 310-yard-plus carry to clear them. With that being a non-starter for most players, the choice is to lay up short of them, leaving an uphill approach of some 200 yards or try to thread it in the fairway to the right of the bunkers with a driver. Regardless, what once was benign has now become beastly.
Tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole
Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo once called Augusta National, “the most nerve-wracking course in the world.” A microcosm of that is the tee shot on the par-3 sixth, particularly when the pin is located on the back right shelf. In that instance, the generous-sized green shrinks significantly in usable size. “I’ve always regarded the tee shot here to the back right-hand pin as my barometer for the week,” Faldo told the Masters Journal in 2006. “During practice rounds I aim for that spot and if I keep putting it up there, then it means my iron game is accurate. To fly a ball from 180 yards down a hill in a breeze to an area about the size of two dining room tables, well, you know your game is spot on.”
Second shot on the par-4 14th
The 14th has the distinction of being the only hole at Augusta National without a bunker. It doesn’t need one. While it lacks the glamour of the water holes on the second nine, 14 is a good, solid par 4 and one reason is the approach to a green that took some imagination to design. Although there are some pin positions that are accessible, there are others where the margin for error is slight. The green has a large swale in front and shoots off in several directions. That’s why approach shots—even ones struck just a few feet off line—can roll away from the hole some 30 or 40 feet or more.
The lay-up shot on the par-5 15th
We know, we know. We don’t want to be talking about no stinking lay-up on one of the most exciting holes on the golf course. But the saying about a man knowing his limitations comes to mind here. Masters competitors often face two decisions here. Whether to go for it in two is one. When golfers decide the prudent play is to lay up short of the water, then it’s where to lay up. Although most everyday players view a lay-up shot as simply slapping it down the fairway short of the penalty area, the pros know a lay-up shot is like a shot in billiards where the current shot is played to best set up the next. At 15, almost without exception, it’s about 80 to 90 yards from the pin and on the left side of the fairway. That, players say, leaves a flatter lie than on the right-hand side and offers a better opportunity to spin the ball off the flatter lie.
Putt from left side of the green on the par-4 17th
With all the dramatic looks on Augusta National’s second nine, the 17th hole appears to be a bit nondescript, especially since the Eisenhower Tree came down in an ice storm in 2014. The green, however, requires a player’s full attention as it is a deceiving putting surface that rolls off in several directions, with the slopes seemingly never bringing the ball towards the hole, but rather work it away from it. Raymond Floyd fell victim to the hole in 1990, when he appeared to have the Masters won. Holding a one-shot lead playing the 17th, Floyd got a little careless with his approach and it trickled to the left side of the green, with the pin on the opposite side. Now having to putt up and over the ridge, Floyd misjudged the speed and three-putted, eventually losing to Nick Faldo in a playoff.
Gary Player once said of Augusta National that “every shot is within a fraction of disaster. That’s what makes it so great.” The above shots would appear to further solidify Player’s claim.
How to handle a downhill lie and hit the green
If you play a lot of hilly courses, you’re already familiar with uneven lies, including those of the downhill variety. This tricky position—in which your leading foot is below your back foot at address—can be very challenging, especially from short fairway grass. To ensure solid contact and a pin-seeking approach shot from a downhill lie, you’ll need to make the following three basic setup changes.
SET SHOULDERS PARALLEL
Your normal iron setup won’t work for this lie—the clubhead will bottom out too soon and you’ll make contact with the ground behind the ball. Instead, hold your club across your shoulders and tilt your spine toward the target until the shaft matches the slope of the hill. Once your shoulders are parallel to the slope, move on to step 2.
Learn how to conquer any downhill lie.
MOVE YOUR WEIGHT TO YOUR DOWNHILL FOOT
It’s critical to make ball-first contact from this lie, so play the ball in the middle of your stance (or at least slightly farther back than normal) and shift about 75 percent of your weight to your front, or downhill, foot. This will encourage your body to move in the direction of the slope, rather than hang back.
TRACE THE SLOPE
Last, extend your arms through impact so that the clubhead travels as low to the slope as possible. By swinging on the same plane as the hill, you’ll ensure ball-first contact and a smooth, full finish— and maybe even a birdie opportunity.