By: Fred Albers, PGA TOUR.COM Correspondent
Legend has it, Bobby Jones first walked onto the property that would become Augusta National and remarked the grounds had been sitting through the decades just waiting for someone to put a golf course on it.
Mother Nature was just as responsible for the creation of the golf course as Alister MacKenzie.
What is physically required for golfers to win at Augusta National?
Let’s build ourselves a Masters Champion.
Base: Every construction begins with a solid foundation. That’s true if you are building skyscrapers or golfers, you need a solid base and nobody was better than Sam Snead. Watch film of The Slammer and note his lower body. Snead had a unique move to begin his downswing, he would slightly squat to establish a firm base. That move allowed him to turn aggressively through the golf ball. Everyone talks about Snead’s wonderful flexibility. There are allegedly doorjambs in the Augusta National clubhouse that still show spike marks from where Snead kicked his spikes to the top of the frame. That solid, flexible base helped win a trio of Masters.
Ball Striking: Today’s golfers create a tremendous amount of torque with their turns. A full shoulder rotation followed by release of the hips generates power, which equates to distance. Modern golf balls and equipment allow for violent swings but Ben Hogan did not have that cushion. His margin for error was minimal and yet he still found the center of the clubface with a move through the ball that was as powerful as any modern player, and he did it without the advantage of a 460cc clubhead. Now, consider Hogan accomplished all that with a fractured pelvis suffered in his 1949 car crash. Read his five fundamentals and his “swing in a barrel” concept and you’ll understand how technique allowed for an aggressive swing. Today’s players have a huge advantage with video feedback; Hogan dug his feedback out of the dirt. He won two green jackets with pure ball striking.
Distance control: I think there is a misconception that touch is an ability that can’t be developed. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Look at Jack Nicklaus’ hands and tell me those are the fingers of a concert pianist. The digits are short and thick and yet nobody had better touch than the Golden Bear. Nicklaus developed better distance control than anyone who has played the game. He did not knock down as many flagsticks as a Johnny Miller but he gave himself and awful lot of hole-high putts for birdie. It’s deceptive to talk about hitting greens in regulation at Augusta. What matters is distance control into small tabletop hole locations on the undulating surfaces. That touch extends into the putting stroke where the ball must be fed down slopes and contoured to the cup. If you want to build the perfect Masters golfer I imagine his frame would be long and lean with a wide swing arc and soft hands. Jack Nicklaus had none of those attributes but he does have six Masters titles partly because he developed a touch for distance control.
Ball flight: High-ball hitters have a huge advantage at Augusta. The greens are large but the landing zones are tiny. Byron Nelson talked about dividing the greens into quadrants to make his target specific. With today’s green speeds, it is critical to stop the ball on the correct plateau and that’s easier to do with a high ball flight. Very few low-ball hitters excel at Augusta. There is another advantage with the driver. Fairways are mowed back toward the tees, meaning golf balls are landing into the grain of the grass, which limits roll and reduces distance. A high-ball hitter isn’t concerned with run-out to achieve his distance. Low running hooks die in the fairway or ramble into the pine straw at Augusta. Did you realize Tiger Woods leads the PGA TOUR in carry distance off the tee? He averages 302.9 yards of carry with his drives. He doesn’t have to worry about run out into the grain because as Jack Nicklaus told us, “air offers less resistance then dirt.” That added distance off the tee allows him to hit shorter clubs with higher trajectory into greens. Higher ball flight=greater distance=shorter irons=closer shots=Tiger Woods=four championships.
Attitude: I don’t know how you measure this component but I firmly believe happy people are better putters. I understand it will never be a ShotLink statistic and never metrically defined. Good karma seems to follow people who are smiling. Do they smile because they’re fortunate? Are they fortunate because they smile? No player ever had a more sustained grin on his face than Arnold Palmer. He won four Masters with a quick swing and low-ball flight, all while shaking hands with the gallery. It’s good to be the King.
Shot Shape: The common thought is you need to play a draw to succeed at Augusta. A roundhouse hook absolutely helps you on a half dozen holes that dogleg to the left. The problem arises when those hooks run through the fairway as opposed to a soft landing fade. The solution? Flip the golfer around. A left-handed fade is the same shape as a right-handed draw only the fade is hit higher, stays in the air longer and lands softer. Augusta National doesn’t set up for a right hand draw. It sets up for the left-handed fade. Want proof? Lefthanders have won five of the last ten Masters with Phil Mickelson owning a trio of trophies.
Course Management: There is so much local knowledge involved in winning The Masters. Experience is a huge factor and that goes hand in hand with course management. Bobby Jones said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five- and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.” Scoring well at Augusta more than knowing everything breaks toward Rae’s creek. It’s knowing when to go for the 13th hole in two and when to lay up. No course requires more mental discipline than Augusta National.
There you have it.
Give me the legs of Snead, the ball striking of Hogan, the touch of Nicklaus, the power of Woods, the attitude of Palmer, Mickelson’s high fade and Jones’ course management.
That would be one heck of a golfer but it might take some of the fun out of the drama that builds every year amidst the dogwood and wisteria.
Let’s leave the construction projects to Mother Nature.
- Tiger tries to end long drought at Augusta (metronews.ca)
- MASTERS ’13: A look at 20 players who can contend at Augusta National (timescolonist.com)
- Tiger Woods tries to end long drought at Augusta (thehindu.com)