When it comes to pure golf entertainment, the Masters Tournament never disappoints. Every April, the year’s first major thrills fans with incredible drama, unpredictable twists of fate, and shotmaking of the highest order. The host course, Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., was designed by Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie to produce exactly this kind of excitement.
Watching the Masters also offers a great opportunity to learn lessons that apply to your game – especially when playing a demanding course with fast, undulating greens.
In Part I of this two-part feature, we’ll examine how Augusta National’s fabled greens influence strategy, shotmaking and, of course, putting, and discuss how the pros handle these unique challenges.
What to Watch
Play from green to tee: Ever since the first Masters in 1934, Augusta National has been all about the greens. Sure, the course has been lengthened and tightened over the years, and water hazards abound on the back nine. But it’s those legendary putting surfaces -- frighteningly quick, massively sloped -- that dictate strategy from the first tee shot to the final stroke.
Every pro approaches Augusta with one overriding goal: Keep the ball below the hole. Downhill putts are simply too slick to hit with any aggression, forcing a defensive, just-get-it-close mentality. At least on an uphill putt, there’s a chance to get a little bold.
That goal influences strategy all the way back to the tee. Placing the ball not just in the fairway, but in the right spot to attack the flag, is paramount at Augusta National. Iron shots require precise trajectory and distance control so that the ball a) holds the green, and b) stops below the hole in position for a decent run at birdie and easy two-putt par.
When they miss a green at the Masters, pros will often play their chips, pitches or bunker shots with the same mindset. Sure, they want to get it close, but they’ll take a 5-foot uphill putt over a 3-foot downhiller every time.
Big break can be your friend: The speed and slope of Augusta’s greens can be an advantage on approach shots. Take the par-5 13th hole, for example. When the pin is on the right side of the green, close to Rae’s Creek, the pros seldom fire directly at it. Instead, they aim at a huge bank left of the pin in the hopes of funneling the ball toward the hole. This lowers the risk of going in the water while giving them a chance to knock it close.
Also note how much break the pros play when putting. As a general rule, the faster the greens, the more putts will break (curve) left or right. Augusta’s enormous swales and humps make getting the proper line and speed doubly important.
Apply It to Your Game
If you regularly or occasionally play courses with exceptionally fast greens – for amateurs, anything over a 10.5’ Stimpmeter reading* – adjustments might be in order. That’s especially true if the greens are severely sloped.
Taking a cue from how the pros tackle Augusta National, here are some handy tips:
- Mind the pin positions: Most courses indicate whether pins are placed in the front, middle or back of each green (often with a color-coded flag system). Laser rangefinders and GPS devices can be a big help determining the exact location. If the pin sits on a high spot, try to hit shots where you’ll be left with an uphill putt.
- Easy does it on downhill putts: If you’re above the hole facing a dangerous putt, adopt a defensive mindset. It’s best to overplay the break and “feed” the ball to the hole – a gentle tap to get it rolling will often suffice. On super-slick putts some pros will hit the ball slightly toward the putter’s toe, which has a deadening effect.
- Lighten up: When putting fast greens, you’ll get better results with a lighter putter. Also, keep your grip pressure very soft, especially when going downhill.
*Augusta National doesn’t publicize its green speeds, but they likely measure in the 13’-14’ range. The typical PGA Tour event features speeds of 11’-12’.
Part IIof this feature looks at how pros adjust their games to fit Augusta’s demands, and the role course management plays in deciding the winner.