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Far be it for me to tell the Lords of Augusta how to improve their already incredible patron experience and overall uncluttered broadcast presentation. There are only three things that have to change at Augusta National: the 11th, 15th and 17th holes.
When the greens are as marble-staircase fast as they were this year, the players are on the defensive enough. No amount of skill and technology can free them up enough to play those three holes as aggressively as we'd like. Yes, Bubba Watson did attack the 15th with his ridiculous length off the tee, and thankfully, wasn't penalized. But too many other players were not able to be aggressive and let's face it, we like our Masters bunched and dramatic on the final nine Sunday with the sense that a daring shot will be rewarded.
Each of the three holes mentioned here plays a role in the back nine's ebb-and-flow, but have all too often come to be real rally killers in the modern era. Fixing them would be simple. Because since 1999, the holes have been defaced by tree plantings in dreadful contrast to the vision of club co-founder Bobby Jones. And as I recalled last week when brushing up on some Jones writings for my upcoming feature in Golf World reviewing the 2014 Masters, the legendary golfer would be horrified to see what's become of these three holes.
So without further ado, three easy ways to fix the Masters.
11th: It just doesn't take a rocket scientist, brain surgeon or even a rocket surgeon to see that the swarm planted down the right side has made this hole difficult in a strange way. The patron experience is positively awful and the sight of golfers blowing drives way right and finding an opening in a mysterious gap that's been there from day one makes this an easy fix. Cue the tree spade and plant these trees out of play, as they don't deserve to die just because someone didn't read their Bobby Jones.
15th: The new length of this hole is just right, but the loss of fairway mounds and the addition of right side trees has taken the life out of this pivotal hole. No eagles Sunday? Blasphemy. The new Sunday hole location used the last two years is bringing the boring back of the green into play too much.
17th: In the upcoming feature story, I go into greater detail on the complicated issues facing the club in trying to replace Ike's Tree and make this hole interesting. In a nutshell, the advice we give in Golf World goes like this: plant a youngish tree where Ike stood so we can watch it grow. Deforest to open up the right side angle and overall freedom to whap a drive. Oh, and find a better Sunday hole location than the one this year that did not yield a single birdie.
Chairman Payne, this one's on me.
By Alex Myers
On Friday of the Masters, the most impressive golf shot may have come from someone not in the field at Augusta National.
That day John Daly tweeted a video of him hitting a golf ball that was teed up in a woman's mouth. "Don't try this at home! #MastersWeek #TeeitHigh #GripitandRipIt" Daly wrote -- after trying it himself, of course. Here's the clip:
This is nothing new for Daly. Last year, he hit a golf ball out of a guy's mouth in a dark Nashville parking lot while wearing sandals. At least, it looks like this time Daly pulled off the trick on a golf course, during the day, and with him actually wearing golf shoes.
Still, you'd have to be pretty daring to let Daly try this, especially now. We assume this brave/crazy woman doesn't know he failed to break 90 in a PGA Tour event last month.
By John Strege
The caution flag came out last week in the midst of Jordan Spieth’s race to immortality, the warning issued by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.
“The pitfalls of success coming early are many,” Chamblee said on Friday from Augusta National. “One of the biggest hurdles is to conform, to change All of a sudden you have all these people around you. Teachers are everywhere, sports psychologists are everywhere, and they’ll whisper to you, and before you know it you start to change your golf swing, you change your equipment, you change everything.
“All things being equal, experience makes a player better, not change. And you see players that come out early and avoid those pitfalls year after year, they’ll get better. When you see players change drastically — their body type, their equipment, their golf swing — of course they’re making these changes either for more money or to get better, but it has the effect of robbing them, whether they know it or not, of their instincts, their beliefs.
“And I don’t think Jordan Spieth will ever be susceptible to that. Jack Nicklaus wasn’t susceptible to that. Ben Crenshaw wasn’t susceptible to that. Tom Watson wasn’t susceptible to that. But it is an epidemic in the game of golf today.”
To Chamblee’s point, the late Jim Flick said that when his protege, Beau Hossler, 16 at the time, was in the midst of contending in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in 2012, “Beau's dad told me he had a few golf professionals say at the Open they could do a lot better job with Beau's swing than I've done.”
A cautionary tale from a previous generation is that of Sam Randolph, a three-time All-American at USC, the college player of the year, a U.S. Amateur champion, a winner in his rookie year on the PGA Tour, superstardom his destiny, his college coach said. He was the quintessential feel player who became technical in a bid to improve, and his career derailed.
Spieth, meanwhile, does have idiosyncrasies in his swing, his instructor Cameron McCormick said recently, “that give the Johnny Millers of the world something to pick at and criticize. But we’ve allowed him to develop those patterns with heavy priority with what the ball’s telling us in terms of function versus some architectural or appearance we want it to fit into. We’ve let his fingerprint be his fingerprint.”
By Alex Myers
Joe Buck, Fox Sports' lead football and baseball announcer, will head the network's golf broadcast team, Sports Business Daily reported on Monday. Buck will work alongside Greg Norman beginning at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
For many, the Norman choice may come as a surprise, but Golf Digest's Tim Rosaforte reported the two-time major winner was offered the job in August.
Fox acquired rights to the U.S. Open last year, signing a 12-year deal with the USGA worth more than $1 billion. NBC had broadcast the tournament since 1995.
Buck is a member of Old Warson Country Club in Ladue, Missouri, where he carries a 3.6 handicap index and hosts an annual charity golf tournament. Buck has never announced golf before, but he's called more than his fair share of huge sports moments. Here, he and Troy Aikman describe David Tyree's improbable reception from Eli Manning during the Giants' upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII:
And here he is making an identical home run call in the 2011 World Series to the one his father, Jack, a legendary baseball announcer, made in the 1991 Fall Classic:
Buck and Norman will be replacing NBC's Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller. Good luck, guys. Those are some big chairs to fill.
By Peter FinchThere’s no disputing golf is over-developed right now. This explains why so many courses have closed in recent years. Too much supply and not enough demand. But course closings are often highly unpopular, even in communities that seemingly didn’t do enough to support their courses when they were open.
By Alex Myers
Welcome to another edition of The Grind, where we're not at all surprised Bubba Watson went to a Waffle House after winning a second green jacket. Have you ever been to Augusta? There's one on every corner! Also, if you feel like eating breakfast at 1:30 in the morning, can you really be that picky? In any event, we've got a full helping of stuff to talk about. Let's dig in.
Bubba Watson: The unofficial Waffle House spokesman is on top of the golf world yet again after a brilliant Sunday performance. Bubba's booming drives stole the show, but key birdie putts on Nos. 4, 6 and 9 were what really won him a second green jacket. He really threw us all off his scent with that WD at Bay Hill last month after a first-round 83, didn't he? Sneaky! Now, Watson is the clear front-runner for PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Jordan Spieth: Sure, he came apart after the seventh hole, but the guy is 20 years old! Spieth's runner-up in his first trip to Augusta National was the latest evidence that he could be golf's next great superstar and a lock to win a bunch of majors. Then again, we said the same thing about a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia following the 1999 PGA Championship. . . But back to the positives! Spieth almost just won the Masters at 20. Most people his age still don't even know what they want to be when they grow up.
Old guys: Six guys over 50 made the cut. Six! There were probably more seniors playing at Augusta National over the weekend than there were at your local muny. Miguel Angel Jimenez finished fourth, Bernhard Langer backdoored a T-8 and Fred Couples had his usual Sunday fade, but not after he got within two shots of the lead during the final round. It seems like it's just a matter of time before Jack Nicklaus' record for winning the Masters at 46 is shattered.
Team PUMA: A week after Lexi Thompson won her first major, Jonas Blixt and Rickie Fowler contended at the Masters. For Blixt, the T-2 was the Swede's second straight top five at a major. And Fowler continued to show his work with Butch Harmon is paying off, matching his career-best finish in a major with a T-5. From partying at the pool with Lolo Jones to coming close to winning a green jacket, it's been quite a couple weeks for Rickie.
Big names not named Bubba: We knew this year's Masters would miss Tiger Woods, but guys like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Sergio Garcia joined him on the couch for the weekend with poor play. Even Adam Scott disappeared on the weekend after a promising start. All of their struggles added up to a 24 percent decline in TV ratings from last year. Of course, it didn't help that the Par 3 Contest was more exciting. . .
Back-nine drama: Thanks, Bubba. You turned the last hour of the Masters into a yawnfest. Actually, the blame goes to those in contention. The usual back-nine roars at Augusta were almost nonexistent as no one mustered a charge. The biggest roar came from Bubba's big drive on No. 13. As incredible as that was (Is that the greatest drive EVER?), it wasn't the same as someone rolling in an eagle on that hole.
Matt Kuchar: Speaking of guys not making a back-nine run, we have to single out Kuchar not getting it done for a third consecutive week. That's a Grind record no one wants to have! We really thought this was his week to win a first major, especially after he jumped into a tie for the lead on the third hole on Sunday, but Kuchar faltered once again down the stretch. If it's possible to have a bad T-5 at a major, this would qualify.
Caroline Wozniacki's pink hair: What in the. . .
Wozniacki deserves praise for draining a long putt in the Par 3 contest, but her hair was scary. Fortunately, by Sunday, she was back to being a blonde. Ahh, that's better.
The PGA Tour heads up the road to Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage. To make things more exciting, the course's famed lighthouse is in play this year. OK, not really.
Random tournament fact: Nick Faldo, 56, will come down from the broadcast booth and tee it up. Faldo won the first of his three non-major PGA Tour events there in 1984.
RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK
-- Jordan Spieth regrets leaving college early: 1 million-to-1 odds.
-- Bubba Watson will buy his own Waffle House: 2-to-1 odds
-- Bernhard Langer, 56, could break me into two pieces: LOCK
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Who is this enchanting and bold blonde who ran across Augusta National's 10th green on Saturday? Can we get Dick Fowler, P.I., to investigate? If you want to see 14 almost identical photos to this (you know you do), go to the Augusta Chronicle's website. Taking off your sandals at Augusta National? That's basically the same thing as streaking at Augusta National.
VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Highlights of the 2013 Masters complete with actual commentary and with mini-golf obstacles transposed over the footage? This is one of the greatest videos ever made.
Please, Masters, don't take it down. PLEASE!
THIS AND THAT
Tiger Woods isn't looking good for the U.S. Open, according to friend Notah Begay. Not surprising if you listened to any doctor when Woods first announced he'd had back surgery. . . . Michael Phelps announced he's coming out of retirement to swim competitively again. At 28, he still has plenty of time to retire again and focus on his celebrity golf career. . . . Billy Horschel hit the ball well enough to contend at the Masters, but his putting was awful. Maybe one of the winning kids of the Drive, Chip, and Putt Contest can give him a few pointers before next year. . . . Jason Dufner became the first golfer to be sponsored by a television network when he played at Augusta National wearing a shirt with the Fox Business logo (above). Unfortunately, that was the only Masters history Dufner made last week.
RANDOM QUESTIONS TO PONDER
How much golf did Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson watch over the weekend?
Is Jordan Spieth really only 20? Is Bernhard Langer really 56?!
Why aren't there any Waffle Houses in Connecticut?
When you play golf, you get to take along 14 friends. No, we're not talking about enough people to nearly fill up four tee times; we're talking your clubs. And while every golfer, amateur and pro alike, gets to choose which 14 they use, many stick with the same cast of characters round after round after round.
That is less true with professionals than everyday players. And at the Masters the importance of set makeup goes to a new level. Players routinely work on which clubs they will have in the bag for the year's first major weeks -- sometimes months -- in advance. As the one major that is played at the same venue every year, players know the nuances of the course and act accordingly.
Which is why Phil Mickelson considered leaving two of his wedges at home. "For the past six or seven years I've played this tournament, I have not had a shot between 90 and 130 yards," Mickelson said. "Think about that. I have not ever had a shot between 90 and 130 yards. I have a 40-yard gap there. I [might] take out my sand wedge and gap wedge because I don't ever need them."
On the surface that seems like a preposterous statement, but in thinking about Mickelson's game and the Augusta National layout, his words make sense. Lefty eventually kept one of his two usual gap wedges (a 52-degree) and added a 64-degree wedge for the Masters.
Mickelson is one player who is keenly aware how valuable it can be to adapt clubs to the course. Not only did he win the Masters with two drivers (2006), but he also was cognizant enough of the rules to alter his set for a five-person playoff at the BellSouth Classic in 2005. Lefty knew a playoff constituted a new round, and he could change within the rules. The playoff would only be played on Nos. 17 and 18, so he took his sand wedge out and added a 3-iron which he used to hit the green on his winning hole.
Although Mickelson has been one of the tour's most adept players at adjusting his set makeup, he's far from the only one who does it. Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, for example, brings numerous wedges as well as a couple of extra hybrids. "You want to be prepared for [the] conditions," said Langer. "You don't want to get to a tournament and not have the right club for the type of sand or the right club to fit a certain distance. It's better to bring 20 clubs and have the right ones than get there and wish you had something."
Which is probably what happened to Rory McIlroy on Masters Friday. Before the tournament he had talked about making the loft on his 4-iron stronger so he could carry the right-hand bunker on the par-3 fourth. Ultimately, he decided not to make the change, and on Friday he was between clubs, eventually going with a 5-wood and airmailing the green. The ensuing double bogey began a downward spiral from which he struggled to recover.
Yet while McIlroy didn't make any changes for the Masters, about a quarter of the field did. Many, such as Jonas Blixt (a 5-wood) and amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick (7-wood), added high-lofted fairway woods; others such as Tom Watson, Kevin Stadler and Charl Schwartzel put hybrids in play.
Schwartzel said he normally carries a 2-iron, but felt like he needed to get some more air under the ball (as well as a few more yards), especially on holes like 2, 4 and 13. That brought about a switch to a 17-degree Nike VRS Covert 2.0 hybrid.
Getting the right wedges also is an important part of set makeup. For the Masters, not only did about one in 10 players employ wedges with different lofts than normal, but many also went with a different sole grind to accommodate the firm, tight turf. Harris English, for example, took two degrees of bounce off his lob wedge just to be able to maneuver it around the greens.
English's change was subtle, but some go for more of an overhaul. Such was the case with Lee Westwood who altered his set significantly to get the proper yardage gapping. Westwood bent his Ping i20 3-, 4- and 5-irons a degree stronger and added an i20 (to match his set) gap wedge that he had bent to 52 degrees, so he could hit it 115 yards. Finally, he removed his G25 20-degree hybrid and replaced it with a 17-degree G25 hybrid.
Extreme? Perhaps. But Westwood did finish seventh. Sometimes all you need is a little help from your friends.
PRICE: $350 (Lofts: 8.5, 9.5, 10.5, 12 degrees, adjustable)
The highest moment of inertia and lowest center of gravity of any Ping driver. Sadly, you can't get it in pink, or with the stripe or the rainbow finish on the sole like Bubba Watson.
Craig Stadler, the 1982 Masters champion, used a green Volvik ball during the Par-3 Contest but switched to the more conventional white model for the main event. . . . Thursday's driver lineup for the ceremonial tee shots: Arnold Palmer, Callaway Big Bertha; Gary Player, Callaway Big Bertha Alpha; Jack Nicklaus, a Nicklaus-branded club. . . . Graeme McDowell won his lone major at the 2010 U.S. Open using a Callaway driver, and he was back with a big stick from the company at the Masters. Although now a Cleveland/Srixon staffer, GMac played a Callaway Optiforce 440 driver. . . . One of the big pre-tournament equipment stories was Justin Rose possibly using TaylorMade's 260cc SLDR Mini at the Masters. It was a false alarm; Rose didn't put the club in play. . . . Louis Oosthuizen noticed his putts were "hopping" during practice rounds so he had the loft on his Ping Ketsch mallet putter altered from 3 to 2 degrees to improve the roll. Oosthuizen also put the company's Tour Gorge wedges (47, 54 and 58 degrees) in the bag. He has played the Tour S wedges for the past couple years. . . . Brandt Snedeker just can't seem to get away from his TaylorMade Burner SuperFast driver. Sneds put the club, which debuted in 2010, back in the bag for the Masters. . . . Hunter Mahan had a new lob wedge -- a Ping Eye 2 XG (the XG is the model with conforming grooves), saying he felt it would be a better fit coming out of the bunkers. . . . He didn't need a full set, but Y.E. Yang had TaylorMade build him new Tour Preferred MC short irons (8- and 9-irons and pitching wedge). . . . Jonas Blixt was sporting a pair of custom-made Puma golf shoes with Sweden's blue and yellow colors.