Fifty years after Herbert Warren Wind named Augusta's famous stretch, some memories have faded
At a tournament known for gallery roars that pinpoint what is going on where almost as clearly as the math on the giant leader boards, one location during the Masters stands apart. "It's immensely, almost alarmingly, quiet," two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw says of Augusta National's 12th green. "The only thing you can hear is your heartbeat and the heartbeats of your fellow players and the caddies. There is no spot like it in major-championship golf."
The eerily calm atmosphere that greets golfers once they reach the putting surface of the 155-yard par 3 is a reward for having solved one of the trickiest tee shots in the sport, where the wind is forever fickle and Rae's Creek is always accepting deposits.
"It's the greatest par 3 in the world," says Scott Verplank. That is a sentiment echoed by many others who have not birdied it four days in a row, as Verplank did in the 2003 Masters, including plenty of golfers whose green-jacket dreams have been washed away.
No. 12 is the anchor of a trio of holes on the south edge of the course that often are the center of the action. It follows the unforgiving par-4 11th and precedes the tempting par-5 13th -- all three holes pivotal in the Masters from the event's very early years, a confluence where the churchly silence is often interrupted by golf's loudest cheers -- and deepest groans. And thanks to Herbert Warren Wind, who was the Bobby Jones of the golf-writing game, for 50 years the 11th, 12th and 13th holes have had a name, "Amen Corner," every bit as good as they are.
"You know you're going to need good fortune, and occasional prayer, to get through those holes when you're in contention," Crenshaw says. "It's a beautiful expression. It just sounds right."
Though Wind is best known for his authoritative golf books such as The Story of American Golf and a long run as a golf essayist for The New Yorker magazine, in the 1950s he worked for Sports Illustrated, then a fledgling sports weekly. Wind read widely, had degrees from Yale and Cambridge, and loved music. A phrase from an old song popped into his head. He began his story about the 1958 Masters, won by Arnold Palmer and headlined "The fateful corner," this way:
On the afternoon before the start of the recent Masters tournament, a wonderfully evocative ceremony took place at the farthest reach of the Augusta National course -- down in the Amen Corner where Rae's Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front edge of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green.
To Wind -- and purists to this day -- Amen Corner was defined as the second half of the 11th, the short 12th and the first half of the long 13th. Amen Corner certainly was a more magical name for the 11th, 12th and 13th holes than "the water loop" -- which, according to author David Owen's club history, was what early Augusta National members sometimes called the trio -- but it did not immediately become common usage, even for the man who coined it.
In his Sports Illustrated account of Art Wall's Masters triumph the next year, Wind wrote of "that bend in the course which has so often been fateful" but didn't apply the phrase.
The Augusta Chronicle, the tournament's hometown newspaper that fills many column inches every year detailing the action, first used Amen Corner in two stories previewing the 1965 Masters. "Reverence at 'The Corner' " was the headline on a story by Jim Martin, the paper's sports editor. "The wind swirls with devilish glee over Rae's Creek," Martin wrote. "It mangles the emotions. This is where a champion is made and where others are broken. The 12th green at the Augusta National Golf Club is the apex of the triangle of sorts they refer to as 'Amen Corner.' "
Martin followed up in 1966 with a Masters Friday column about Amen Corner. Alfred Wright made several mentions of Amen Corner in his Sports Illustrated story the next week (the first time it appeared in the magazine since Wind's 1958 mention), and the newsweekly Golf World used it for the first time as well. Golf Digest followed in its 1967 Masters preview.
"You sure it wasn't Tony Lema?" Tom Watson says when asked who popularized the term. "They asked Tony, after you get through 13, what do you think when you get through there, and he said, 'You say amen.' "
"I don't recall there was any specific time it became a general term used by everybody," contends Furman Bisher, the 89-year-old Atlanta sportswriter who has covered every Masters since 1950. "Once it became a popular term, everybody jumped in and started using it. That's about as fanciful a juncture of golf you can find anywhere. It's the perfect label."
Yearning for looser deadlines, longer stories and less editing (he appreciated fact checkers but not changes in substance or tone), Wind left Sports Illustrated in 1960. After returning in 1962 to The New Yorker, where he had begun his career, Wind wrote essays about the Masters each spring through 1989, often referring to the pivotal part of the course that he had labeled in 1958 and noting, almost annually, that many tournaments were decided in that triangle of drama where variable breezes and daunting hazards awaited.