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Masters 2023: The genius trick of Augusta National's iconic 12th hole

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In April 1958 Herbert Warren Wind first wrote the phrase “Amen Corner.” It referred to a stretch of land squirreled along the southwest corner of the property. And it would soon become the most revered spot in all of sports.

It was the 12th hole that became the crown jewel of Amen Corner. The picturesque par 3 set against a backdrop of azaleas. There are no patrons lining the 12th hole. It’s a rare moment for players and their caddies to enjoy alone. Serenity, and solitude. But lurking beneath the beauty of Augusta National’s iconic image, is a trap. An ingenious, delicious piece of bait that tests the limits of players’ discipline and smarts. Year after year, players see that Sunday pin on the far right side of the green. Every Masters someone tries to chase it, and they pay the price.

Which begs the question, what is the right way to play Augusta’s 12th hole on Sunday?

Watch the full video below:

Alister Mackenzie made his intentions for players on Augusta’s 12th hole clear as day, the moment he designed it.

“The bold player will go for the pin on the right, while the less ambitious will steer for the larder landing space on the left side of the green,” he wrote.

The allure of being bold surely appeals on an emotional level. But in reality, the hole creates a math problem.

On paper, the green is 26 yards long from back to front. Not a particularly short green on paper, but there’s a catch. That’s the depth of the green you measure from the frontmost left, to the backmost right portion.

Because the green is tilted on what’s close to a 45 degree angle from the tee box which means the effective area of the green is far smaller than meets the eye.

The hole’s “cover number”, which is the yardage players use to donate absolute safety from trouble, is usually to the front on the green.

But because of the tilted green, the safety number on Augusta’s 12th isn’t to the front of the green, but it’s to the hazard. And because the hazard snakes up and there’s a slope short, it means that the more you chase the pin on the right, the longer your safety number gets and the smaller your landing area on the green becomes.

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When the hole location is all the way to the right, as it is on Sunday, the distance between avoiding the hazard short, the pin and the back of the green has shrunk to almost nothing. Add in some tricky wind, and it becomes a devilish little shot.

Most modern tour players hit fades nowadays — those are shots that move from left to right — so on Sunday, they’ll often try to get the best of both worlds. They’ll try to avoid the hazard and give themselves a larger landing area by working an angle along the shape of the hole.

But that game plan falls right into the trap. To understand why, you have to understand a concept called ‘dispersion patterns.’

Imagine a golfer hits 10 golf balls with the same club. Some go a little short and some go a little long, others a bit left and more a bit right. Where all of those golf balls finish is called a dispersion pattern, and most people think they look like nice little ovals.

But in reality, dispersion patterns are shaped more like this. They’re tilted from left-to-right, because left pull misses go longer than short-right misses.

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Players fall for the fade trap because they’re focused on this part of the shot, but really, it doesn’t matter that the ball is traveling over dry land when the ball is mid-air.

What matters is where those shots would end up. And when you impose a standard dispersion pattern onto the hole, you can see why. Players pick the club they think is enough to clear the hazard and get to the pin, but because any miss at all to the right is dead, players who get aggressive can end up hitting a decent shot, and still find the water anyway.

We’ve seen the mistake pop up with multiple players in contention over the years. Greg Norman in 1996 and Spieth in 2016 both blew their leads on this hole. Or more recently, Koepka, Molinari and Finau in 2019, or Cam Smith in 2022. It was this mistake that almost cost Fred Couples his sole major, in 1992. He accidentally over-faded his shot onto the aggressive line, but thanks to an extraordinary stroke of good luck, his ball survived, and he slipped on the Green Jacket because of it.

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It’s also, interestingly, why lefties tend to do well on the 12th hole. Because their dispersion pattern is flipped, which means they can take an aggressive line at the pin but still have more room for error. Phil Mickelson is the best example of this: He birdied the 12th hole on Sunday in two of his three Masters wins.

The players who play the hole best aren’t the ones who try to use their fade to chase the pin. Instead, they forget the pin, aim safely into the center of the center of the green. They may not hit as many shots close, but they’re hitting a lot less shots intro trouble.

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Tiger Woods was religious about this during his wins. He actually played the hole in one over during his five wins, with no birdies. These are each of his shots; nowhere near the right side.

He’d usually hit a knockdown straight over the bunker. Faldo, too, was a master of the boring draw into the heart of the green. Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa are both rock solid faders of the ball. You could see how they’d be lured into taking the bait, but they haven’t — at least not yet. Collin Morikawa is so disciplined, he wrote in his yardage book in all capital letters “NO!” and “CENTER OF THE GREEN”

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It’s the mark not just of a truly great golf hole, but the kind that makes a Masters champion. The boldness that Mackenzie spoke of all those years ago isn’t in challenging the Sunday pin. It’s staring down the temptation of it, and having the game plan to reply quite simply: No.

Watch the full video right here: