Tiger Woods reveals his Augusta shotmaking secrets
This will be a Masters unlike any other—played in November, and without patrons. It’s definitely not how I pictured my title defense, and the week will certainly be different from any of the other 22 Masters I’ve played. But my preparation for the week remains the same. Throughout the years, I’ve learned exactly what shots and feels I need to have dialed in by the time I make the drive up Magnolia Lane. Augusta is such a demanding golf course, and if you aren’t fully prepared for the challenges it presents, it will expose you. It’s one of my favorite courses to play because it forces you to tap into your creative side as a golfer, which we don’t get to do all that often on today’s modern setups. Here are some of the key shots I make sure to have practiced before the first tee of the Masters. You might find them useful on whatever course you’re playing this week. Stock shots are great, but there’s something really satisfying about seeing an unusual shot in your mind, and then creating it—like an artist.
OFF THE TEE
LAUNCH IT HIGH
There’s a good chance that playing the Masters in November will mean softer conditions, so I’ll have to bring out my high-bomb tee shot to get more carry. To hit it, I tee the ball so most of it is above the top of the clubface. Then I drop my right foot back a hair, which helps me make a bigger turn and load into my right hip. The key is to be patient when hitting the bomb. At the top, I try to wait an extra millisecond before starting my body release. That allows my arms to move freely through the hitting zone. Then comes the fun part—the downswing. I feel like I’m jumping into the ground as I fire my hips toward the target and clear them from the club’s path. I also make a conscious effort to hit up on the ball. If I pull it off, it’ll be a high and straight ball that carries around 300 yards.
FROM WAY BACK IN THE FAIRWAY
DROP IT ON SOFTLY
In a normal Masters, I don’t have to hit a wood from the fairway too oft en. But if it’s soft and cold this year, that will probably change. And you can’t hold an Augusta green from long range if you’re not sending the ball way up in the air. Some say you need to sweep your fairway woods to get the ball up, but I hit down on them like I would with an iron to ensure better contact. Because the ball is farther forward in my stance than for an iron, I’ll only take a very small divot. If I want to send one extra high, I’ll simply move the ball a little farther forward in my stance and try to stay behind it through impact. One downswing move that also helps create height: feeling my arms and hands moving past my body.
HOOK IT BACK IN PLAY
The lack of rough at Augusta means off-line shots roll forever. But when you get into the trees, the pine straw gives you an opportunity to get to the back of the ball and put some sidespin on it. My approach into 11 on Sunday last year was a high hook around trees that found the center of the green. It was a key moment in my round. To pull off this shot (I’ll try it only with a short or middle iron—no wedges or long irons), I choose a precise starting line and finishing line, and get my feet and shoulders pointed on the start line and the club facing the target. I then take the club really inside, swing more around my body and feel like I release the club earlier (when it’s even with my right foot). How much I hook it is determined by how much I rotate my hands. It’s a feel shot.
ON PAR 3S
MISS IN A GOOD SPOT
This isn’t technical swing stuff, but it’s still a crucial part of Augusta prep: I need to be sharp and disciplined with my decision making. You have to know when to attack and when to play safe, particularly on the par 3s. It sounds negative, but often my first thought is, Where don’t I want to put the ball? Then I’ll factor in my shot patterns from the week. Where have my misses been? What shots have I been hitting well? Once I process all of this, I’ll decide my shot shape. Typically, I like to start the ball toward the fat part of the green and have it curve toward the flag. That way, if I hit a straight ball, it won’t hurt me. And if I do curve it the way I intended, I’m going to have a great look at birdie. Then it’s just about making a committed swing.
TROUBLE IN THE FAIRWAY
SLICE IT . . . ON PURPOSE
At Augusta, you sometimes have to hit “recovery” shots from the fairway because trees block a straight path to the green. That’s when a high, slicing shot comes in handy. To hit it, I choose more club than normal, because I’m going to be adding so much loft and spin that the ball doesn’t fly as far. Then I stand closer to the ball and aim well left of where I want the ball to finish, which makes room for the slice flight. I then take the club back outside the target line and think about trying to hit my left foot in the downswing. That’s how much I’m trying to cut across the ball from out to in with my swing path. Then it’s about holding the clubface open through impact and beyond—which is why I sometimes do that helicopter finish Arnie made famous.
SIDEHILL / DOWNHILL SITUATIONS
DRAWING IT FROM A FADE LIE
There aren’t a lot of completely flat lies in Augusta’s fairways. The ball is seemingly always above or below your feet. It’s a huge advantage to be able to shape your approach shots both ways, no matter if the lie favors a draw or a fade. When the ball is below my feet but I want to draw it right to left , I move the ball position a little back toward my right foot, close my stance significantly, and turn my left foot out toward the target. This helps me feel like I have more room to release my right hand through the ball. The right hand controls this shot by closing the clubface in relation to my swing path through impact. I feel like it’s way more active than on a normal iron approach, but it’s an effective way to counter the lie.
SIDEHILL / UPHILL SITUATIONS
FADING IT FROM A HOOK LIE
▶ Think of the par-5 13th at Augusta. Even when you stripe it in the middle of that dogleg-left fairway, your next shot will likely be played with the ball above your feet. That lie favors a draw, but you have to hit a cut into that green if you want to hold it. How do you pull it off ? When the ball is above my feet and I want to hit it left to right, I’ve developed a spinny, rising cut that actually lands pretty soft. I put the ball back in my stance and make an X-shape swing with my arms. That means taking it inside the target line on the backswing and then cutting across that line on the through-swing, creating an X-shape look to my swing path. If I want to hit this shot extra high, I’ll add more speed with my hands and finish with them above my head.
GET IT TO CHECK LEFT OR RIGHT
Your wedge play has to be spot on at Augusta. You have to be in control of your distance and spin. And that doesn’t just mean backspin—sometimes, you can only access a pin location if your shot is coming in with sidespin, left or right. To add or take off distance, I simply speed up or slow down my arms through the hitting zone. And If I want the ball to come in with cut spin, I’ll set up with an open stance and take the club back a little bit more outside than usual. Then I’ll hold the clubface open through impact, making sure to delay the release a bit and exit left. For draw spin. I’ll close my stance, move the ball a bit farther back and feel like I stay behind the ball a little longer. Through impact, I let the right hand turn over. That shuts the face for the draw.
THE ROUGH AT YOUR COURSE
The majority of clubs are not like Augusta—they have high grass. Judging the lie in the cabbage is vital. If there is grass between your club and the ball and it’s downgrain, the ball will probably jump and fly farther than normal. If its nestled down and into the grain, it’s probably going to come out dead with no spin. You have to predict how the ball will react from the rough. The next thing to think about is the miss. Odds are, you’re not going to hit the green. So locate the spot short of the green that gives you the best chance of saving par (or bogey), and try to leave your miss in that spot. It’s your best chance to avoid those round-killing big numbers. Sometimes it’s the craftiest shot of all.