Instruction

Instruction

Masters 2021: 7 of the most famous Masters shots—and how you can hit them

April 08, 2021

AP Photo

The nostalgia and history that surrounds the Masters is just one of the many reasons we love watching it every year. One of the biggest elements of that? The iconic shots that live in Masters lore. Golf fans have watched these iconic shots countless times—but have you tried to hit them yourself? With help from one of Golf Digest’s best teachers in California, Laird Small, and Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Paxton O’Connor you’ll be able to execute these famous shots next time you need to on the course.

Executing a hero shot like Phil’s shot from the pine straw, 2010 Masters final round

Yes, the level of difficulty on Phil’s insanely clutch shot on the 13th hole on Sunday was next level. But “this kind of shot is scarier than it looks,” Small says. It’s important to embrace the mind-set that it’s OK if your calculated risk doesn’t pay off.

If you have a stance similar to the one Phil faced, there are a couple important things to focus on. “Stability in your feet is crucial, and pine straw does not give you the support that you need,” Small explains. Try to feel grounded and heavy in your feet when you stand over the ball. You may even need to take an extra club so you feel like you can swing a little easier, Small says.

As you set up to your shot, Small says to play the ball in the middle of your stance. This ensures ball-first contact. Another way to improve your contact from the pine straw is to keep your chin up, literally.

“Players tend to drop downwards, which can cause you to hit it fat or thin,” Small says. “Keeping your chin up will help to eliminate some of those inconsistencies.”

Lastly, Small says it’s important to give yourself a wide landing area, if possible, and set up for your ball-flight tendencies. That’ll reduce the pressure you feel to hit a perfect shot, so you can feel comfortable really going for it.

Navigating a fairway bunker lip under pressure like Sandy Lyle’s bunker shot, 1988 Masters final round

Fairway-bunker shots are some of the toughest shots for amateurs, and you can be sure Sandy Lyle was feeling the nerves, too, faced with a shot close to the front lip on the final hole of the 1988 Masters.

Most golfers would look at that lie and grab a wedge to take their medicine, but O’Connor says that an average golfer can pull this shot off with the right club and a few tips.

Club selection is most crucial. Be sure to calculate your distance to the largest part of the green—this isn’t the time to go pin-seeking, O’Connor says. That will take some pressure off and gives you a better chance of getting it on the green. “If it’s a viable option, club up,” O’Connor says.

This will ensure that you make a smooth, controlled swing, which is crucial from a fairway bunker. His next tip is to stand a little taller over the ball and position the ball in the middle of your stance, or slightly forward if you have to get over a big lip. Standing a little taller will help you quiet your lower body and avoid taking too much sand.

O’Connor says the biggest key is to imagine that you’re hitting it off of the cart path. “This will help you control the low point and make solid contact,” he explains.

Focus on speed control like Jack Nicklaus’ birdie putt at 16, 1975 Masters final round

Of course, Jack’s putt on 17 in 1986 is his most famous putt at Augusta. But Small says average golfers can learn more from a different putt.

Faced with the severely uphill putt on Sunday in a battle with Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, Jack pulled off one of the best putts of his career. But how he handled his speed is what we can learn most from Jack, Small says.

“The biggest mistake players make [on the green] is distance control,” Small explains. “Most three-putts, almost all of them, happen because the first putt isn’t the right distance.”

Instead of getting caught up in reading the perfect line, focus on your speed when you’re standing over your putts, and you’ll probably see more go in. That’s evident with Jack’s roll—he picked a line and committed to hitting it the proper speed.

As a rule of thumb, Small says you should take a measured approach to longer putts to ensure you eliminate three-putts. His rule of thumb: Aim to leave yourself 10 percent of the length of the putt coming back. So if you have a 30-footer, of course you want to make it, but ensure that you don’t have more than three feet coming back. He also says to always leave your putts on the high side of a breaking putt.

A great way to practice distance control on the practice green is by making one-handed putts with your trail hand (right hand for righties). Small says that you’ll find your stroke tends to be longer on the way back and shorter on the way through, creating a smoother motion.

“If you get the ball going at the right speed, you’re giving luck a chance. Give luck a chance.” Small says.

Clip tight lie chip shots like Larry Mize’s chip to win the playoff at the 1987 Masters

Golf might be a game of misses, but Larry Mize’s chip-in on 11 in 1987 might be one of the most textbook shots we’ve ever seen.

Clipping a chip shot off a tight, downhill lie with a green running away from you might seem impossible, but O’Connor says simplifying your approach and doing the right things fundamentally will help you execute the shot.

“It’s important to know how to adapt your club selection based on the lie,” O’Connor says. On downhill lies, he says to add a little loft, like a higher lofted sand wedge or lob wedge in this case. As for technique, O’Connor says to focus on getting the bottom of the arc under the ball, versus trying to trap it.

A drill O’Connor says you can use to practice this motion is to tee up your wedge shots low, where the tee is barely above the ground. Then try and clip the tee when you chip it. This will help you make ground-first contact.

O’Connor’s last piece of advice when hitting a difficult chip like this, or any difficult shot: “set your plan of action, then your intention.” Visualize where you want the ball to land and roll out. Preparing your mind for the outcome will help to calm your nerves, he says.

You don't need magic to hole shots like Oosthuizen’s albatross in the final round in 2012

If Oosthuizen’s albatross on No. 2 doesn’t get your blood pumping, then you might need to check your pulse. Sure, the odds of holing your approach shots are slim, Small says sticking your shots close comes down to proper planning and a solid mental game.

“The best players are the most conservative,” he explains. “When Tiger and Spieth were having their breakout years, 75 percent of the time they were hitting to the fat side of the flag.”

If you re-watch Oosthuizen’s shot, you see that he landed the ball on the front of the green, between the bunkers, and let it roll into the cup. “Players focus on a specific target when they’re hitting shots,” Small says, “they aren’t thinking about their swing or being mechanical with their approach. They’re seeing the target and swinging to it.”

As for the mental side of this once-in-a-lifetime kind of shot, Small says that you have to stop thinking that getting excited is a bad thing. “In most cases it’s just adrenaline disguising itself as nerves,” he says, “and adrenaline isn’t a bad thing. In fact, most of the time you’re going to think and react quicker.”

Small says the key to harnessing your adrenaline is to be aware of your tendencies when you’re under pressure. It’s something pros face every week, and if you embrace the adrenaline, you’ll start executing like them, too. Identify your tendencies under pressure—whether that’s hitting it thin, or fading the ball, and adjust from there. “That’s the key to making better decisions and using those emotions to your advantage,” Small says.

Even mortals like us can make a wedge hook like Bubba in the playoff against Oosthuizen in 2012

We know that you’re probably still trying to recreate Bubba’s legendary hook shot on the 10th hole that helped him defeat Oosthuizen. Before you break someone’s window, O’Connor says to remember three things: You need to have a super clean lie, proper ball positioning and be able to control the face and path of your club.

O’Connor says that if you’re trying to hit a draw or hook, you need to play the ball slightly back with a closed clubface. “Shutting the face and swinging out left is what allowed Bubba to shape his shot and gave him some spin,” O’Connor says.

To practice this move, and learn how to shape your shots with more consistency and control, O’Connor says to set an alignment rod straight down the line at a target on the range. Throw down nine balls and try to curve three to the left, closing the clubface and swinging out to the left of the alignment rod (for lefties; swing out right as a right-hander). Try to curve three to the right by swinging the opposite way. Then finish the drill by hitting three balls as straight as you can at the target.

None of us are Tiger Woods, but improve your short game by learning from his chip shot at the 16th hole, 2005 Masters final round

Yes, you can come close to pulling off one of the most impressive shots in modern golf. You know the shot: Tiger’s up against a thick second cut, and he hits a low chip that gradually trickles in, building anticipation with each revolution until the ball drops into the cup. It doesn’t matter how many times you watch him hit the shot, you’re probably still in awe of his incredible touch and skill.

Small says developing that kind of deft touch comes down to using the bounce of the wedge properly and having the hands and head of the club move through impact simultaneously.

If you look closely: “Tiger’s gliding the flange of the club under the ball,” Small says, “and in doing that at impact, he’s delivering the club head and the grip with the same alignment.”

If you find yourself in a similar position, Small says you have a couple of options. You can opt out of the zero-to-hero shot and take a safer approach—or, if you’re feeling lucky, Small says to grab a wedge with at least 12 degrees of bounce and follow these steps for your best chance at pulling this shot off.

Position the ball in the middle of your stance, keeping your clubface square the entire time. Then take a long, soft swing, letting gravity do most of the work for you on the way down. As you move through impact, Small says to imagine sliding the club under the ball. This will help you keep your hands and clubhead in sync. If you’ve done it right, the ball should come off the face low and run onto the green. If you don’t hit it perfectly, that’s ok too. The average golfer is only going to be able to hit this shot perfectly about 5 percent of the time.