Tougher Than It Looks
The 7 toughest shots at Augusta National if you would play there
Playing Augusta National is the ultimate dream for everyday players. And at 6,365 yards from the member’s tees, it’s a very enjoyable, very playable course for any golfer from the mid-single digit to the mid-handicapper. Still, the course as you might expect presents more than its share of challenges, even at a distance more than 1,000 yards shorter than from where the pros play. I’ve been fortunate enough to play Augusta National twice (humble brag) and found what I experienced was different from what I have seen over the years watching the world’s best. Here are seven shots that, for the most part, the pros handle well at the Masters but are likely to give everyday players fits.
Just short of 3 green: The dreaded pitch shot off a tight lie
Although a mid-handicapper is not likely to barrel it down in front of the green off the tee (the members tee is just 10 yards shorter than the tournament tee), many an approach will come up short of this elevated green. That leaves a touchy shot off a slightly uphill lie. The pros have exacting short games that can handle this shot. The everyday player is even money to skull or chunk it. Why's that? The shorter the grass, the less margin for error—and the fairways at Augusta National resemble greens at some courses. When the ball is sitting up it's more comforting for an everyday player. Additionally, most everyday players have wedges with a fair amount of bounce. Those don't habitually work well off tight turf as the tendency is for the sole to skip off firm turf, leading to a thinned shot.
Tee shot on 4: A long iron that needs to be precise
Even with a 70-yard advantage bringing the number to 170 yards on this par 3, it’s still a long iron for those not playing for pay. Pros are very good with their long irons, the rest of us are hit and hope. Making matters more difficult is that even if you make good enough contact to hit the green, if you’re on the wrong side of the green (say, upper right to a front left pin), you’re still in trouble.
Shot from fairway bunkers on 5: When you're faced with mission impossible
TIMOTHY A. CLARY
The fairway bunkers on the left are at a perfect distance for a pulled or hooked tee shot to find. In fact, I was in there the first time I played. You cannot believe how high the lip is. You can’t see anything but sand—no fairway, no green. That makes it tough to even get a proper line. But here’s the hard part: you have to elevate the ball rapidly while still a lengthy way from the green. Pros have the strength to at least get this shot up and out and near the green, sometimes on it. For us, we’re wedging out, and still facing a pretty lengthy third shot. Hello double bogey.
Approach on 9: The ol' ball-below-your-feet-hanging-lie shot
The 65-yard advantage from the member tee helps, but the approach is still going to be from 150 or longer. From a hanging lie. With the ball below your feet. Uphill to a false front green. One where you need to be on the proper tier or else face a likely three-jack. What makes this shot difficult for average players is many tend to get on their toes during the swing to begin with. With the ball below your feet, that's only going to exacerbate the issue, leading to iron shots that flair to the right. In other words, best of luck, pal.
From the free-form bunker on 10: No one likes a long shot from the sand
Perhaps the biggest differential from pro to everyday player on the entire course. For several reasons. Pros can move the ball at will, making it easy to turn the ball over, catch the speed slot bounce and get a ton of run out. Amateurs slice. On this hole that’s the difference between an 8- or 9-iron for the pros and hauling out the furniture from 200-plus. And, oh, from that distance that free-form bunker is now in play for you, too, if you foozle one. Once a greenside bunker in the course's early days, it now sits some 70 yards short of the green. Or precisely the kind of distance from the sand that everyday players have no idea what to do with. Some advice: take a 50-degree wedge or even a pitching wedge and play it like a normal bunker shot. It's your best chance for success.
Third shot on 15: The terrifying half-wedge over water
We have no shot of reaching this par 5 in two, even from a very reasonable 475 yards. That means we have to lay up. That leaves perhaps the most terrifying shot for an everyday player: less than a full wedge off a tight, downhill lie over water to a slightly elevated and shallow green where short or too much spin means wet and long means chipping back toward the water. I’ve spoken to dozens of Masters champions over the years, and this is the shot that gives even them the willies.
Putt from right shelf on 16 green: Where a four-putt is more likely than a two-putt
This list wouldn’t be complete without a putt given the treacherous greens at Augusta National. We’re all used to seeing the shots trundle down from the right toward the traditional Sunday left pin, funneling close enough for birdie or sometimes even an ace. But what happens when the ball hangs up on that shelf? Well, let me tell you a story. I put my tee shot here the first time I played. I looked at that putt every which way seeking an option. I finally decided there wasn’t one. Trying to get the speed just right in order for the putt to barely clear the crest of the slope, I left it up there. Three more putts later I had a four-putt and was marking down 5 on the card. In short, the pros have more touch—and imagination—than we do.
Despite the challenges, I hope some of you get the opportunity to take them on. And for those wondering why the tee shot on No. 12 isn’t on this list, it’s because it’s not really that difficult a shot. It’s a short iron off a tee. It’s simply the most nerve-wracking shot on the course.