Spell It Trouble

As always, whoever wins will have to negotiate that forgotten front nine, and there, says Dan Jenkins, is where one finds more problems than most Masters fans ever see, live or on TV
April 03, 1972

It is a belief among those who attend the Masters regularly that if you were to assemble all of the people you know who have ever actually seen the 5th hole of the Augusta National course, you could stick them into a single azalea patch and still have enough room left for Arnold Palmer to take a slash at the ball. The 5th hole at Augusta is way out there somewhere, out and up and back, crawling silently along, a shadow on the map that might just as well indicate a manganese mine in the Ukraine or a gorilla sanctuary in Uganda. Hidden away, uncelebrated, almost mysterious, the 5th hole epitomizes something more—the forgotten front nine. Although these luxuriant 3,485 yards are part of the most celebrated golf layout in America, they have gained about as much glory through the years as all those shots Gene Sarazen hit that weren't double eagles. If Augusta's front nine ever ran for public office, it would be a county clerk. If the front nine ever got into big government, it would be an assistant administrator in the thrill-a-minute Office of Minerals and Solid Fuels.

The problem with most front nines in golf, imagewise, is that there always is a back nine. A round concludes on the back, and most professional tournaments of 72 holes reserve their drama for the final moments. Invariably, there is the winner, hurling his visor into the air on the 18th green—or simply nodding like Charles Coody—and, meanwhile, there goes the front nine, trotting back to the sideline in obscurity, like the man who holds the football for the winning field goal.

In the case of Augusta National, a number of things have helped detract from the front nine's scenic and heroic qualities. For one, it started as the back nine, which is a historical fact ranking right up there with Charles G. Dawes being the 30th Vice-President of the U.S. The first Masters, held in 1934, was played with the present course reversed—today's front nine was the back. As first designed by Bob Jones and Alister MacKenzie, the original back nine appeared to have the more spectacular terrain. But in 1935 they switched the nines around in an experiment. What immediately occurred, of course, was Sarazen's double eagle at the 15th hole. Who could change back after that?

As the years went by, refinements to the course seemed always to enhance the back side more than the front, and other memorable events kept occurring there. More water was added until there were no fewer than five water holes on the back nine, compared to none on the front.

Eventually, Augusta's back nine had more beauty, more drama, more water, a couple of par-5s (the 13th and 15th) that offered exciting gambles, Rae's Creek, Amen Corner, Byron Nelson's streak, a few Arnold Palmer charges—and television. All the while, perversely, almost everything sensational that happened on the front nine happened to somebody who would lose the Masters.

And so today all the front nine has going for it is the little-noted fact that it is, on several counts, the more difficult of the two nines. (Ten of the last 15 Masters champions have scored higher on the front nine than on the back.) The pros know all about this; they play the front nine to survive, and on the back they go for broke.

Consider now, Augusta's forgotten holes, one by one:

NO. 1, 400 YARDS, PAR 4

The tee is situated just below the clubhouse veranda and the practice putting green. The drive must carry a deep valley and come to rest to the left of a deep bunker on a plateau, setting up a pitch shot to a rolling green. It is a splendid starting hole and there have been some splendid starts.

None was more spectacular than that of Roberto De Vicenzo in 1968. On the first hole of the final round he lofted a nine-iron into the cup for an eagle 2 and then birdied the next two holes. Four under through three. But all this is obscure history because of a simple signature—his, which he put on a scorecard that was in error, a slip that cost him a tie for the title.

The 1st hole not only relinquished an eagle deuce to Roberto, but two years later, during the third round, it gave up another to another foreigner, Takaaki Kono of Japan. He plopped a seven-iron into the cup, bowed, and then birdied the 2nd.

This hole also marked the beginning of one of the most thrilling episodes in the Masters. In 1956 an amateur named Ken Venturi showed up. The first day, in his first Masters, he birdied No. 1, then 2, then 3 and then 4. He blistered the place with a 66 and held the lead for 70 amazing holes until a violent wind, slick greens and his own inexperience undid him.

Years before, it was Venturi's tutor, Byron Nelson, who proved that the 1st hole is not necessarily a pushover. Nelson had to face Ben Hogan in the 1942 Masters playoff. Sick to his stomach as he started, as usual, and asked to compete before a gallery that included practically the entire field—the other pros had stayed over to watch—Nelson shanked his tee shot on No. 1 and made a double bogey 6. Through five holes he was three strokes behind. From that point on, however, it is pure lore how Nelson played six-under-par golf—"the best of my career"—and beat Hogan by one shot.

NO. 2, 555 YARDS, PAR 5

With snow on the ground, Augusta's 2nd would resemble a nice lower-intermediate ski run. It goes out and then down and around to the left, through a forest of tall pines. With a good lie and a helping breeze, the 2nd can be reached in two blows but it takes the most perfect of shots, for the green is hard to hold and there are bunkers guarding the front. Birdies are usually the result of a good, long lag putt, or a fine chip shot or bunker shot. Birdies are sometimes taken for granted here, but no one who saw it will ever forget Gene Littler, in his 1970 playoff with Billy Casper, hitting a wedge about 10 feet, thus inventing the squirt-shank-scruff, on the "easy" 2nd hole.

NO. 3, 355 YARDS, PAR 4

If there is an unfair hole on the front nine, it is this one. The drive is gently uphill and reasonably open, but the green is on a ledge and extremely difficult to hold. An all-but-perfect approach is likely to bound over, or stop short. A poor shot can bounce off a hill and ease into the pin, or skip up and onto the green, accidentally. Because of the shape of the green, the 3rd hole remains one of the three holes on the front nine (the 5th and 7th are the others) that have never been eagled during the tournament.

A hillside to the right of the green, however, has become one of the favorite hangouts of veteran Masters watchers. There, one can follow the shots coming into the 3rd as well as the entire 4th hole. And besides that, it is the point of no return. The viewer has walked down and then up the 1st, down and across the 2nd, staying on top of the hill approximately where the second shots are struck. He then has cut through the trees a short distance and arrived leisurely at the 3rd without missing anything. To leave the 3rd green and go all the way up to the 4th green is to commit himself to walking the hidden and tiring 5th hole, from which he only has to come back down to civilization again, possibly with a coronary.

NO. 4, 220 YARDS, PAR 3

Here is one of the superb one-shot holes in golf. Like most of the greens at Augusta, this one is enormous and heavily contoured. The player simply must gamble with the yawning bunker fronting the green and try to get close to the flag, or risk three-putting. It is the longest par-3 on the course, and on more than one memorable occasion it has been the turning point in a brilliant round.

Jack Nicklaus birdied the 4th in 1965 when he equaled the course record of 64, eight under par, in the third round, and went on to win the tournament by nine strokes. That day he birdied three of the four par-3s and tied the front-nine record of 31. To display the difference between himself and mere mortals that afternoon, Jack crushed a four-iron into the 4th hole where some others were hitting four-woods, and his shot landed eight feet from the cup.

"I had a feeling it might be a good day after that," said Jack.

NO. 5, 450 YARDS, PAR 4

What Bob Jones had in mind here was a hole very much like the seaside ones in Scotland and England, only his would be among the pines. And he got what he had in mind.

It is a remarkable hole, and everyone really ought to see it sometime—once. The fairway is alive with moguls and the green offers something of a blind approach, a run-up shot similar to those used on the old links. The perfectly played ball is bounced onto the green with, say, a three-iron.

Last year the 5th wound up being tied with the 10th, a downhill par-4, as the toughest hole in the tournament. These two holes were played in 30 over par by the best 26 competitors, one percentage point higher than the evil 12th, that famed par-3 with the shallow green hard by Rae's Creek.

The 5th is made all the more difficult by a green that falls away, encouraging a shot hit too strongly to keep rolling. There is a lower level—almost a deep swale—on the right side, and the first putt can be a horrid experience from there.

Palmer has always said, "If you can get past the 5th under par, you have a right to expect a low score."

NO. 6, 190 YARDS, PAR 3

Perhaps one of the reasons why so many remarkable things have happened at the 6th is that everybody is so delighted to be past the 5th. Nelson began his rally against Hogan in '42 with a birdie at the 6th. This was where Claude Harmon, an unknown club pro playing in his first tournament of the year, wrapped up the 1948 Masters. In the last round he birdied the 6th, then the 7th and eagled the 8th, and it was all over.

But mainly this is Billy Joe Patton's hole. A lot of them are, one way or another, but it was at the 6th in the final round of 1954 that Billy Joe caused the greatest roar in Masters annals. For two rounds, despite a series of gambling shots, most of them truly unwise, he had led the field. And he was an amateur. But by the end of the third day he was five strokes behind. That is how he played, up and down, in and out. The crowds swarmed to him and embraced him, and he chatted amiably between his outrageous gambles.

He was to go out the final day in four-under 32 and catch Ben Hogan, the leader, and Sam Snead, the eventual winner. And he would do it primarily with the loudest five-iron Georgia ever heard. What Billy Joe's five-iron at the 6th hole did was sail right into the cup for a hole in one. Right there before 15,000 people.

Hearing the cheer, prolonged and wild, Bob Jones said in his cottage, "Billy Joe's done something again."

Patton lost that Masters on the back nine, with a bogey and double bogey at the par-5s, but he provided more fun and frustration over a four-day period than anyone at Augusta ever has.

The 6th hole is one of those postcard beauties where the green lies below a high tee. In the early days the green included a giant mound right of center. It looked exactly like the name that players gave it: "The hill where they buried the elephant." There is still a swollen knoll on the putting surface, but it is not mammoth anymore; zebra, possibly.

NO. 7, 365 YARDS, PAR 4

The late Horton Smith, who won two of the first three Masters, deserves credit for suggesting the change that transformed the 7th hole into one of the best on the course. Originally the green sat low, requiring another of those runup shots Jones wanted to achieve. Smith thought it should be Americanized. And it was. The green was raised and surrounded by four bunkers. It now requires as much finesse as any pitch shot the best of pros can hit.

There is a "Masters-type" panorama to the 7th, where a huge leaderboard rises behind the green, invariably engulfed by fans. It is one of the most frustrating holes on the course. The length suggests that it ought to be birdied, but the pitch shot takes the easy birdie away. Here, again, is a hole where Jack Nicklaus in 1965, en route to his 64, drew away from the field. He hit a wedge shot that bounced up to within two feet of the cup—another bird. It was this shot, as much as any other, that prompted Bob Jones to say, "Nicklaus plays a game with which I am not familiar."

NO. 8, 530 YARDS, PAR 5

The 8th hole calls for two demanding shots, either of which can drift into the woods and turn what is considered to be a birdie hole into a problem par. Furthermore, it is uphill almost all the way, with the second shot a blind one if the golfer is attempting to reach the green.

There was a time at Augusta when the 8th green was one of the few in existence where a ball could be resting on the front part and the man with the putter could not see the flag. If the pin was far to the left, and back, it was inaccessible for all except the player who knew how to hit a big hook with his putter. The green, happily, has been redesigned to make it fairer.

The drive can be troublesome. About 240 yards out, and right of center, is a large bunker. A tee shot landing in the bunker makes the hole a long-shot par and a probable bogey 6. The 8th has given up the only other double eagle in the Masters, and one of the least publicized ever. It was in the first round in 1967 that Bruce Devlin slammed a hooking four-wood up the big hill, onto the green and into the cup for a 2.

"All I knew when I hit the shot was that it ought to be on the green," says Devlin. "It took about five seconds for word to get back downhill that it had gone in. I'd guess maybe 300 people were in the gallery, but 15,000 have told me they saw it."

After Sarazen's double eagle at the 15th, it was ordained for him to win. By contrast, it was ordained for Devlin to follow his double eagle with five bogeys. Still, they both hit four-woods, didn't they?

NO. 9, 420 YARDS, PAR 4

A long drive that disappears down a hill and then a steep slope upward for the pitch shot make the 9th, essentially, another blind hole at Augusta.

But while it measures the same as the 18th hole and requires an uphill second, and perhaps to the unknowing eye holds the same basic character, the 9th plays far differently. On the 9th, the tee shot gets the benefit of the downward roll; at the 18th the tee shot bores into the hill. Thus, the 9th plays easier.

The two greens are similar, sloping severely downward, and they are fast, faster than most. Many an approach shot backspins off the 9th, and many a putt from the upper back side never stops rolling.

The only player who ever defeated the 9th thoroughly was, again, Billy Joe. He birdied it all four rounds of his '54 Masters. But this seemed trivial compared with the other deeds he performed. His play of the 9th was lost in the frenzy of the back nine on the final day when, like any other Masters, all that comes before seems inconsequential.

It will no doubt be the same again this year. Toward dusk on Sunday, a man who has been seized by the impulse to win will come trudging up the final fairway, a survivor of Amen Corner and Rae's Creek, of himself and of others.

There on the 18th green he will stand, weary but triumphant, having conquered the golf course that television shows—most of the back nine—and the only part of the Masters course that somehow matters at this moment. But if anyone cares to look off to the west, across the battleground that was, he can see some empty hills and valleys and pines; deserted golf holes that were every bit as important to the drama of the week, but now are quite forgotten. They will be the ones where the sprinklers have already been turned on.

PHOTOJAMES DRAKENo. 1, a splendid starting hole. The drive must carry a deep valley and stop on a plateau to the left of the bunker. PHOTOJAMES DRAKENo. 5, the toughest hole on the front nine. Its undulating approach and unnerving moguls lend it a Scottish air. PHOTOJAMES DRAKENo. 6, the postcard hole. The knolled green below a hilltop tee was once compared with an elephant burial ground. PHOTOJAMES DRAKENo 7, a fine par-4 with a Masters panorama. The raised green, guarded by four bunkers, demands a delicate approach. PHOTOJAMES DRAKENo. 8, a deceptive hole. Uphill almost all the way, it entices a bold birdie try that can wreak havoc on the bold. ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)