In golf nobody wants to hit an oblique—or even look at one. But if you hit an oblique on the first tee at the Masters you may wallow in shame and degradation the rest of your life. Ghosts are watching. You might also injure several people from Macon who have hot dogs around their necks and binoculars in their teeth. Maybe it's the other way around, although you never know about people from Macon. Anyhow, try not to hit an oblique at the beginning of your round in the Masters, or...SHANKED DRIVE CRIPPLES AUGUSTA FAN, WEISKOPF IN CUSTODY. Something like that. It is hard, very hard, to get off to a good start in the first of the year's major tournaments. You begin by focusing the eyes, clearing the throat and then carefully wringing the sweat out of the palms.
This applies equally to the man who is thinking seriously about winning the Masters as well as to those simply attempting to play well. Next week the golfers come again to the course in America that best combines the game's immense subtleties with scenery so overwhelming and an atmosphere so suffocating that 1974 U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin has said, "You start to choke when you drive through the front gate. On the first hole you just want to make contact with the ball."
A lot of things share in creating the Augusta shakes. The history, of course. All of those double eagles and Ben Hogans and Sam Sneads and Arnold Palmers and Jack Nicklauses. The fact that the Masters is the first of the biggies, two months ahead of the U.S. Open, three ahead of the British Open, four ahead of the PGA. The elegant and imposing clubhouse with its attendant cottages. The mammoth scoreboards. The hallowed bridges and fountains. The statuesque pines. The enormous, golf-wise crowds. Certainly the fact that the players have not only been 12 months without dogwood, but also have been eight months (since the previous PGA) without the massive attention of TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, manufacturers, agents, managers, sponsors and doting corporate types that the major tournaments attract.
As Nicklaus has pointed out, "If you wind up scoring well in one round, you're so besieged by people it's almost impossible to prepare for the next day. It's very hard to handle, particularly for the younger player."
Small wonder, then, that wisdom and knowledge serve the competitors best at Augusta. Joe Bob Talent may do extremely well, but Billy Ray Experience will beat up on him nearly every time. You can look it up.
The tournament has had two lives. Beginning in 1934 there were the early years when somebody had to win. This period extended through the postwar years when Hogan and Snead had a stranglehold on golf, concluding, in fact, with the Snead-Hogan playoff in 1954. It is the 22 Masters played since that have produced the interesting statistics. The tournament has been won not only by a Palmer and a Nicklaus, but also by a Coody and an Aaron; not only by a Player and a Casper but also by a Brewer and a Goalby. Age and enlightenment have collected the green jackets.
Statistics tell us—and all the ambitious Bruce Lietzkes—the harsh truth: of all the major championships, it is the Masters that requires the most experience. The average age of the Masters winner over this second life of the tournament is 32 years. Moreover, the winner is usually appearing in his eighth Masters.
Case histories: a year ago Raymond Floyd was 33 and competing at Augusta for the 12th time; in 1973 Tommy Aaron was 36 and playing in his 11th Masters; in 1971 Charlie Coody was 33 and it was his sixth Masters; in 1968 Bob Goalby was 39 and it was his ninth Masters. What of the immortals who bring down the averages? Arnold Palmer was 28 when he took the first of his four titles and it was his fourth appearance. Jack Nicklaus was 23 when he won the first of his five, but it was his fifth Augusta visit. Besides, Jack always seemed old for his age, despite the crew cut.
All of which brings up this year's Ripe List. People drawing names in office pools should be happy to get any of the following 10 players, even though none has yet won a Masters. Each is among the game's most accomplished shotmakers, and each falls into the proper age and experience category. They are: Tom Weiskopf, 34, 10th Masters, has finished second four times; Johnny Miller, 29, eighth Masters, second twice; Hale Irwin, 31, seventh Masters, fourth twice; Ben Crenshaw, 25, sixth Masters, last year's runner-up; Hubert Green, 30, seventh Masters, has been eighth; Dave Stockton, 35, eighth Masters, has finished second; J. C. Snead, 35, sixth Masters, has been second; Tom Watson, 27, fourth Masters, has finished eighth; Dave Hill, 39, 10th Masters, has wound up fifth; and Tom Kite, 27, fifth Masters, has finished fifth (and 10th) in the past. The list would normally include Lee Trevino, were he healthy enough to enter this year, even though Trevino chooses to think the course has never been suited to his game. Next year's list, Lee.
As for the Unripe List, it features youth and old age. Statistics suggest that 1977 is still too early to take seriously Bruce Lietzke, Jerry Pate, Mark Hayes, Gary Koch, Tom Purtzer, Rik Massengale, Andy Bean or Severiano Ballesteros. Or anyone else who has been to Augusta only once, twice or not at all. These are young men who can play the game and have proved they can win on the tour—and maybe at Nueva Andalucía—but in more than a quarter of a century only one player has stolen the Masters as early as his third appearance. That was in 1969 when George Archer introduced a putter he had baked over hot coals. Of the group of youngsters, it would seem that Lietzke (Tucson, Hawaii), Pate (U.S. Open, Canadian, Phoenix), Massengale (Hartford, Hope), Hayes (Byron Nelson, Pensacola, TPC) and Koch (Tallahassee, Citrus) have the best chance, for they have won on more than one occasion. And Pate of course has even taken a major. But their problem is, they don't have Augusta credentials.
At the same time, it should be altogether too late for another gang. The form chart dictates that if you haven't won the Masters by a certain period in your career, you never will. Enter now Don January, Gene Littler, Al Geiberger and Bruce Devlin. While they are stylish players who have loitered on many a leaderboard, they figure to be finished at Augusta. January has not won in 16 tries, Littler (who once lost a playoff) in 22, Geiberger and Devlin in 14.
The Augusta National course needs mastering. It is such a strange piece of real estate. Outwardly, no esthetic horrors to speak of. If anything, its 7,030 yards of broad fairways and no rough look huggable. A par 68 for the big hitter who can reach all four of the par-5 holes in two, although it is a par 72 for most others with valid passports. There is, however, more to the Augusta National than that. This has to do with hills, humps and slopes, with dark corners, with sprawling, slick greens, with pins that are often placed by calloused werewolves, with the awareness of the water on the back nine—"the bogey nine," some call it—and finally with a wind that can curl up and hide in the clusters of pines and then literally come howling toward the shot struck with a club selected by lottery.
"My first time at Augusta I shot a 69 in the opening round and I said, 'Hey, this isn't so tough'—and then I shot an 83 and missed the cut." Those are the words of Raymond Floyd.
There may be no better way to adequately describe the subtleties and options involved in dealing with both the course and the tournament than to take a spin around the 18, with appropriate pauses at the thriller holes. Among the occasional voices, there will be those of men who have won the Masters, those who have barely lost it, and those who have never come close. But they will be individuals who have given more thought to the Augusta National than they have to their children's cereal, for as Weiskopf has said, "After I open my presents under the tree on Christmas morning, I start thinking about the Masters."
Here, then, is the course:
No. 1, 400 yards, par-4. Down a gentle slope from the umbrellas and cocktails and wistaria of the veranda is the tee. Golf shop, press compound and pines on the right. Drive over a valley and pitch to a green without a straight putt on it. "A good starting hole," says Irwin, "except for the nerves."
No. 2, 555 yards, par-5. A dogleg to the left, around the trees. Reachable in two if you avoid the bunker on the right from the tee and have a taste for downhill lies. Nicklaus believes that young players worry too much about the left side. "Just don't snap-hook it," he says.
No. 3, 360 yards, par-4. A fairly easy drive but a delicate pitch, particularly when the flag has been spotted on the left peninsula. Nicklaus claims to have hit the perfect shot here and still wound up on the 4th tee because of the hidden wind. Jack never blames anything on his wedge, of course.
No. 4, 220 yards, par-3. Just a long, hard hole—a Buffalo to Cleveland flight in bad weather. The wise player aims for the green, not the pin. And everybody three-putts at least once.
No. 5, 450 yards, par-4. The hole nobody watches. It runs along a distant ridge, as if detached from the action in the tournament below. The requirements are a big drive and a long, high iron. "If you don't get the second shot up, it's bogey time," says Weiskopf. Green adds, "It's a British Open hole. You can hit a good shot and get a bad result."
No. 6, 190 yards, par-3. The hole where amateur Billy Joe Patton set a record for spilled Cokes and Southern whoops when he made a hole in one in 1954 as he chased after Snead and Hogan. In the old days, a much tougher hole. A swollen hump in the green was known as "the hill where they buried the elephant." Still a nuisance for putting if you're too far away from the cup. Basically, a concession-stand hole.
No. 7, 365 yards, par-4. A drive and a flip but the pitch is demanding. Nothing holds the green but the finest back-spins from a nine-iron or wedge. Trevino likes to think of it as "one of the holes I don't hate."
No. 8, 530 yards, par-5. Again, more fun in the old days when the green was hidden behind a huge mound on the left. Now, a long, uphill, ordinary exercise giving an unmerciful advantage to the big hitter.
No. 9, 440 yards, par-4. A severe dogleg to the left, downhill from the tee, then up, up and away to the green. Muscular types prefer the right side of the fairway, which offers a straight shot to the green. But that is because they can drive to the bottom and get a level lie. Everybody else has to go at a three-iron from a trapeze.
No. 10, 485 yards, par-4. The start of the most scenic and dramatic part of the course. Downhill, a dogleg to the left, the "cathedral of pines," as the literati like to call it. Ben Hogan always felt you had to drive high on the right, then drop a four-wood onto the green. It once held like marble. Today, Weiskopf and most of the others recommend a big hook to the bottomland. "It takes two clubs off the approach," says Tom.
No. 11, 445 yards, par-4. Out of a mysterious chute and over a hill. Then down to a green bordered by water on the left, with the pin sometimes looking as if it were afloat. Augusta's critical gambles begin with this second shot. Weiskopf points out, "Here's where the galleries start to show how knowledgeable they are. They know not to clap very much when you shoot for the pin if it's sitting on the left near the water. They know you're stupid."
No. 12, 155 yards, par-3. The best, prettiest, most historic and horrible par-3 in all of golf. Over Rae's Creek in a swirling wind to a narrow green and snug pin amid the frequent sounds of a competitor's cough. Club selection is almost everything, assuming the contender has muscle memory and has not glanced at the scoreboard. Says Nicklaus, "It comes down to whether you want to keep it in play or go for a two and come away with a five." And then there's the myth. As Green describes it, "They say if the dogwood tree on the right of the 13th tee is moving, then the wind is blowing over the 12th green, and when the dogwood stops moving, there's no wind. I don't believe it."
No. 13, 485 yards, par-5. The conclusion to Amen Corner. Another ultimate in gambling, on the tee, on the second shot. A sharp dogleg left around a banquette of pines and azaleas. An incorrigible little ravine fronts the green and meanders around the right side. Floyd speaks for most when he says, "If my chances are 50-50 after the tee shot, I'll go." To get on in two, both the drive—a low hook around the trees—and the second shot need to be perfect, for there is doom everywhere. As par 5s go, the 13th is no sweat.
No. 14, 420 yards, par-4. A commercial break from the scenery, but a tough, underrated hole. Drive and mid-iron. Never be short, says Nicklaus, "like I always am." Another good hole to get a bad break, according to Irwin.
No. 15, 520 yards, par-5. The holes at Augusta have botanical names and this one is Fire Thorn, but they might as well go ahead and invent a flower called Double Eagle. This is where Gene Sarazen did it. There is plenty of room for the drive but then come the theatrics. A big, tormenting, nerve-racking second shot—a TV director's delight—over the picturesque pond. The pros all say go for it with anything, aim at the grandstand, the bunker, whatever. To lay up is to face a dangerous pitch over the water from a downhill slope. The art of pitching evidently went out with Hogan. He always laid up, and always birdied.
No. 16, 190 yards, par-3. Another postcard. Water, trees, shadows. Floyd makes the only important point. Says he, "Any hole with water in front of the green gives the appearance of being shorter than it really is."
No. 17, 400 yards, par-4. A letdown after all that has come before it on the back nine. A drive and a pitch, but the second shot requires exactness.
No. 18, 420 yards, par-4. A superbly rugged finishing hole. There are options from the tee. A one-iron or three-wood if you need accuracy, or a drive if you're greedy. The green is a slightly smaller target than most and one doesn't really like to be above the cup if the greens are slicker than usual, which could occur this time because of the bad winter. The hole goes uphill, unfortunately, but that of course is where town is.
Among the seasoned competitors, theories abound as to how a man should contend with each hole. After a while they all begin to speak of the 5th, the 12th, the 15th, as if they are either old friends or valiant enemies. A new bunker or row of trees may at first be looked upon as some rancid form of herpes, but then a tournament or two will pass and they will be accepted as shrines.
Years pass for the experienced Masters entrant. Green coats are worn only by those who wait. And because of his experience Trevino can be allowed to sum it up—perhaps for a generation of golfers: "Every year that Jack Nicklaus doesn't win the Masters, he ought to cut off a finger."
THE COURSE HAS TAUGHT THEM A LESSON
TEE TO GREEN: "They use the corners of greens to tease you, putting the pins there. You must learn there are many holes where you do not want to shoot for the flag, no matter where they put it."—Ed Sneed
"I play each hole backward in my mind. I look at the magnetic diagram showing the pin placement that is on every tee and decide where I want to play my second shot from. Then I figure what kind of tee shot I must hit."—Hale Irwin
"I think of the 3rd as a second-shot hole. You don't want to go left, or go for the pin on your approach, but you can take advantage of the angle by hitting your second from the right side of the fairway in order to get it to kick left. If you hit from the left it will kick even farther right."—Tom Weiskopf
"Wind is the problem at 4. It will often carry the ball over the green where there is an out of bounds. A young player might look at the yardage and think he needs a wood. He doesn't."—Jack Nicklaus
"The second shot at 5 takes learning. I have played every type of shot here over the years to learn what works best for me, and everyone has to do that."—Jack Nicklaus
"It's easier to chip from the back on the 6th green than up to the hole. If the pin is set back on the right, you must get to the hole, even over."—Ed Sneed
"Standing on the tee at 9, you can't believe how much you can hook the ball and not be in trouble. You'll think you're in the trees and you'll find your ball in the middle of the fairway."—J. C. Snead
"The trees around 10 make it hard to grow grass on the green, and the tree roots have taken over under the green. The combination makes the surface like cement, which is something you must take into account while figuring your approach."—Tom Watson
"I play down the left side of 11 because of the hazard. I would rather be hitting across the water than alongside it. If you let up here, you'll bogey or double-bogey. You learn not to be aggressive at the wrong time. One thing that makes this so hard is 12. You try not to think about it and you say you'll take your time, but I swear I get to the 12th tee in about two steps and it interferes with your thinking on 11."—Raymond Floyd
"At 12 only a stubborn player would go for the pin when it's on the right. You just have to be patient with this hole. Hit to the center of the green and work the ball to the pin. It's not the place to get greedy."—Tom Weiskopf
"The 14th presents a very tough second shot. It's hard for younger players to understand that this hole plays better from behind the green than in front."—Jack Nicklaus
"The 15th is a hard green to keep the ball on. Anytime you can go for it on your second shot, you do, rather than hit that pitch off the downhill. It's the toughest pitch in golf."—Jack Nicklaus
"The 17th plays longer than the yardage—400. Uncle Sam told me that. You need at least a half club more than the yardage indicates."—J. C. Snead
THE GREENS: "The pin placements are the same every year and the first time you see them they're unbelievable. You look at where they are and your first reaction is, That's not fair!' "—Tom Weiskopf
"You have to learn not to believe your ego and your eyes, especially on the greens."—Tom Kite
"The second hole is a good example of an inexperienced player's tendency not to believe what people have said about the course. When the pin is set on the right behind the trap, the green breaks like a horseshoe. But it sure doesn't look that way, and you can only find out by messing up. You must face the problems of this course in competition, not practice, in order to learn."—Hale Irwin
"They shave the grass way down on the bank in front of the 3rd green and they don't water it. The green drops off in back, too. It's a good example of design, where the pins are guarded by the greens themselves, unlike the Open where pins are generally guarded by rough."—Ed Sneed