Augusta National is the ultimate test for any golfer and, as the 2016 Masters proved, no one is immune to the unique challenges and pressures it presents
On the wonders of Augusta
As a pro, you don’t want to see what happened to Jordan Spieth at The Masters, and although I’ve not been in that exact situation, we’ve all had meltdowns like that. It’s horrible, but do you know what, it’s not that big a deal. He’s been invincible really and that’s the first bad thing that’s happened to him, so I think it could prove a good thing in the long run. He’d rather have had the Green Jacket again, of course. But he’ll come back from it. His putting kept him at the head of affairs for so long, and putting well on greens that fast and slopey is a real mix of skill, nerve and preparation. You’ve got to put the hours in as they’re completely different to normal greens. But I like putting on fast, slopey greens. It’s good fun… at least when you’re putting well!
It all starts with course management – you have to make sure you’re the right side of the hole to have a decent putt at it. If you’re hitting it to 10-15ft but on the wrong side of the hole, you’re not going to shoot a good score at Augusta. It really is the next level up in plotting your way around, making a gameplan and preparing.
If you put your ball in the right place, you can make a lot of putts from distance on greens that are pure and fast because they are that true. But it takes good mechanics and lots of feel. If you’ve got a six-footer with two to three feet of break, you’ve got to hit a perfect putt for it to go in. I like that because it makes putting more important than on slower, softer, flatter greens where skill isn’t as big a deal. It’s fun when you can feed balls into the pins too – fun to play and fun to watch, but also really tough when you get it wrong.
Pace is more important than normal on the Augusta greens, but even when you’re putting well, you have to take your time over two- or three-footers because if you hit it a fraction too hard and it lips out, you might have a six- to eight-footer coming back. There’s such a mental element to putting there as well – you have to concentrate fully on every shot. The greens are significantly quicker than in Europe, but in America they play on quick greens more often. But when you get slopes as well as speed, that’s a different matter. I remember playing Sawgrass when those greens got obscenely quick – quicker than Augusta’s the year I played – but they were flatter so it wasn’t such a big deal.
I’ve played The Masters a couple of times, but I went to college in Augusta too, so I’d played the course a few times before that. It just heightens every area of your game. You stand on the tee and have to think about the pin position: “Right, how do I get this shot close? Which side of the fairway do I need to be?” You work it back, and that, to me, is proper golf – planning your way round, bringing in tactics and course management. It brings ball-flight control into it too, and that’s why Rory and Bubba have a big advantage round there because they can hit such towering iron shots.
When Rory is hitting into those greens with a mid-iron, his ball stops pretty quickly. Guys he was playing with would hit the same kind of shot and the ball would run on a few yards. That’s a massive advantage to have that ability.
Chipping is a different ball game too, and a good example would be the chip from the back of the 15th. If you’re going to land it on the green from there, you have to strike it correctly. The green slopes away from you, so if it doesn’t spin, it’s just going to run into the water. Again, it’s heightening the skill level required and you’ve just got to play a better quality chip. You’ve got to pick the right shot, then execute it correctly. Augusta makes you execute shots well and if you don’t, the penalty is severe. Some might argue that’s not fair, but I disagree. I much prefer courses like that, with tighter lies around the greens rather than thicker rough where all you can really do is just flop it.
That still takes skill, of course, but it’s not as much fun as having a whole bag of different shots to choose from. That, to me, makes golf more exciting.
Augusta is like a second home as I spent six years there, so I really want to go back as I haven’t made the cut yet. I was struggling a bit when I played and I’d like to go back with a bit more game. My first year, I probably gave the course a bit too much respect. You have to give it respect, but gauging when to attack Augusta is key. You can’t play cautiously on most holes because you end up not making any birdies. And you have to make birdies to counteract the mistakes, because you are going to make mistakes!
“You can’t play cautiously at Augusta. You have to make birdies to counteract the mistakes, because you are going to make mistakes!”
2008 Ryder Cupper, Oliver Wilson, is now into his 12th year on the European Tour, during which time he has enjoyed the support of long-term sponsors, Callaway Golf, Hugo Boss and Orion Group