Oliver Wil­son

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

Golf Monthly - - Contents -

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

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