Pros Dish on Who Can Win and Who Can’t
Candid and catty comments about the field at Augusta.
Oonly 50 players have won the previous 80 Masters tournaments. Only 32 of them are still with us. And only 19, some of them playing ceremonially, are expected to tee it up April 6-9 at Augusta National. Which means a lot of players—including Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and many more—are still trying to figure out how to earn a green jacket. Then there’s Tiger Woods, who is trying to figure out how to win his fifth (but his first in a dozen years).
Who’s got what it takes, and who doesn’t? What are their strengths, and what’s holding them back? To get the answers, Golf Digest interviewed dozens of players, caddies, coaches and other keen observers for candid observations on past champions and those who are still trying to break through. Our interviewees didn’t hold back.
“Ilook at all the top players, and every one of them has a flaw. The question is, how big is the flaw, and how do they make it less of one for that week? Every guy is clearly talented enough to win. Are you going to tell me Jason Day or Rory McIlroy or Justin Rose aren’t going to win the Masters? Rickie Fowler? Jon Rahm, eventually? Patrick Reed? Dustin Johnson could still win two or three. But they all have their issues. Or maybe it’s just that they don’t play to their strengths as well to make up for the weaknesses. Adam Scott won a Masters, and he’s a terrible putter—well, he’s below average. But his ball-striking is so good, and those weeks he’s really on hitting the ball, he only has to be a below-average putter to win.” . . . “People these days learn golf on the range, not on the course, and we’re seeing the results of that at the top level. Everyone learns how to hit it rather than how to play, which is not how to play Augusta. Seve learned how to play with one club, and not many played the Masters better than he did. To me, only Phil, Bubba and Sergio learned how to play golf the right way. They play golf, not swing, which is the way to play Augusta. But it goes the other way, too. Tiger was a real golfer when he came on tour, but he ended up a scientist. Padraig Harrington, the same. Justin Rose, too. And Adam is a scientist with his short game. None of which helps them at Augusta. It isn’t a science course.”
bombers vs. short hitters
“In this day and age, the guys who don’t hit it very far—Jim Furyk, for example—have no chance to win the Masters. Matt Kuchar is another. You can’t win there if all you have is guile and strategy. Dufner won’t win there.” . . . “You have to go with guys who hit the ball a long way and high. For Jason, Dustin, Adam, Rory, Bubba, the par of the course is closer to 68.” . . . “It’s the easiest event to predict because you can break it down. Who can putt, and who can’t? Who can reach the par 5s in two? And so on. Jordan Spieth’s par is 70. He can reach the par 5s on the back nine. But he’s also the best putter. So that brings him down to, say, 69. Rory’s ball-striking starts him at 68. But his putting takes him up to 72. Any time a player wins without that formula, it has to be because weather takes away that inherent edge—say, when no one can reach some of the par 5s. Then you get Zach Johnson or Mike Weir winning.” . . . “Pure yardage is way more important than creating the right angle into the flag. Hitting a 9-iron instead of a 6-iron makes up for a bad angle. You can argue that it shouldn’t be that way, but it is.” . . . “Lee Trevino always said he didn’t like Augusta because he hit the ball left to right. But the truth is that he knew he wasn’t long enough off the tee. He couldn’t get to the tops of some of the hills. Well, today’s shorter hitters have pretty much the same issues.” . . . “It’s just too hard over four days to hit hybrids and long irons to holes where the long guys are hitting 7-irons. You can’t compete with that.” . . . “If I have, say, two more short irons than you do into those greens, that’s eight more scoring opportunities in the tournament. Odds say I’m going to whip your ass.” . . . “Phil, Bubba, Adam, [Charl] Schwartzel—they have proven that long and crooked can work there.” . . . “Between the 5,000 trees they planted and the second cut, you don’t have the luxury of a bit of leeway off the tee. I know Phil says he doesn’t care where his tee shots go, that he can recover, but believe me, he cares.” . . . “The way Tiger played it in 1997, bombing it all around, you can’t do that anymore. You might get away with it on a hole or two, but that’s not a strategy that’s going to work for 72 holes. They make you play Augusta the way they want you to play Augusta.”
“Ten times in every round you’re going to have a shot where, if you get too aggressive and miss, you’re going to make a bogey at best. Sergio is impatient. So is Rory. And Bubba. And Dustin. Jason can get too aggressive because he likes to take shots on. Jordan is the most patient of the elite guys. As much as he carries on between shots, he knows his limitations. And he’s the best scorer of that bunch. Phil is impatient. So is Patrick Reed. And Louis Oosthuizen—he switches off if things aren’t going well.” . . . “The biggest thing every player has to get his head around is the Mickey Mouse pin positions. So much of Augusta is unfair. You can hit a shot to eight feet, and you can hit another shot that lands three inches from the first ball, then finishes 60 yards down a hill. If that’s f------ right, I know nothing about golf. It’s dramatic, but it’s not right. And that sort of stuff gets to players.” . . . “Experience is everything. I know caddies who have been going there for years and have books on the place. Yet they add to those books every year. Something changes every year, even if it’s just a little thing.” . . .
‘there isn’t a pin [jason day] doesn’t think he can get at, but you have to have the discipline to not go right at some of them.’
“the only thing that hurts jason is that he doesn’t seem to have a half-shot. everything is full tilt.”