Still More Changes in the Works for Augusta National
``I think '51 was the first year I played, and the 11th tee was almost behind the 10th green,'' Dow Finsterwald said Tuesday morning. ``Then one year, they moved it way back in the woods to the left, and the yardage never changed. And on No. 15, the tee used to be in front of the service road. They moved it behind the road, and it was still 6,925. But it was such a great tournament, nobody ever really raised the question.
``What difference does it make, anyway? Everyone plays from the same tees.''
Some of the tees won't be the same at the 70th Masters this April, and players won't need a scorecard to notice. The official yardage is 7,445 yards, courtesy of changes to six holes that added about 155 yards.
It's the third time in the last six years that Augusta National has strengthened its golf course -- 520 yards since 1999 -- each an attempt to restore the rhythm and shot value the way Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed it.
As usual, the new tees look as if they had been there all along.
Players will know better, especially when they leave the practice green for the first tee, which is now a short walk. The tee box has been moved back about 20 yards to make the hole play 455 yards, although change at Augusta National is not all about length.
The eye-opener is that cavernous bunker down the right side, where a finger of turf now dips into the sand and creates the appearance of a double bunker. Balls rarely will be in the middle of the sand, allowing for a routine escape; now there will be steep lips in the way.
Players might get lost on the way to the fourth tee.
It used to be positioned directly behind the third green. Now, take a hard right and go some 40 yards into the woods. Or what used to be woods. Already the meanest par 3 on the course, it now plays up to 240 yards.
Jones gave Sports Illustrated a hole-by-hole description in 1959 and said of the par-3 fourth, ``The shot is usually a strong iron, or even a 4- or 3-wood.''
``It's usually a 6-iron, depending on the wind,'' Retief Goosen said when asked last week how he played No. 4. ``Sometimes, it can be a 5-iron, or even a 4-iron, when the pin is to the right.''
Maybe the Goose should talk to Ben Crane, who played five rounds in four days a few weeks ago. Crane, no short hitter at 61st in driving distance on the PGA Tour this year, hit 3-wood to the green, except the one time the tees were slightly forward. Then he hit 2-iron.
The seventh hole is about a football field longer than when Jose Maria Olazabal won in 1999, thanks to a tee that has been moved back 40 yards so that it now plays 450 yards. Just look down a chute of towering pines and search for five white specks (bunkers) to find the green.
Finsterwald will be glad to know that No. 11 is now 505 yards, with a tee pushed even farther back into the woods. Again, it's not strictly about length. The club has added 17 additional pines down the right side, bringing the small forest to 43 trees and making the right side -- a bailout area when the pin was back left -- no longer a safe alternative.
The other two changes simply put an extra club in the players' hands, if that.
The par-5 15th is back about 30 yards and over to the left, so anyone hitting a power draw can still get plenty of roll and reach the green.
``This is a three-shot hole to most players ... but also a magnificent two-shot hole, as a skillful and courageous player will ... be able to pull his second shot around to the green,'' MacKenzie wrote in 1934.
Tiger Woods showed neither courage nor skill -- only raw power -- when he hit wedge into the 15th this year.
The other change is the 17th hole, mainly cosmetic. The tee has been moved back 15 yards, and the Georgia pines down the left side have been pruned to make the Eisenhower Tree more prominent. The base of the 65-foot loblolly pine is about 210 yards from the tee.
What does it all mean?
Augusta National, steeped in tradition, remains a contemporary course.
If the Masters had left everything the way it was, there would be no pond fronting the 16th green; the 10th green would be at the base of the hill, not above it; the 14th hole would have a bunker and the seventh hole would have none. And don't forget, the nines were reversed for the second tournament in 1935.
Augusta National is longer and harder than ever.
Players hit the ball longer and better than ever.
``Their ability is so marvelous,'' Finsterwald said. ``It's not that they're so much longer, they're straighter. And there are more good putters than there were. So I don't think the test has changed. But players have risen to the changes. But the scores stay pretty much in the ballpark, don't they?''
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.