AUGUSTA, Ga. – It should serve as a pleasant coincidence that Augusta National’s exposed three-hole stretch known as Amen Corner was given that moniker by a man named Wind.
But the world’s best golfers probably won’t feel any better realizing their tossing and turning in the middle of the night was induced by a golf writer.
OK, so it wasn’t one of our brethren who designed the infamously brutal holes or set them up to be slightly more difficult than getting a membership here, but Herbert Warren Wind did give it a name, which you could argue led to an aura, which led to an intimidation factor, which led to a whole bunch of strugglin’ 'round Amen Corner on Thursday.
Three by three, they arrived at White Dogwood, Golden Bell and Azalea – more recognizably known as the 11th, 12th and 13th holes – buoyed by optimism established during the first 10. And more often than not, three by three they left, bewildered and bemused by a devious trio that ruined more than a few blossoming rounds.
Miguel Angel Jimenez was defying his 50 years once again, in sole possession of the lead until he played these holes in 3 over. Defending champion Adam Scott enjoyed a standing ovation on the 12th tee, then promptly deposited his shot into Rae’s Creek. Jason Dufner carded an inexplicable quadruple bogey on 13.
Fred Couples was on the leaderboard when he dropped a shot in Amen Corner. Same goes for Brandt Snedeker. Louis Oosthuizen, too.
“It was like [the wind] didn't want to make up its mind," said Steve Stricker, who shot 72, but played the holes in 2 over. "You hit and you hope you guessed right.”
If a golfer’s ability to adapt on the fly and roll with the punches on these holes sounds like a jazz musician constantly adjusting to the free form of the music, there’s good reason for the correlation. Back in 1958, Wind first introduced the nickname to describe where so many of the course’s pratfalls occur. He named it after a mid-1930s jazz record by a group led by Mezz Mezzrow called “Shoutin' at Amen Corner.” Years later, it was found that the record never existed, but the label has withstood here amongst the tall pines.
The pen is mightier, indeed.
Through the decades, from 1942 until now, the 11th and 12th have been the second- and third-hardest holes on the course. (The preceding 10th is the hardest.) The par-5 13th is the second-easiest, but in the opening round, even that one was no picnic.
“The wind is swirling down there and it's kind of all over the place today,” explained Jimmy Walker, who bogeyed the 11th and 13th, but still posted a 2-under 70 in his first career Masters round. “So definitely, you've got to watch it.”
The details are pretty gory.
In the opening round, the 11th hole played as the course’s toughest, averaging 4.474 strokes per player. Only 60 percent found the fairway and a mind-numbingly low 30 percent hit the green in regulation.
The 12th wasn’t much easier, playing as the second-toughest for the day. It yielded an average score of 3.423 with only 43 percent hitting the green on the par 3 and nine double bogeys or worse.
The 13th, as usual, offered a bit of a reprieve around Amen Corner, but even the second-easiest hole had 13 scores of over par for the day.
“I hit some good shots there,” said Rickie Fowler, who was one of very few players to post three pars on the three holes. “I feel like you can pick up a solid half-shot for sure and maybe one, depending upon what the field averages. But you make some pars around there and get some birdies on 13, you play Amen Corner under par for the week, that's definitely an advantage.”
Playing ‘em in even par on Thursday? That was good for a stroke advantage over the field of .608.
Meanwhile, the prevailing theme of the day is that conditions are only going to get tougher – especially at the exposed holes which are exposing holes in players’ games.
“I imagine it's going to get a little bit firmer and faster as we continue to play,” Stricker suggested. “So it's going to even make things even more challenging and more difficult.”
Unlike the phantom record from nearly a century ago, there may not have been much shouting in Amen Corner on this day. No, the reactions were usually left to quieter mumblings and grumblings over a stretch of holes that once again confounded some of the game’s best players.