Putting is key at Augusta National

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2013, 10:20 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – If the U.S. Open is a survival test, the British Open a question of attrition and the PGA Championship “Glory’s Last Shot,” the Masters is, by every measure, the putting contest.

You may remember Bubba Watson’s twisting save from the forest right of the 10th fairway in the playoff last year, or maybe Tiger Woods’ tectonic chip-in on the 16th hole in 2005, but it is putting that ultimately decides who walks away on Sunday with a green jacket.

No one ever credits their ball-striking or driving in their acceptance speech. Putting one’s self in the right position helps, but inevitably the winner will have made, if not the most putts, the most crucial putts.

Just two players in the last decade of Masters champions have ranked outside the top 16 in putting for the week (Watson in 2012, T-37, and Phil Mickelson in 2004, T-23), and victories like Charl Schwartzel’s in 2011 – when he one-putted his last four greens – are textbook examples of what it takes to win at Augusta National.

Masters: Articles, videos and photos

The Golf Fix: How to putt at Augusta National

Like everything else at Augusta National – cell phones, running, Dufnering – there are hard-and-fast rules when it comes to putting at the former fruit nursery. In simplest terms, anything from above the hole is roadkill territory, but that doesn’t help when every green features a diabolical collection of humps and bumps.

“Almost every hole there’s putts that you don’t want,” said Steve Stricker, one of the game’s best putters whose pedestrian record at the Masters (one top 10 and five missed cuts in 12 starts) is one of the game’s great mysteries. “Like on No. 1, they are going to have a pin up there on the front left over the bunker there somewhere and if you hit it long, it’s a very difficult putt.”

For some, like Stricker, putting at Augusta National is akin to a prevent defense. Forget birdie chances, just give yourself a chance to two-putt, which in some ways makes the year’s first major a lag-putting championship.

“It’s all about putting it in the right spot on the greens to give yourself a putt where you can two-putt and get out of there,” Stricker said.

Urban legend would suggest that anything downhill should be avoided, like putts form the back of the eighth green, for example, that stop only when they drop into the hole or the nearest bunker – whichever comes first. But veterans will tell you that ease is a function of familiarity, not pace.

Consider Dave Stockton Sr., a 12-time Masters participant who has evolved into the game’s preeminent putting guru, who will tell you Augusta National is not the most difficult place to putt, just the most exacting.

“The greens are fairly easy to read; the hardest courses to putt on are flat courses like in Florida,” said Stockton, who finished tied for second at the 1974 Masters. “Putting here is great because you don’t have to worry about speed. They are all going to be fast.”

Stockton ranked any putt on the par-4 fifth green the most difficult on the course and added that anything from behind the pin at No. 4 should be avoided.

It doesn’t help that officials at Augusta National have made a hobby out of tinkering with the venerable club’s putting surfaces. Consider it the club’s version of “Where’s Waldo,” with players annually trying to figure out where the needle in the stack of needles is hidden.

This year the handiwork focused on the 440-yard, par-4 14th.

“You honestly wouldn't even notice it, if you had not had years of knowing that green,” said Phil Mickelson, who made a pre-Masters scouting trip to Augusta National last month.

“That little low section to the left, behind it, there's a backstop now whereas before, it would take the ball directly to the right behind the hole 12 feet. Now, it's pitched a little bit more back where it will bring it back to the hole.”

Ben Crenshaw, a renowned architect who has been playing the Masters since 1972, has become a student of Augusta National and its ever-evolving greens.

“It’s amazing how right they get it every year and fascinating to watch,” Crenshaw said moments after his practice round on Monday with 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan, who is playing his first Masters.

Guan arranged the practice round so he could pick Crenshaw’s brain on the subtle nuances of the course. And what did they spend their day talking about?

“The greens, of course,” Crenshaw smiled.

What else at the game’s ultimate putting contest?

Getty Images

Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

Getty Images

Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 7:00 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.