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The Focus on Ball Flight

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Like most of the uninitiated, Anthony Kim stepped to the 10th tee at venerable Augusta National and clubbed his tee ball left of the Bobby Jones Expressway. “First time (in 2009),” Kim smiled widely, “I snap-hooked it and thought it was 800 yards left . . . but it was OK.”

Of all of the Georgia gem’s intricacies the widely held notion that to win a green jacket one must be able to draw the ball, at least for right-handed golfers, is the easiest to grasp but perhaps the most misunderstood.

Simple physics support the need for a right-to-left ball flight. The tee shots at Nos. 10, 13, 14, 15 and 17 all promote a draw. “On the back nine it seems like you have to draw the ball on every hole,” Kim figured.

But when newly minted world No. 1 Martin Kaymer talked of altering his world-beating swing to play Augusta National Paul Azinger could only smile.

Justin Rose
Justin Rose tees off Monday at Augusta National. (Getty Images)
“I never wanted to change anything that worked,” Azinger said. “I tried to change (my swing) every year, but my best finish (at the Masters) was when I didn’t try to change anything.”

Off the tee Kaymer, who plays an infinitely repeatable fade with his driver, has a point. The lion’s share of holes at Augusta National favor a draw off the tee, which, at least in part, explains why Phil Mickelson, a left-hander who has taken to playing a fade (right-to-left ball flight) in recent years, has won three of the last seven Masters.

Lee Trevino once swore he would never play the Masters again, in large part because of his inability to hit a reliable draw. In Kaymer’s defense he is 0-for-3 in cuts made at the Masters and cites his inability to confidently draw the ball as a primary reason behind his pedestrian record.

“(No. 13) is a reachable par-5 for most of the players if you can draw the ball. For me it was difficult because I was hitting it straight or with a little fade,” Kaymer said. “Then you’re sitting there with a 3-wood and you don’t want to be going into that green with a 3-wood. So, I’m making the golf course more difficult for me.”

Kaymer is hardly the first player to conclude that the former nursery is best played with a draw, although he may be the first top-ranked player to undertake a swing change, however minor, to answer that challenge.

“You want a swing that can produce one shot, but you never want a swing that can’t hit two shots,” said Sean Foley, whose students on Tour include Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose. “You have to be able to do both.”

In fact, an unscientific survey of current and former players suggests this particular maxim is more guideline than ground-rule.

According to many players, even the feared 10th hole, which was lengthened by 10 yards in 2002, can be played conservatively with a fade, or even a 3-wood.

“That tee is so far back you can just launch a high (fade) down there or if the wind is helping you can hook a 3-wood into the power slot and it’s going to roll forever,” Jason Day said.

The draw tenet also takes a hit when one considers Jack Nicklaus made the “power fade” famous in his day and his Masters’ resume doesn’t suggest any inherent troubles.

Technology has also reduced how much the modern golf ball moves off line and, in many ways, it’s more important to hit the ball high at Augusta National than it is to either hit a draw or a fade.

“It’s a drawer’s golf course off the tee but a cutter’s paradise off the fairways,” Ryan Palmer said. “A fade drops softer and that’s what you have to have.”

“Go to” shots, more so than a particular flight, are also crucial at the Masters, particularly under Sunday pressure when repeatability counts more than a blueprint.

“If (Kaymer) ends his career with 10 majors and none are at Augusta National I don’t think anyone would care,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “You don’t have to draw it to win. Ideally to play Augusta National you need all the shots.”

Maybe more than a draw Kaymer needs more experience. Just ask Fuzzy Zoeller. He was the last player to slip into a green jacket on his first try . . . in 1979.

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard