“Put it back.”
My Mom (about a gazillion times)
I’m a huge fan of The Masters. I have been for as long as I can remember. I have been fortunate to attend several tournaments, actually work a couple (thank you Karel Schliksbier, Mark Dibbs and CBS) and look forward to the next time I’m able to go. Augusta National is a beautiful, remarkable, place and you can bet your bottom dollar it will be different next year than it was this year (hey, was that Azalea, Dogwood, bunker, tee box, there before?). Change is constant at Augusta and whether it’s a new crop of trees, a teeing ground shifted a handful of yards, a corporate castle or a brand new media manor, it’s happening as we speak.
Smart people, motivational people, people who can handle it seem to always say, “change is good” and occasionally I’m inclined to agree. I’m also, sometimes, inclined to disagree. One of those times is when it comes to White Dogwood, the 11th hole at Augusta National. In my opinion they’ve transformed a good, tough, test into what might be the worst hole in major championship golf.
It’s not a golf hole anymore, it’s a root canal. It’s a 7 hour Fellini movie. It’s a Los Angeles to Tokyo flight, in a coach middle seat, one row in front of the shitter. Tuning in to Grant Boone and Billy Ray Brown, as they called the action this week, I was struck by the fact that there is little, actually no, room for error on 11 anymore. As a viewer it’s hard to watch; I can’t imagine what it’s like as a competitor.
The 11th at Augusta begins what is famously referred to as Amen Corner (11,12 and 13). The esteemed golf scribe Herbert Warren Wind first called it that in a Sports Illustrated article he wrote after the 1958 tournament won by Arnold Palmer. The original description referred only to the approach shot into the par 4, 11th, the entire par 3, 12th hole, and the tee shot on the par 5, 13th. He borrowed the phrase from the title of an old jazz song titled, Shoutin’ in that Amen Corner. It used to be an incredible stretch of holes. Two thirds of it still is.
Two of my most vivid Masters memories happened at 11. In 1990 Raymond Floyd was trying to become, at 48, the oldest Masters Champion. But Nick Faldo, in the quest for his second straight green jacket, came from 4 shots back with six holes left to force a playoff. In that playoff, from the left side of the 11th fairway, Floyd hit a mid iron (6?, 7?) into the pond that sits menacingly at the front left of the green.
Two years before, the front right of the 11th green was where Larry Mize’s approach ended up in his playoff with Greg Norman. We all know what happened then.
Those are just 2 recollections of the 11th hole when it was playable. If I had to guess, I’d say there won’t be many more memories there in the future. I remember when players could bail a little to the right off the tee and still have a go at the green. Then they added a small forest golfer’s right and moved the tees back. Over time the trees have grown (trees tend to do that) and 65 yards, in total, has been added by a number of teeing ground moves. So now there is no safe space right; hit it there, punch it out. Because the hole is so long now (505 yards) a player has to thread the needle with a 320 yard tee shot or he’s begging, praying, for par (see Sergio Garcia on Sunday). I wish I had a nickel for every ball I saw that bounded 10, 20 or 30 yards to the right of the green because that was the only realistic place to hit it. Conversely if I had a dollar for every pelota that found the pond I probably wouldn’t have enough to by a Masters logoed golf shirt.
For the entire week there was one fewer double bogey or “worse” than there was birdies (11 of one, 12 of the other). On the weekend, when we were down to the 53 best, there were 11 birdies and 30 bogeys. THIRTY. Historically the 11th is the hardest hole of the tournament, playing to a stroke average of 4.35. This year, only the first hole played harder, primarily because of Friday which saw an incredible 54 bogeys, double bogeys or others compared to 39 birdies (2) or pars. Coincidentally, or not, they’ve also added 45 yards to the opening hole, “Fore please…”. The only other place that’s added as much turf is the finishing hole, which has also seen more trees and the teeing ground moved ever so slightly to the right. Remember when players could actually hit a tee shot into the fairway bunkers on the left side of the 18th fairway? I do too.
Look, as I said, I love The Masters and Augusta national changes every year in some way, shape, or form. Even the par 3, 16th is different (it actually was 20 yards shorter than the 190 it played when Greg Norman splashed his tee ball more than two decades ago. For the most part no one notices and I’m pretty sure fewer than that (is that possible?) care. But I do.
Admittedly, I never loved 11 (White Dogwood “for those of you scoring at home or even if you’re alone” as SportsCenter not MSNBC Keith Olbermann once said) but I liked it. It was problematic but not preposterous. It was exacting but not exasperating. It was watchable but not, not.
Just put it back.
Thanks for reading my blog. If you liked it, head over to my website http://www.keithhirshland.com and check out my books. I’ve written two. One is about my four decades career in broadcast television, the other is a mystery. I’m currently working on number three.