Why Augusta is the Toughest Test a Golfer Will Ever Face
The 85th edition of The Masters Tournament is just around the corner with American Dustin Johnson looking to become the first back-to-back winner of the Major since Tiger Woods in 2002.
The fact that is has been almost 20 years since a golfer has scooped two successive Green Jackets goes some way to proving the theory that Augusta is one of the trickiest courses on the planet.
In this article we will explore that theory to the full, analyzing all the reasons why players and pundits alike thing there is no other course as testing and difficult as Augusta. If you think there’s a harder golf course to play than Augusta, let us know in the comments.
The weight of history
Few golf courses on the planet are as rich in history and legend as Augusta National. The 11th, 12th and 13th holes are nicknamed ‘Amen Corner’ in homage to the famous Arnold Palmer who miraculously mastered the holes on the way to his first Masters win back in 1958.
The rest of the course is full of a host of other historical references and nods to the greatest to have ever played the game. Indeed, the honorary shots from former winners to mark the start of the tournament add to the historical significance of the course.
In addition to that, the tales of curses and bad luck often haunt players who are heavy favorites in the Masters odds, making them second guess their choices and play on the back foot.
If you think talk of a Masters curses are sensationalised tell that to Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy who has routinely buckled under the weight of pressure and history at Augusta throughout his career.
On the face of it the tees at Augusta are more forgiving and welcoming for golfers than those at other famous courses. There is plenty of room and good sight lines which are all conducive to a good swing.
However, if a player fails to set the ball off fairly straight and hit it 280 yards things can start to go awry very quickly. Right-handed slicers for example can find their ball suddenly swinging into the trees by the trees at the side of the course.
In addition to this even if players avoid getting stuck in the trees, anything but a near perfect tee shot can leave them with a blind second shot to the green. It is these hidden dangers that often deceive players into relaxing at the tee which can lead to a world of problems.
Golf as a sport has come under criticism in the past for being too slow to move with the times, but that cannot be said of Augusta. In the early 2000s when Tiger Woods was dominating golf and turning the Par 5s at Augusta into Par 4s, organisers were quick to ‘Tiger Proof’ the course.
To make things harder for Woods and other heavy hitters they added an extra 500 yards to the course and placed trees closer to the green on two holes. That move immediately made Augusta the hardest to play course on the planet and further updates are not out of the question in the years ahead.
The lefty debate
As a course Augusta certainly favours players who hit the ball right-to-left, or in more simple terms, left-handed players. The 2nd, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 13th holes at Augusta all seem to favour players who can fade the ball from right to left.
As the majority of players tend to be right-handed this means that a lot of top players have to significantly adapt their game to match the course. Of course, there are still players that have bucked that trend and won by playing their natural game like Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.
However, in the main the necessity to adapt means that a lot of players struggle to carry their form from other tournaments into The Masters.
Speaking after Augusta was ‘Tiger Proofed’ in the early 2000s Jim Furyk said of the course:
“It was just a fun golf course to play, you had short irons in your hand and these crazy greens going everywhere.
“Quite honestly, it’s not a fun golf course to play right now. It’s hard. It’s very demanding, both physically and mentally.”
Furyk was alluding to the fact that before the course was ‘Tiger Proofed’, golfers could make up for the various pitfalls around the course with long drives. However, since the extra yardage has been added to the course there is little to no room for error.
Each hole is challenging in its own right, providing players with no easy opportunities to make up for mistakes or lapses in concentration. Maintaining the level of concentration needed to ‘master’ The Masters is a sizeable task, even for the world’s best.
There is no more visually intimidating tee shot in the world than the one at the 18th at the Augusta National. The vociferous crowd lining the tee box can feel as though they are breathing down the neck of the golfers.
It’s not just at the 18th that the crowd have an impact on the play either, on almost every hole they are so close to the action that the players can hear every word they say and sense their disappointment, anxiety and expectations.
Throughout the years numerous golfers have buckled under the spotlight of the intimidating Augusta crowd or struggled to get a proper sight of the green through the packed rows of spectators.
The 2021 tournament will see a return of fans but at a vastly lower number than capacity which could play right into the hands of players like Rory McIlroy who have felt the pressure of the crowd more eagerly than others in recent years.
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