The axiom is that the Masters Tournament doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. And if you want to define that even further, you could say things begin to get intriguing in Amen Corner, the three-hole stretch of Nos. 11-12-13 nicknamed by the late and revered writer Herbert Warren Wind. As you find your spot on the couch and in front of the TV today, six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus takes us on a how-to stroll through Amen Corner.
The 11th hole is where you start the danger of the golf course. It is a downhill par 4 to a green guarded by a rather menacing pond on the left (in 1957, the pond replaced Rae’s Creek, which ran in front of the green). Since the addition of numerous trees on the right side of the landing area, players today tend to drive down the left side of the fairway. It’s not really a difficult tee shot, and the second shot doesn’t look like it’s that hard, either, but a lot of time there’s wind and wind will hold up the ball. I don’t think I’ve ever hit the ball to the pin on that hole, unless the pin is in the front right somewhere. I have always just played the ball in the right half of that green, and not worried about trying to get it back into the green. If I can walk off 11 with 4 every time, I give myself a hand. I’m really quite happy. I’ve made some birdies there, and did the last time I won there in 1986. You make birdies there by getting the ball somewhere in the middle of the green. It’s not a hard green to putt.
I have always considered the 12th hole at Augusta one of my favorite par 3s in the world, and certainly in major championship golf. It’s also one of the scariest. You know it’s a good par 3 when you stand on the tee, and all of a sudden, you swallow hard. The hourglass-shaped green is narrow and protected by a bunker in front and two in the rear. The green backs up against woods and shrubs, so if you miss the green long, you hope to find the sand. Ditto if you miss it short, since balls will usually roll back into the water hazard. If all that weren’t enough, there’s the matter of the winds, which tend to come down Rae’s Creek from the right and then swirl in the trees, making club selection difficult. You don’t want to be throwing the ball in there hot, right-to-left. Players today don’t curve the ball much, and at Augusta, a little curving helps. To me, 12 is a hole that you don’t want anything moving much right to left. I always wanted to shape it left to right because it would kill the ball. I always played the tee shot right. I don’t care if the pin’s left. I played it right over the left edge of the bunker. If the pin’s right, I never go farther right than the right edge of the bunker. If I hit it right over the edge of the bunker, I’m going to end up with a 15-footer here and a 15-footer there. With any of the other pins, I’ll be in position. Over the green isn’t a particularly easy chip shot. It’s not hard, but it’s just always so scruffy and never a very good place to be. The bunkers are something you don’t find over the green. They’re just hard bunker shots towards the water. More unnerving than hard. Even if you put your tee shot in the front bunker it isn’t bad, because it’s not a difficult bunker shot. Simply put: Hit it over the bunker, don’t fiddle with the pin, and you can play the hole just fine.
This dogleg left par 5 is generally considered another of the great holes in major championship golf. It certainly provides its share of drama. Most players will favor a draw from the elevated tee with hopes it will catch the slope and provide some extra yardage while avoiding the dangers lurking on the left side. I never really tried to hit it that much around the corner. Most play 3-wood. I even played 3-wood when I won in 1986. Turning the 3-wood around the corner is just easier than trying to turn a driver. I always target the trees on the outside of the dogleg, just sort of hit it at those and move it just a little bit left. This is a hole where if you hit it left off the tee, it’s no good. If you look at the tee shots at Augusta, the dangerous ones are left at 11, short at 12—and even long at 12 is terrible—and the tee shot at 13. At the 13, once safely in the fairway, a player must decide whether to try for the green in two, aware that he might bring a tributary of Rae’s Creek into play in front of the green, or the four bunkers that protect the green—two on the left and two behind the putting surface. They’ll stick the pin front right, front left, back right, and back left. They put it in those four places. When the pin is back right, which it was in the first round this week, it’s the only time you can probably be aggressive in getting the ball back to the pin. When it’s short, obviously you play it by the pin. When it is front left, you play it to the right of the pin. When it is in the top, you play it short of the pin. So you basically play it in the middle of the green.