AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National Golf Club has the most celebrated stretch of holes in golf, and history has shown the glorification is warranted.
The annual playing of one of the world’s most popular and significant golf tournaments at Augusta National has built the legend of the portions of three holes that comprise Amen Corner.
Illustrious Sports Illustrated golf writer Herbert Warren Wind termed the catchy nickname for the area that contains the second shot into the 11th, all of the 12th and the first two shots on the 13th holes in 1958, the year of Arnold Palmer’s first win and the same year two bridges across Rae’s Creek in the corner were dedicated in honor of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
“I think it’s an appropriate name and I don’t think there’s another stretch in golf that I know, in championship golf, that would warrant anything like that,” said six-time Masters winner and 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus.
Wind was a jazz buff, and borrowed the name from a jazz recording, “Shoutin’ in That Amen Corner.”
Wind wrote: “On the afternoon before the start of the recent Masters golf tournament, a wonderfully evocative ceremony took place at the farthest reach of the Augusta National Course – down in the Amen Corner where Rae’s Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front edge of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green.”
Perhaps adding to the mystique of the three holes, they are the least accessible to spectators on the course. Patrons have to watch action on the 11th green, 12th green and 13th tee from a distance in an area beginning from the middle of the 11th fairway and continuing behind the 12th green and well up the 13th fairway.
Nicklaus explained why Amen Corner warrants its fame. “When you go to Amen Corner, you take a big breath when you go in there, and when you leave you [deeply exhale] if you can get through it in decent form. If you look back through the years, those who have played that stretch well who have been in contention obviously usually end up winning the golf tournament. Those who have gotten to that stretch and ended up putting it in the water at 11, or putting it in the water at 12 or are unsuccessful birdieing 13 or eagling 13, have not taken it beyond that point. It’s very rarely that anybody has screwed up that area and has done well.”
• 11 (505-yard par-4, nicknamed White Dogwood) | The tee shot plays downhill and left to right, a pond guards the green to the left and left front and a bunker awaits right-center. Anything left of the green is dead and shots to the right will likely pitch away from the hole off a downslope.
In the past 15 years the 11th has been lengthened and trees have been added to the right side of the fairway so players are forced to keep the ball left and have a more difficult angle into the green. It’s the second toughest hole in Masters history with a cumulative scoring average of 4.29. Ben Hogan used to contend that if he hit the green in two he pulled his shot because he was aiming to the right of it.
“Eleven is the hardest hole on the golf course, because right is one of the toughest up-and-down anywhere,” three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson said. “With that green going away, water is always in play, and it’s so difficult to chip over there, because you can’t really fly the chip on the green, so you’ve got to bounce it up. And yet, you can’t miss it left because it’s water. You’ve got to hit great shots there.”
• 12 (155-yard par-3, nicknamed Golden Bell) | Among the most difficult short par-3 holes in golf, largely because of swirling winds that are unpredictable at the hole, the 12th can require shots from most pros between a 6-iron to a 9-iron.
Rae’s Creek fronts the green and there’s a bunker in front and two behind the green in a bank containing thick flowers and bushes. Unpredictable wind adds to the mystery and treachery of each Amen Corner hole, particularly the 12th, which is the third-most difficult hole in Masters history with a cumulative scoring average of 3.28.
“You hear guys saying, ‘Don’t pull a club on 12 until you see both flags on 11 and 12 are moving the same direction,’ ” Tiger Woods said last year. “They are never, ever moving the same direction. … You get down there and Bobby Jones has turned this fan on down there and it swirls.”
• 13 (510-yard par-5, nicknamed Azalea) | Many call the 510-yard hole the greatest par-5 in golf because it incorporates strategy, punishment and the ability to make a heroic shot. It’s one of the ultimate risk-reward holes in golf, requiring an approach shot over a tributary to Rae’s Creek that winds in front of the green.
The second shot is made more harrowing by a fairway that leans from right to left. Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, likens hitting off portions of the fairway to making a baseball swing. The more you risk to shorten the hole along the creek and trees on the left, the flatter the lie becomes. Four bunkers surround the left and back portions of the green and can leave difficult shots depending on pin placements. It’s the second-easiest hole in tournament history with a scoring average of 4.79, and it’s beautiful regardless of outcome with approximately 1,600 azaleas from tee to green.
“I’ve made eagles there to move up. I’ve made mistakes there to move back,” Mickelson said. “I just think that the shot value that’s required there, the lie that is challenging, takes creativity. It’s hard to understand, especially on TV, but even in person, how much above your feet that ball is for a right-handed player and how much below it is for a left-handed player.”
Amen Corner has provided numerous memorable moments. These are a few that have shaped previous Masters Tournaments.
• 1937 | The Nelson bridge off the 13th tee box was dedicated to him in ’58 to commemorate Nelson’s spectacular play on holes 12 and 13 when he played the holes birdie-eagle to pick up six strokes on Ralph Guldahl and win the fourth Masters Tournament.
• 1954 | Amateur Billy Joe Patton had a lead over legends Sam Snead and Ben Hogan for an unlikely green jacket but put a 4-wood into a then-unmanicured creek. According to an account from his younger brother, James, Patton thought about playing a shot from the water, but thought better of it and took a drop, played the next shot barefoot and made a double bogey. He finished a shot out of a playoff.
• 1958 | In the year the holes were named, Palmer promptly provided something memorable. Heavy rain soaked the course on the eve of the final round, and a local rule was adopted allowing players to lift and drop embedded balls without penalty. On Sunday, Palmer’s ball was embedded in the steep bank behind the green. Palmer opted to play two balls on the hole, making a 5 with his original shot and a 3 with his dropped ball, and awaited a ruling.
Still unsure of what his score was at 12, Palmer holed an 18-foot eagle putt on the 13th. He learned on the 15th hole that his drop would be allowed and his score on 12 was a 3, leading to the first of his four Masters wins by a single shot over Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins.
“I suppose there was a little solemn damper put on [the win] by the situation at 12, which I felt that I was 100 percent right,” Palmer said this week. “And when I saw the situation, I felt good.”
• 1978 | Tommy Nakajima made a 13 on the 13th hole, hitting a ball into the creek in front of the green, then attempting to play out of the water and landing a ball on his foot for a penalty and accidently dropping a club in the hazard for another penalty.
• 1980 | Tom Weiskopf was a four-time runner-up at the Masters, but 1980 wasn’t one of those years. In the first round, Weiskopf hit five balls into Rae’s Creek in front of the 12th and carded a 13th at the par-3.
• 1985 | Curtis Strange had a three-shot lead standing on the 13th tee, but his 4-wood approach came up short in the creek and made a bogey. Another ball into the water fronting the 15th green and bogey and Bernhard Langer had a comeback victory.
• 1987 | Augusta native Larry Mize chipped in from the right side of the green to hand Greg Norman one of his many heartbreaking losses at Augusta National. The chip shot was fairly treacherous from about 140 feet. Mize has never again worn the shoes, pants and shirt he wore when he made that shot.
• 1989 | Nick Faldo holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole in the second hole of a playoff to defeat Scott Hoch, who missed a 2-foot putt on the final hole of regulation that would have earned him the green jacket.
• 1992 | In the final round, Fred Couples landed his tee shot near the front of the 12th green and it began rolling back into Rae’s Creek. Inexplicably, his ball stopped on the bank and he managed to make a par and he won by two over Ray Floyd.
• 1996 | Included in Norman’s collapse and loss of a six-stroke lead in the final round to Faldo was a double bogey on the 12th when his ball trickled off the green and into the Rae’s Creek. By the time he reached the 14th tee, Norman trailed by two shots.
• 2003 | Jeff Maggert led after 54 holes and was chasing Mike Weir and Len Mattiace by the time he reached the 12th tee. He made an 8 on the hole to fall out of contention.
• 2010 | In the final round, Phil Mickelson hit a 6-iron from 207 yards off pine straw and through a small opening in a pair of pine trees to the right of the fairway that came to rest 5 feet from the pin. He missed the eagle putt to settle for birdie and an eventual three-shot win over Lee Westwood.
• 2013 | In the final round, Adam Scott’s second shot rolled back off the 13th green but somehow hung up in the rough on the steep bank above the creek and he made birdie, while Angel Cabrera, whom he defeated in a playoff, made a bogey on the hole.
“Until you’ve gone through Amen Corner, any round of golf, any given day, no scorecard is safe,” said nine-time Masters participant Justin Rose.
Though the tournament is still yet to be decided, Amen Corner has made its presence felt this year. Defending champion Adam Scott’s 69 in the opening round could have been better had he not dropped a shot into Rae’s Creek and made double bogey, and Mickelson’s missed cut by a shot Friday came courtesy of a triple-bogey on the 12th with three bunkers shots.
Amen Corner will continue to provide Masters Tournament-deciding moments at Augusta National Golf Club.
“To be in the thick of it and to feel that excitement, to feel that pressure, to grace Amen Corner knowing that you need birdies and trying to win a green jacket, that is the greatest thrill a golfer can possibly experience,” Mickelson said.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.