The Usual Suspects.
That’s what Jack Nicklaus calls the half-a-dozen shots that pose trouble at Augusta National Golf Club.
Nicklaus, a six-time Masters Tournament winner, is often asked for advice by first-time participants or younger players on how best to play Augusta National.
“When these guys come to me and ask me about the tournament, basically I tell them that there’s half-a-dozen shots on this golf course that you can put yourself out of the tournament,” he said. “Those half-a-dozen shots, think about what you’re doing on them.
“If you’ve got a 50-50 chance of doing it, I certainly wouldn’t be doing it. If you’ve got a 90-10 chance, then I’m going to think real hard about it. And you try to make sure you eliminate the 10 (percent).”
Nicklaus has enjoyed more success at Augusta National than any other golfer, but he didn’t heed his own advice in 1971. Thinking he needed an eagle in the final round to catch eventual winner Charles Coody, Nicklaus went for it at the par-5 15th. He faced a shot in excess of 250 yards to the small green guarded by water, and his 3-wood shot came up short and found the water. He dumped his next shot in the water and walked off with a triple-bogey 8.
Twenty-five years ago, Chip Beck faced a similar situation. He needed a good score to catch Bernhard Langer but chose to lay up at the 15th and was heavily criticized.
“I think Chip Beck’s decision was a very good decision for him,” Nicklaus said. “He didn’t put himself out of the tournament. I put myself out of the tournament with that shot.
“You shouldn’t have one shot put you out of the tournament. That’s not playing smart.”
The six trouble shots Nicklaus describes are where water comes into play at Augusta National. The lone exception is the par-3 16th, where water runs the length of the hole on the left.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit it in the water at 16,” Nicklaus said. “That’s about it. Those are the ones you can make a big number on.”
With information taken from interviews and his descriptions in the Masters Journal, Nicklaus identifies the six trouble shots.
TEE SHOT AT NO. 2 | See more on No. 2
You don’t want to be down there at the airline booth (left of fairway, where a small stream is located). You could go down there and find a lie down there that you could play. And then you try to play out and you hit another tree and all of a sudden you’re half done. I see a lot of guys walk out of there with 8 and say I should have had 4 here. Now you’re sitting behind the 8-ball.
SECOND SHOT AT NO. 11 | See more on No. 11
The water on the left is an obvious no-no, so it has been a green where I’ve always aimed for the front right. You have to be really careful here or you’ll walk away with a big number.
TEE SHOT AT NO. 12 | See more on No. 12
The key is to aim at the center of the front bunker and choose a club that will get the ball just over that spot. If the flagstick is right, I shoot at the right side of the bunker. If it’s left, I shoot at the left side of the bunker.
TEE SHOT AT NO. 13 | See more on No. 13
Off the tee, I aim at the last two trees at the top of the fairway and draw the ball.
SECOND SHOT AT NO. 13 | See more on No. 13
I play for the center of the green on my second shot and never fiddle around with a flag tucked back left.
SECOND SHOT AT NO. 15 | See more on No. 15
Nicklaus said he doesn’t like playing a wood into that green for his second shot. If he did lay up, he acknowledged that the third shot from a downhill lie can be difficult. “It’s not a very easy shot, but it’s better than playing out of the water.”
Nicklaus also tells players how to maximize their birdie chances on the greens.
“Tell me where you’ve got a bad putt from the center of these greens? Every single hole, maybe second hole is a little awkward, but outside of that every single hole in the middle of these greens you’ve got a pretty darn good chance for birdie,” Nicklaus said.
“That’s the way you play this golf course. If you use your head to play this golf course, it shouldn’t be tough.”