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Posted April 10, 2019 07:04 pm
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Boyette: No need to wait: It's time to change Augusta National's 13th hole

  • Article Photos
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    Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, speaks Wednesday morning during his annual media address. [Augusta National Golf Club]

  • Article Photos
    Photos description

    Amateur golfer Fred Ridley lines up a putt during the 1976 Masters Tournament. Ridley, now chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, said there was no second cut when he was an amateur. [FILE/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE] 

Fred Ridley and Augusta National Golf Club have a momentous decision to make. How will they lengthen the iconic 13th hole and keep players from hitting short irons into the green?

Fred Ridley and Augusta National Golf Club have a momentous decision to make.

How will they lengthen the iconic 13th hole and keep players from hitting short irons into the green?

For now, the club will do nothing, the Augusta National and Masters Tournament chairman said Tuesday.

Photos: Masters Wednesday Practice Round

“Although we now have options to increase the length of this hole, we intend to wait to see how distance may be addressed by the governing bodies before we take any action,” Ridley said during his State of the Masters news conference. “In doing so, we fully recognize that the issue of distance presents difficult questions with no easy answers. But please know this: The USGA and The R&A do have the best interests of the game at heart. They recognize the importance of their future actions.”

Everyone knows that distance is a genie that left the bottle a long time ago. Better equipment and better-conditioned athletes are parts of the reason, but the modern golf ball goes a long way.

The governing bodies issued their driving distance report earlier this year, measuring data from seven men’s and women’s professional golf tours around the world, and found distances increased by an average of 1.7 yards in 2018. The previous year’s gain was more than 3 yards.

The equipment companies aren’t going to put out drivers and balls that don’t go as far. Not if they want to stay in business.

Ridley isn’t going to make players use a “Masters ball” that would restrict distance.

“That’s been a topic for a long time,” he said. “I think it’s very unlikely that we would ever produce a Masters ball.”

The USGA and The R&A are currently conducting the Distance Insights project, which aims “to provide the most comprehensive understanding of the past, present and future impact of distance in golf.” Their findings are expected to be released later this year.

Ridley and Augusta National don’t have to wait, but they will out of respect. Augusta National now has the land it purchased from Augusta Country Club and could move the tee back at 13 a good distance.

Augusta National just spent a bunch of money to make the fifth hole play as Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones intended. Forty yards were added and the tee was shifted onto space previously occupied by Berckmans Road.

Since 2002, 14 of Augusta National’s 18 holes have been lengthened. Only Nos. 3, 6, 12 and 16 haven’t been touched. Ridley knows it’s time to make the 13th play longer. At 510 yards it’s only a few yards longer than Nos. 5, 10 and 11 -- all par-4 holes.

“Admittedly, that hole does not play as it was intended to play by Jones and MacKenzie,” he said. “The momentous decision that I’ve spoken about and that Bobby Jones often spoke about, of going for the green in two, is to a large extent, no longer relevant.”

The hole still remains one of the greatest risk-reward opportunities in the world. Look at last weekend: Jennifer Kupcho went for the green with a 3-hybrid, and the resulting eagle helped her win the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Too many of the men in the Masters field, however, aren’t faced with a momentous decision. Bubba Watson made a mockery of it one year, hitting a wedge into the green for his second shot after biting off the dogleg with his drive.

Three-time winner Phil Mickelson, who hit a gutsy shot on 13 in the final round in 2010, said the hole is too short.

“As guys have been able to take it over the trees and have 8, 9 wedge in, it’s not a decision,” he said. “It’s a huge target for a short iron. It’s designed for size of that green to be a long iron or even hybrid.

Photos: Masters Par-3 Contest

“To move that tee back and not allow you to go over those trees will make the hole better in the sense that the decision of risk-reward from the fairway will be brought back a little bit more.”

At last year’s Masters, the 13th played the easiest with a stroke average of 4.614. It yielded nine eagles and 128 birdies against 24 bogeys and seven double bogeys.

Augusta National didn’t hesitate to make other changes when the distance explosion began in the early 2000s. It shouldn’t wait much longer, now that the land is available, to push this tee back. Leave the green and the tributary of Rae’s Creek exactly as they are.

“Amen Corner is a sacred place in the world of golf,” Ridley said.

Sacred, indeed. It would be a sacrilege not to change it.