AUGUSTA, Ga. – Even at 77, Jack Nicklaus is capable of saying something new about Augusta National, the home of the Masters.
The tournament, he says, really boils down to just a half-dozen swings.
“You’ve got six shots on this golf course that you’ve really got to watch,” said Nicklaus, winner of six Masters green jackets. “If you’re smart with those shots and play them well, you probably will do pretty well in the tournament.”
“Jack’s six-pack,” as I’ll call them, are the shots where water presents a serious danger and big numbers are possible:
· Tee shot at the par-5 second: You can’t go left, Nicklaus warns. There’s a slope left of the fairway in the pines that leads down to a semi-hidden stream. There’s a Delta ticket counter down there, Lee Trevino joked years ago, because players who drove it there might as well book a flight home. “If you get a little sloppy, all of a sudden you’re down there at the airline booth,” Nicklaus said. “It’s not a good place to be.”
· Second shot at the par-4 11th: On this long and tree-lined hole, the place to avoid is the pond left of the green. Ben Hogan purposely aimed right of the green. “If you hit the ball left of the hole there, you should be hit over the head,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t care where that pin is. No sense bringing that water into play.” Raymond Floyd lost a playoff to Nick Faldo at No. 11 in 1990 went he dumped his second shot into that pond.
· Tee shot at the par-3 12th: Respect the swirling wind and Rae’s Creek, which fronts the putting surface, and always play to the left-center of the green, Nicklaus said. Jordan Spieth hit two shots into the water there last year to blow his Masters lead. Nicklaus never played his shot farther right than the left edge of the big front bunker. “If I was ever right of that, I played a bad shot,” he said.
· Tee shot and second shot at the par-5 13th: The hole requires a right-to-left draw off the tee. “That wasn’t my forte most of my life, but I could play the shot when I had to,” said Nicklaus, who didn’t mind if his tee shot didn’t draw and ran through the fairway. But too far left off the tee meant Rae’s Creek or the woods. Either is big trouble. On the second shot, for those going for the green, a miss left could find Rae’s Creek.
· Second shot at the par-5 15th: Because the pond isn’t all that tough at the par-3 16th, No. 15 is the last real danger spot. Nicklaus recalled how he ruined his chances in the 1971 Masters, won by Charles Coody, when he went for the green in two from 255 yards. “I hit a 3-wood thin; hit it in the water,” Nicklaus said. “Then I dropped and dumped it in the water again and made 8.”
Nicklaus said his advice would be to ask, If I hit that shot 10 times, am I only going to get there five times, and if so, where are the other five going to go?
“That is not the percentage you want,” he said. “If I’ve got a 4-iron in my hand and I know nine times out of 10 I’m going to hit it over the water and the 10th time, I’m not going to hit it into the water, OK. Just don’t put harm’s way in your path.”
This week, the golfer who handles Jack’s six-pack the best likely would be in position to enter the Champions Locker Room and enjoy a cold six-pack.