News & Opinion

Experience matters at Augusta National

Augusta National is the only constant in major-championship golf. So, when players come to the Masters, experience kicks in for those who have played in the first major of the year while rookies will spend most of their time learning the course.

The first thing that anyone learns at Augusta National is the need to hit the ball at a high apex. From all of the research that I've done – and that goes way back – the players who have succeeded at Augusta National played a high ball flight.

Typically, a guy such as Lee Trevino never accomplished much at Augusta National because of the lower trajectory of his shot.  

What makes Augusta National so challenging is that the winds, particularly during the early spring, can affect shots. It might sound silly, but a golfer at Augusta National must have a lot of trust in what the wind is doing. The reason why the shot at the par-3 12th is so demanding is that the green offers little depth, so the approach must be high and precise. However, the wind often swirls to such a degree that a high shot might get knocked down into the hazard short of the green.

In 1992, Fred Couples hit just such a shot, but he got lucky and his ball stayed dry, setting the stage for his winning charge. In 2016, Jordan Spieth was not so lucky as he struggled at the 12th, blew a lead and lost.

Trajectory and apex is critical.

Another consideration is that much of the golf course plays from right to left, but a right-to-left shot for right-handed players typically flies lower. It's harder to hit a high draw than it is to hit a high cut. Look at the Masters victories of right-handed players Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. They hit a lot of high cut shots. Left-handers Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson had to execute from the other side of the ball. The high cut is the shot that wins at Augusta National because it's a softer shot.

Typically, the spin rate of a cut is greater than the spin rate of a draw. In other words, you get backspin. The backspin numbers on a draw will be lower than with a cut. With a bit more backspin, a higher shot results. With more backspin, the greens effectively are made larger. When the greens become firm and fast, their relative size becomes smaller. So, players who are not hitting high cuts tend to play smaller greens, and approaches into those de facto smaller greens tend to end up on the back. Players who must putt from the back of the greens at Augusta National often are above the hole and three-putt more often. That’s not a winning formula at the Masters.

Coming Thursday: Final preparations and what the bag setup might look like for Augusta National.

Michael Breed, a PGA of America member and instructor, operates the Michael Breed Golf Academy at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in Bronx, N.Y. He is the former host of “The Golf Fix” on Golf Channel and now hosts “A New Breed of Golf” on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. ET Monday-Friday.