The great thrill of the Masters Tournament is the threat of The Others.
The risk-reward nature of Augusta National Golf Club’s iconic layout is that a golfer can charge with eagles and birdies and can plummet out of contention with bogeys, doubles and The Others – dreaded big numbers.
No hole in major-championship golf is more dangerous than Golden Bell, the name given to Augusta National’s 155-yard, par-3 12th. The hole sits serenely at the edge of Rae’s Creek, but over the years, the creek has been widened, and if there were truth in advertising, it would be renamed Rae’s Pond.
It is flanked by old stone-walkway bridges, at least one of which was built by German prisoners of war during World War II.
Behind the green is a steep, wooded hillside. Far above and beyond it sits neighboring Augusta Country Club, which would be the swankiest golf course in almost any town, but not in this one.
Augusta’s 12th is “The Agony and The Ecstasy” but mostly The Agony. There have been great moments, yes. Claude Harmon once aced the hole while playing with Ben Hogan, who was so into his own game that he didn’t notice.
Curtis Strange made a memorable 1 there, also, then wryly threw the hole-in-one ball into the water as if to say, Where was that when I needed it?
At the perilous 12th, the low point on the course and in a corner where the winds swirl unpredictably – and often blow downward, scientific testing once showed – the lowlights usually outnumber the highlights.
No one ever wins the Masters at No. 12. Many have lost it there, and many more will, too.
The 12th is a high-wire act filled with drama and danger. Come for the golf, Golden Bell practically beckons, and stay for the disasters.
Here are some of Golden Bell’s greatest hits, shots we’d rather not remember but shots we can’t forget.
Go ugly early
Tom Weiskopf took this half-joking dating advice too seriously in the opening round in 1980. His 7-iron shot at the 12th came up short and spun back into Rae’s Creek. He went to the drop zone and dunked a wedge shot into the water. Then he did it again. And again. And again.
After rinsing five balls, he got one onto the back of the green and two-putted for a 13. It still stands as the worst score ever made at Golden Bell.
“I should have gone back 50 yards,” Weiskopf told a handful of brave writers after a round in which he shot a shocking 85. “There was no grass there [in the drop zone]. None.”
Weiskopf finished runner-up four times at the Masters, but this was not one of them. He missed the cut.
Eight is more than enough
One reason why Bernhard Langer won the 1985 Masters was the disaster Curtis Strange encountered on the final nine in the final round. Another was the disappearance of Payne Stewart, still looking for his first major championship. (He’d go on to win three, none of them Masters.)
Stewart was a contender in ’85 until he reached No. 12. His 8-iron rode a gust of wind into the back bunker. His bunker shot ran past the cup, off the green and into the creek. Rather than try the dicey bunker shot again, Stewart went to the drop zone and spun that shot into the water. Then he played long into the back bunker where the mess began. It turned into a 9.
Masters founder Bobby Jones and tournament chairman Clifford Roberts watched the action at the 12th hole from just to the right and slightly in front of the tee during the 1964 tournament.
Could their presence intimidate even Jack Nicklaus? Well, yes. Nicklaus hit a cold shank – a shank! – that was so bad, it landed short and right of Rae’s Creek, near the 13th fairway.
How bad? Nicklaus still needed a yardage for his second shot on the par-3 hole.
Decades later, Nicklaus still was telling the story about his most humiliating bogey in front of two Masters icons.
“I shanked it right over their heads,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t usually remember bad shots, but I couldn’t forget that one.”
The day the comeback died
If you remember anything about Mike Weir’s 2003 Masters victory, it’s probably the short-lived playoff at No. 10, which he won against Len Mattiace. The man who coulda-shoulda been in that playoff was Jeff Maggert, one of the PGA Tour’s finest iron players.
Maggert was written off after a freakish incident at the third hole in the final round. His shot from a fairway bunker caromed back and hit him, causing a two-stroke penalty and leading to a triple bogey. A story seldom told was Maggert’s recovery. He came to the 12th hole just one shot behind Weir.
Then it all went to hell in a shrimp boat. Maggert hit into the back bunker, skulled a shot into the water and chunked another one that got wet en route to an 8. He played two holes in eight over par in the final round and missed the Weir-Mattiace playoff by five strokes.
High and dry
The 12th hole wasn’t the worst thing that happened to third-round leader Rory McIlroy in 2011. That would be his triple bogey on the 10th hole after he hooked his drive far left into the trees. That was as close as he’d come to entering the Butler Cabin that day.
The young McIlroy, 21, was still reeling by the time he reached the 12th, where he made a double bogey without finding the water. McIlroy four-putted.
The experience didn’t kill him. Two months later, he won the U.S. Open at Congressional by eight strokes.
Gimme the 7 … and gimme a 7
In 1993, Bernhard Langer won his second Masters, famously outlasting Chip Beck down stretch. First, Langer had to pull away from lanky, likable, long-hitting Dan Forsman, who was only one shot back and who received a standing ovation when he walked onto the 12th tee in the final round.
You know what comes next. Forsman’s 7-iron shot gets barely halfway across the water. Then he mis-hit a sand wedge that sent another ball into the creek. It added up to a 7, and Forsman was a former Masters contender.
“My mind was racing, and I couldn’t calm down,” Forsman said a few months later. “For my chances to end so abruptly was agonizing and kind of embarrassing. I wish I could have had a mulligan.”
Isn’t that what the senior tour is for?
Rocco Mediate was tied for the lead at the turn during the third round in 2006. Then his notoriously bad back locked up on him by the time he got to No. 12. Three swings, three shots into the creek. He posted a 10.
He played on through the pain to shoot 80 in the final round and finish 36th. “That was the best 71 holes of golf I ever played,” he jokingly said later.
The 12th man
It took a couple of laps around the country and doing something else memorable – such as winning the British Open in thrilling fashion – to get media types to quit asking Jordan Spieth what happened at Augusta in 2016.
Spieth’s Masters disaster might rank No. 1 on the list of 12th-hole lowlights because of its shock value. Spieth had won the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open and chased the Grand Slam all the way to the 72nd hole at St. Andrews, where he came up short of a playoff.
So, when Spieth made the turn in the final round of the Masters with a five-shot lead, he had been ordained as golf’s new Wonder Boy and seemed poised to write another chapter of history.
Then, after bogeys at 10 and 11, he drowned two shots at 12 – one from the tee and one from the drop zone – and made a 7. Meet England’s Danny Willett, the most surprised Masters champion in recent memory.
Spieth was dogged by questions about the hole for months. When he played the 12th hole for the first time in a 2017 Masters practice round Tuesday afternoon, he stuffed an iron shot to a foot from the cup.
“I really could have used that one about 12 months ago,” he told the gallery, which responded in uproarious fashion.
It was a rare moment, because not much that happens at Golden Bell is a laughing matter.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle