4/6/22

Players React to Augusta National’s Latest Design Changes

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and others offer thoughts on the recent renovations at the Masters venue

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It has become an annual tradition: Augusta National tinkers with several of its golf holes, and the media scrambles to understand what has happened. This year, the changes have been especially complex and substantive. As The Fried Egg’s own Andy Johnson detailed this morning, Augusta National’s 11th hole, the par 4 that ushers players into Amen Corner, has been lengthened, widened, and reshaped. The par-5 15th has a new championship tee, 20 yards back from the old one. Throughout the rest of the course, the nips and tucks are numerous—mowing lines adjusted, slopes steepened or softened, trees planted or removed.

During their press conferences on Monday and Tuesday, players were asked about the changes, and some of their responses were illuminating.

Rory McIlroy was particularly thorough in his analysis of the new-look 11th hole.

The tee shot, he said, is now “slightly less daunting” thanks to the tree removal down the right side of the fairway. The approach, however, is more difficult because the swale to the right of the green—where, in the past, players often aimed to avoid the water on the left—has been deepened. “So the miss really now is short right,” McIlroy said, “level with the front edge of the green and just a little right.” But he went on to explain that even this play isn’t exactly comfortable. The mounds guarding the front-right edge deflect balls to the left, and the pond, which used to start at the front of the green, now extends 10 yards back toward the tee. So according to McIlroy, since the bail-out spot to the right of the 11th green has become less appealing, there should be more incentive to be aggressive on the approach.

The mounds on the approach to the 11th green at Augusta National

A few players also commented on the alterations to the 11th fairway. Three trees now stand in the way of approaches from the right side, and the fairway itself has been reshaped into a subtle “hog’s back”: drives to the left will kick farther left, and vice versa. Jon Rahm, who likes to work the ball left to right, sounded less than thrilled with these updates. “So it used to be a perfect fader tee,” he said. “I was in love with that tee shot…. With the little change now, I feel like, if you’re a drawer of the golf ball, you can take advantage of the slope of the fairway and maybe get it a little farther down.” A cut, on the other hand, won’t reach the speed slot, and will instead bound to the right and likely end up behind the trio of trees. If Rahm’s take is correct, one of the few holes at Augusta National that rewarded a left-to-right shot shape has been reoriented.

Another frequent topic of discussion was the lengthening of No. 15. “Is it 20, 30 yards back?” asked world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. “That’s a big difference. Before, if I hit a good drive, I remember having maybe a 5-iron in a couple of times, and now if I hit a good drive, it’s going to be a 3[-iron].” Other players had similar club selections in mind. Billy Horschel noted that he hit a 5-wood into the 15th green during a practice round, and Jordan Spieth guessed that he would use a hybrid or 5-wood in the tournament. Kevin Kisner, one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, was only half joking when he referred to No. 15 as “an auto lay-up” for him. “I’m not sure what direction the wind is coming from,” he added, “but when it’s blowing 30, if it’s downwind, I can get there.” As for Scheffler, he concluded that he was “definitely going to have to be a lot less aggressive” on the hole, which doesn’t mean he’ll lay up from the middle of the fairway, necessarily. He may just nudge his second-shot line to the right, where the alarmingly shallow green is somewhat more generous.

The 15th green at Augusta National

As usual, Augusta National also made a number of unpublicized tweaks, a few of which came up during press conferences. Tiger Woods mentioned the “softening of 13,” presumably indicating that the 13th green is now less tilted toward the creek in front. “I understand it,” Woods added. “[They are] trying to add a couple new pins.” (Of course, as Andy Johnson pointed out recently, vintage greens wouldn’t have to be flattened for the sake of pin positions if we weren’t so preoccupied with stimpmeter readings.)

Another under-the-radar alteration can be found left of the third green, where, according to Jordan Spieth, the drop-off has been sharpened. “Like, it was always severe,” he said. “Now it’s pretty wicked.” Spieth called the change “a bit odd.” No. 3 is a short, occasionally drivable par 4, but players now have less motivation to push their drives up around the green because if they miss left, they face a near-impossible pitch. Spieth claimed that when the pin is in its front-left Sunday position, the tee shot will be an “automatic layup.” If he’s right, the third hole, one of the best and most strategically complex at Augusta National, may have become more one-dimensional.

The front of the third green at Augusta National

No doubt news of additional course changes will trickle out as Masters week unfolds. But in the meantime, when competition gets underway tomorrow, we can look for more aggression on No. 11, less on Nos. 3 and 15, and cheekier pins on No. 13. Let’s just hope the early-week rain doesn’t turn the old green lady into a dartboard.


More Masters coverage from The Fried Egg team:

Is Augusta National Turning Over a New Leaf?

Geoff Ogilvy’s notes on all 18 at Augusta National

Stories worth your time and tracking at the 2022 Masters

The Art Behind Augusta’s Roars: Focal points in Alister MacKenzie’s routings

Tiger’s Masters flirtation is something more than ceremonial

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