ONE of my dumbest decisions while playing the Masters happens to be one of my favourite memories.
Heading into the 2005 tournament, I felt pretty comfortable about how to play Augusta National even though it was my first time there. The weekend prior, I’d hired a local caddie to walk around the course with my regular caddie, Wilbur, and me. His guidance was priceless as he explained the swirling winds in Amen Corner, angles of attack into greens and certain putts that broke in the opposite direction to how they looked.
I was sticking to my game plan pretty well in the first round until I reached my second shot on the par-5 15th. The play was to lay-up to the left side to offer the best angle for my third shot to that day’s right-hand hole location. Under no circumstance was I to go for the green in two unless I had a mid-iron in hand.
Then nostalgia hit me. Gazing down at the sliver of green framed by ponds in front and beyond, the sun bathing the surrounding foliage in a golden hue, I’d seen this incredible image so many times before but never in person.
I said to Wilbur, “I like 3-wood.”
“What! Are you crazy?” he said. “We discussed this. Long is almost dead and short definitely is. Trust your wedge game.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I’ve watched this shot on TV for more than 20 years. I’m going for it!”
Seeing the look in my eye, he knew he couldn’t talk me around so reluctantly let me go. I flushed it straight over the back of the green (not surprisingly) into one of the most difficult spots in world golf to make a score from. Thankfully, I managed to scrape out a par.
Walking off the green, Wilbur said, “Never again, OK?!”
I replied, “Yeah, sorry mate. Understood. Just couldn’t help myself.”
He smiled back but underneath I knew he was pissed off. That’s the allure of Augusta. It tempts you into hitting shots you shouldn’t, but I would’ve always regretted not taking that shot on at least once.
I finished equal 45th that year. Not great, but not too bad for a first attempt. My best result came the next year when Phil Mickelson won with a total of seven-under par. My two-over score was nine strokes behind in T-19th. On the par 5s that week, Mickelson was 13-under while I was even-par. Over the rest of the holes, I beat him by four strokes!
Looking back, I wish I’d had another 30 metres off the tee because taking advantage of the par 5s is a huge key to winning around Augusta and tough to do as a shorter hitter. That and the fact the course suits left-handers. The majority of tee shots favour a high, right-to-left ball flight – a fade for a lefty. That’s very controllable plus the fade is great for holding approach shots into the firm greens. Length has become virtually a prerequisite since they’ve continually extended the course after Tiger Woods decimated it in 1997.
One of the easier holes for a lefty is one of the hardest for a righty: the par-3 12th. If I pull my tee shot, it goes long and right, while a push is short left. Both are safe and on the green. For right-handers, those same shots are long left (bunker or bushes) and short right (in Rae’s Creek).
Now think about this. Six out of the past 15 Masters champions have been left-handed. It’s a phenomenal stat given there are so few in the field each year. In this spell, Mickelson and Bubba Watson have shared five green jackets while Mike Weir was unconscious with his putter the year he won.
Who claims victory this year is anyone’s guess, but don’t be surprised if a lefty ventures into Butler Cabin on the Sunday evening.