The story goes that in the late seventies, Sam Snead played in teachers with an enthusiastic and courageous rookie as they came to the 13th tee.
“When I was your age, I used to hit it right over the trees,” Snead said, pointing to the pine trees in the corner of the iconic dogleg from right to left.
The young pro nodded to the old champ before unleashing a cloud-scraping drive that looked like it would clear the trees. Unfortunately, there was a noise. The ball bounced off a few branches and fell into the stream. The fledgling turned to Snead in horror.
“But of course,” Snead explained, “when I was your age, those trees weren’t as tall as they are now.”
The anecdote is a favorite and may be apocryphal, but at least it highlights how Augusta National has evolved over its 91-year existence, and perhaps its most beloved hole.
The par five at the end of Amen Corner has seen a few makeovers, mainly along the length. It’s never been the case that the Green Jackets gave Mona Lisa a nose ring, but she’s had regular appointments at the salon to get extensions attached.
Through it all, though, the green rebuilt in 1975, the added 25 yards in 2002, “Azalea,” to use her official nickname, managed to maintain its distinction as arguably the greatest risk-reward hole in the game. Masters founder Bobby Jones probably best summed up his personality torn between beauty and the beast in 1959. “In my opinion, this 13th hole is one of the best holes for competitive play I’ve ever seen,” he said. . “The player is first tempted to challenge the creek on his tee shot by playing near the corner, because if he achieves this position he has not only shortened the hole but obtained a more level lie for his second shot.
“Driving to the right not only increases the duration of the second, but runs into an annoying side slope. The second shot also implies a momentous decision to try or not the green. A player who challenges the creek on the first or second shot can very easily find a six or seven on this hole. However, the reward for successful and daring play is enticing.
No one found the lure more irresistible than Bubba Watson in 2014 on his way to a second green jacket. Four years earlier, the American’s compatriot and fellow left-hander, Phil Mickelson, had delivered one of the boldest shots ever witnessed down the stretch of a major. Locked in a fight with England’s Lee Westwood, Mickelson was among the trees to the right, his ball nestled in the pine straw.
Surely he would have to leave? Not Mickelson. The space between the logs directly in front would have bothered an overly plump turkey, but he tried it with a six-iron and the patrons roared as his ball streaked past and out of the water in front of the surface of the green, stopping just inside. four feet. Masters, over. Green jacket nº 3 for the Californian.
It was a stroke of genius, but Watson’s heroism was far less subtle, allowing organizers to spend sleepless nights. He sliced his drive around the trees and settled for a lob wedge for his second. In a par five. Granted, it was ‘only’ 510 yards, but it was still a par five. And from that moment on, something had to give. The hole was one of the easiest on the course. The reward was too great, the risk too low.
Augusta National was increasingly desperate for the game’s governing bodies, the R&A and the US Golf Association, to slow the ball down, but when their inaction began to look terminal, the Green Jackets began buying up the land behind from the tee of the Augusta Country Club. .
The rowdy neighbors rallied until the asking price of $20 million was reached. For a while, stretch seemed to be just a threat, lurking in the background like a parent’s warning, but a new tee was built last year that will add 35 yards if the tournament committee decides to put it on the line (probably in minus two). days of the four) this year. The tee is narrow and tight and wooded.
Will the magic remain or is it an addition too far? The judgments prior to the event have not been favorable.
“I’m afraid they have taken the very essence of the hole,” Sergio Garcia told Telegraph Sport. Garcia loved the hole so much that the 2017 champion named his daughter Azalea. “It’s special,” he added.
Patrick Reed is not Bobby Jones, but the terrible child of the locker room of champions provided an eloquent update to those words of the teacher seven decades ago. “There is going to be a lot of buildup,” said the 2018 winner. “I played with Dustin [Johnson, the big-hitting 2020 victor] and even he kept both days.
“With that extra length, you can’t cut as much off that corner and you can’t get far enough down the left side to hit, say, a four-iron or less. Anything more than that is cheating in my book. I think it will take away a bit of emotion. With the old tees, you can hit an eagle three, but you can also play a double bogey. If it is now a tray, there will not be three or seven. It’s basically a birdie four, a par five or the occasional bogey six.”
This is the big concern. To protect the integrity of the course, redesigners have removed its mystique and appeal. Watson is not willing to take the blame. “Hey, nobody’s ever tried a Bubba-proof golf course,” he said. “All they have to do is keep putting the greens up and I’m fighting. They are not good.
Not everyone is worried. When asked by Telegraph Sport what he made of the addition, Rory McIlroy wasn’t full of praiseBut he was far from critical and, with comments that could thrill and petrify his many fans, he doesn’t think it’s necessarily a triple.
“They’ve made the tee shot easier because you don’t really have to do anything with it anymore, just hit it straight up,” he said. “The second shot is now much more difficult and it’s a bit like 11.
“Second there is much more difficult with the way they have contoured the front of the green. I used to hit the eight iron from a flat lie at 13 and now I hit a five iron with the ball high above my feet, a much harder shot to hit. It just makes you think a little bit more about the second shot, which I think is good.”
McIlroy has the ball shape and distance to get within sight of the green. But listening to Johnson there won’t be many. “It was soft and there was a breeze, but for me, with my ball shape, it’s a tray,” he said. “I can’t see a lot of the guys going for it, but we’ll have to see.”
Westwood is intrigued. “Don’t ask me if I’ve played it off the new tee, because I haven’t qualified for the Masters this year,” he said. “But I have heard the talk. I’m sure they will use the front tees and there will still be drama.
“I’d be surprised if they don’t push it up to Sunday and we can still say ‘the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine.’ They won’t want to lose that excitement. But it’s interesting that the R&A and USGA have they now declared their intentions for a shorter ball. Then they wouldn’t need that new jersey.”
There’s one school of thought that Augusta got exactly the reaction she wanted by having to threaten the identity of beloved 13. She has the funds to dish out the extraordinary sum, but she might be in an exclusive club of one in that regard.
Fred Ridley also had the power to announce at the president’s press conference on Wednesday that he supports the proposals and all but guaranteed that he will implement the new ball rule if, as planned, it is introduced in January 2026. In so many ways it would be a game changer and, for fans of 13, a hole change as well.
As ex-professional-turned-architect lauded Mike Clayton said of the Ridley verdict, as the Augusta president voiced his support for reversal, it could one day be seen as a pivotal moment in a debate that has gone on for decades, invariably with 13 used as the prime example of a hole that has been left behind.
“They’re the ones who don’t have conflict and can argue solely on the basis of what strides have been made in the team to change the way the field is played. Because no matter what they do, the players will always play there,” Clayton said.
“Of course, 13 is the case in point. It seems to me that what they have been forced to do there is the antithesis of what Alister MacKenzie wanted, because he hit tee shots with a great sense of space and openness. And he would have despaired at what the team has done to a hole he and Jones created to be a “monumental decision.” It’s a great shame.”