The 13th hole at Augusta National Golf Club is the essence of the Masters tournament. It is beauty that kills, it is murder among the azaleas, for here on a short par-5 hole, the golfer who would win must strike a perfect tee shot to set up a 220-yard second shot to the green. The second shot must cross a creek lapping at the green's edge. Abandon hope, all ye who tremble here.
Doug Tewell stood in the 1oth fairway this morning.
He's a first-timer here, 30 years old, winner two weeks ago at Hilton Head. He had 210 years to the green today, a green that in the distance seemed a painting it was so perfectly dazzling, an emerald without flaw set among the pinks and azaleas and the whites of sand.
Tewell's five-wood shot carried high into a quartering breeze that seemed of no significance. Someone had told Tewell a month ago to bring the five-wood to Augusta, he would need it for the second shot at 13. players build games for Augusta. Andy Bean has fashioned a draw just for the tee shot at 13, which is dogleg left.
The five-wood shot fell short, into Rae's Creek. It was only a practice round, it was a time to test the temptress without paying the price in pain she exacts later, and so tewell tried another shot. This time a one-iron shot sank to the creek bottom, and Tewell had learned that the temptress demands his best.
"a three-wood is the shot," Tewell said later. "can't hurt you too bad if you go over the green. Just traps behind it."
Whether Doug Tewell knows it or not, he is in big trouble. He now thinks he knows how to handle the 13th hole. By being a bold player, he won at Hilton Head. So he reckons he'll be bold here, too. And he has made a decision to fly the three-wood at the 13th. It makes sense, except for one thing: he has commited himself to hitting four straight perfect three-woods 210 yards over a creek under the pressure of the Masters.
It all looks so easy here that a man soon overreaches. The 13th is a birdie hole, certainly, but that creek produces double bogeys, too, and one double bogey there eliminates a man as a possible winner. If the rewards are great, so are the risks.
This golf tournament is Wallenda on the high wire. As the 13th lures players to move out on the wire, the 15th dares them to cross a valley of self-doubt. The 15th is a par-5, too, with a 235-yard second shot over a pond. To win this tournament, a man must run across that wire, bravely, never looking down.
I'm trying to figure out if I should play conservatively or be bold," Tewell said. "i got here being bold, and I don't see any reason to change because it's the Masters."
Tewell is so bold as to say the greens here are faster than the average tournament greens, but not all that difficult. He says you can drive it just about anywhere, the fairways being wide enough to land 747s on.
"i feel like I'm in heaven," Tewell said coming off the 18th green. His eyes had that faraway look that rises in a man's eyes every spring. "i've dies," he said, "and this is heaven."
Alas, the poor boy is in love with the temptress. He is blind to her deviltry. He sees an easy three-wood shot where, in fact, he is only the slightest error away from catastrophe. He sees greens that aren't all that difficult when, in fact, they are so evil that an old pro, Don January, one putted off the 13th green into that creek. Wide fairways? That's because Doug Tewell has never seen them on a Sunday of Masters week. You couldn't park a Pinto on them then.
What Augusta National was built to do, and what it does better than almost anyplace else, is to reward the courageous shot struck well. Timid approaches to pins hidden behind swaled and bunkers can leave putts no one could make. The heroic approach produces a 10-foot putt on a surface so perface you don't want to despoil it by walking there.
But when, oh when, to be heroic? To plan on four straight wonderful three-woods at the 13th is the stuff of fools, not heroes.Consider the 12th hole, the little (from 130 to 155 yards) par-3 that Gary Player flatly calls "the best golf hole in the world."
The tee shot at 12 can be anything from a six-iron shot to a nine-iron shot. It depends first on the placement of the cup, either at the distant right side of the wide, shallow green, or at the near left. Mostly, it depends on -- are you ready for this? -- the wind.
Even on calm days, the wind blows at the 12th. It swirls among the tops of the 70-foot pines there. On the tee, players crank their heads to the sky, as if praying; they're checking the treetops to see what the wind is doing.
"this golf course is a fooler," said Tom Watson, the 1977 winner who finished second the next two years. "you might make six or seven birdies in a row in a practice round, but when the gun goes off, all of a sudden you're missing the ball."
Watson is fascinated by the 12th hole. "the toughest thing to do there is wait for the wind. You read the flag, the tees, everything. You have to wait until you know where the wind is. And when it dies, you have to be prepared to hit it."
If you don't hit it well, this is what can happen to you: on this teeny-tiny par-3, Dow Finsterwald, once a PGA champion, made a quick 11. Rae's Creek, see, runs 10 feet in front of the green. Rae's Creek is a beautiful little stream with a nice waterfall -- until the wind knocks your tee shot down. Then that pretty little stream is just a damn crick.
Unless you have a golf stick in hand needing to make a birdie at the 15th to win, at which point you don't care if the azaleas sing out loud, Augusta National is truly paradise. It is green velvet stretched over billowing clouds. God chose the places for pink and white dogwoods.
A man doing a magazine story asked if he could talk to Jack Nicklaus about the Nicklaus business empire.
"at the Masters?" said Larry O'Brien, Nicklaus' publicity man. "not at the Masters."
O'Brien said it in such a way as to suggest the magazine writer had no respect for anything. To ask Nicklaus about business at the Masters, the flack suggested, would be like going to St. Peter's to ask the Pope about his golf game.
O'Brien is right, of course.