Finally, after 11 years of too often misclubbing, then stewing in his own juices over the consequences, Johnny Miller decided it was time to put his mind at ease and appearances be darned.
So, this Monday, Miller did what he had been daydreaming about for years: he brought a 100-foot tape measure to Augusta National and, during his first practice round, measured every inch of this deceiving Masters course.
Before Miller had finished nine holes, partner Craig Stadler had stalked off in disgust, leaving Miller to do his boring surveying alone. As the sun set, Miller trudged off the course, exhausted but happy.
"Man, is my right arm tired from winding and unwinding that steel tape," groaned the former U.S. Open champion in quest of his first Masters title. "But, I finally know the exact distance on every shot. Everybody's within two or three yards of the right yardage by pacing, but, I think, a couple of yards is the difference between a six-foot putt and a 12-foot putt."
So, Mr. Miller, how long, for instance, is the famous 12th hole here, the diabolical short iron over Rae's Creek on the world's most famous par 3?
Miller smiled with faint satisfaction.
"I'm not tellin'," he said.
There is no other famous golf course in the world where yardage, club selection and the subtleties of wind and weather are so important as at the Masters. Nowhere else is a man forced to stand in the fairway so long and think so hard about what stick he will wield and how hard he will swing it. Above all, there is no place else where a bad decision is so severely and consistently punished.
"Augusta National is many things, but above all, it's a second-shot placement course -- a premier iron golf course," said veteran David Graham.
"On most good courses, when you're trying to decide between two clubs, what is at stake is perhaps one shot, if that much," said PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman. "That is, if you pick the right club, you have a chance for a birdie, while if you choose wrong but still hit a decent shot, you'll have a routine 30- or 40-foot two-putt for a par. 4t"At Augusta, that's completely different. The difference between, say, a six-iron and a seven-iron is often two shots, and sometimes three shots," siad Beman. "The reward is the same -- a good chance for a birdie. But the punishment is much worse. If you misclub by just one club, you're definitely looking at a bogey, and often a double bogey. 4t"Because Augusta's greens are so severe and undulating, if you're 40 feet away from the hole, but on the wrong side of a mound, you have to hit a great putt just to save par," Beman went on. "Time and again, you can be on the green and still be in big trouble if you're in the wrong place."
Contender John Mahaffey put in: "Every good course has a couple of holes where everybody talks about the tough decisions to make in club selection. But here, there are 13 or 14 holes like that."
Ask a score of players here to name the hole on which they perennially face the toughest shot-making and club-selecting decision and the results are shocking: nobody agrees on anything and 11 different holes are cited as "toughest," with a couple of others getting honorable mention.
That's the way Bobby Jones wanted it. Off the tees, his 7,000-yard course demands great length, with the proviso that you place the ball in the proper half of the huge, almost unmissable fairways that lull pros into carelessness. If the tee shots here favor muscle, then the approaches are a beautiful Darwinian selection process that favors brains. Jones wanted a thinking gorilla as champion.
"Oh, the two toughest decisions to make out there are definitely the second shots on the two par 4s with the elephants buried in the front of the greens -- the fifth and 14th," offered Lee Elder. "I don't have the proper shoit for either of those holes. On 14, I keep hitting a three-iron that hits into the hump, doesn't get to the back tier and I may three-putt.
"Tonight, I'm gong to increase the loft on that three-iron to get over that hump. I bet that 25 percent of the players in the field change the loft on some, or all, of their irons to fit the idiosyncrasies of this course and the demands of certain holes," said Elder.
For decades, players have been trying to figure out the various breezes that swirl in the tall pines behind Hogan Bridge and over Rae's Creek at the 12th. Many players have key trees or flags that they study.
Elder, for instance, has noticed a flag high over a press tower that "is higher than any other flag. I'm not sure anybody else has noticed it, but I always do."
Tom Watson has the novel notion that he will dictate to the wind, rather than the other way around. "I pick a shot in my mind before I get to the tee, then I wait, no matter how long it takes, until the wind fits that shot." the said. Elder, by contrast, always, but always, hits a seven-iron -- either hard or soft -- because "once you find a club that can get you on that green, you're a damn fool to pull out anything else."
The 205-yard fourth hole, with its voracious front bunker, carries more hidden terror since fewer players realize that unseen winds, funneling at high altitudes, knock down apparently perfect shots. Few pleasures match standing along the fourth tee and watching muscular Masters rookies who scald their customary 200-yard five-iron, then gape in disbelief as the ball lands short of the front traps, a humiliating 50 yards from the pin.
Two other pairs of Masters holes have similar disguised treacheries.
Both finishing holes, the ninth and 18th, have abruptly uphill approaches to greens where trap trouble lurks in front while downhill three-putt demons live at the back of the green. "Unless you think you'll hit a perfect shot every time, you have to decide which you fear less -- the sand shot in the front or the long downhill putt from the back," said Elder. "Me, I always overclub. I'll risk the putt."
Timidity is almost always punished here. On Sunday, the pins are always back on both the par-4 No. 10 and par-3 No. 16, inviting the frightened soul to shoot for the invitingly safe right front of the green. Again, three putts are the proper payment for such fear.
The most novel approach to club selection in the history of the Masters took place two years ago when rookie Fuzzy Zoeller won the green jacket in a playoff.
"I never had a thought the whole week," Zoeller related. "I figured my caddie (Jerry Beard) knew the course a lot better than me, so I just put out my hand and played whatever club he put in it. I'd say, 'How hard do I hit it?' He'd tell me and I'd swing. The guys who come down here once a year and try to get smart with Mr. Jones' course are the dumb ones."
Some pros might douby Zoeller's candor, imagining that the Fuzzy one might just be engaging in a bit of carefree myth manufacturing.
Nonetheless, Bruce Kietzke spoke for every player here when he uttered these fatalistic last words: "You better not start getting paranoid after you've pulled out the wrong stick a couple of times or this course will eat your lunch. You just got to keep grabbing for one that makes sense, then rip it at the flag."
That helps. But not much.