Still think of Tiger Woods as a kid? Well, here’s something that will sober you a little bit. It’s in response to a question about how he managed such good finishes the last two years when he didn’t really have his game together:
Well, Bob, I think it’s understanding how to play this golf course. As Rob was saying, this is my 18th year, so I’ve spent just about half my life playing this tournament.
Think about that. Do you think of him as 36 years old? He’ll be 37 in December. Do you think of him having played 18 Masters? Didn’t it all just start a couple of years ago?
So now Tiger Woods is one of the elder statesmen of Augusta. He’s won four of them, the first in 1997 and his last one in 2005. He’s one of the old guys showing the junior merit badge guys around. Somebody asked him how often guys ask him for help and whether he helps them when they do:
Yeah, I do, I do help them. Today I played with Sean [O’Hair] and we were talking about the golf course and what flag you fire at and where do you want to miss it to this flag; where do you hit over the green to this; blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And yeah, I help him as much as I possibly can and playing together tomorrow. He wants some more advice on the other nine holes. (Laughter) Obviously I had something good to say I guess.
I think it’s just the role of being here, one, as a champion and being here a number of years is that you pass knowledge on. It’s not something that we hold and are going to keep sacred. We pass it on from one generation to the next. That’s what we do.
I found it interesting just how specific some of his knowledge was; things I hadn’t heard before. One of the issues the players are going to have to deal with is the forecast rains for Thursday and Friday particularly, and to a lesser extent on Wednesday. The course is already wet, but the course has a SubAir System under the greens that helps them manage their water content.
So the question was asked how the players were going to manage the juxtaposition of the wet fairways and the trademark hard and fast greens that they would still be able to achieve:
One, the greens are cut into the grain off the tees, so you’re not going to get any chase.
In other words, the greens are uniformly cut so that the grain faces the player out in the fairway. So the ball tends to check up when it hits. Hard to believe that would make a difference on greens running at 14 on the Stimpmeter. If it was down-grain, the ball would skip over more readily. And there was more in his answer:
The only golf courses that have true SubAir, we are able to kind of deal with that, but not too many golf courses we play are like that. They turn it on here – as we all know, playing here over the years, you can play practice rounds, you know, however many you want, you can play a hundred practice rounds. But Wednesday to Thursday, it’s just a totally different golf course. You’ve just got to make that adjustment.
Part of this comes from the course’s need to have the greens very hard and fast on Thursday and then uniformly the same through Sunday. Without the SubAir, the way they do that is by severely cutting back the water to the greens ahead of time. Then they lightly syringe (sprinkle) them just to keep them alive. At some U.S. Opens, the greens get so baked by Sunday they look like they’re turning blue and are going to die. But with the SubAir, they can keep the greens fully hydrated until after Wednesday’s practice rounds; Thursday morning, hard and fast.
Those greens look so benign on television, but they are far from it. They have partitions in them for the pin positions and you need to make sure that you get on the right side of the partitions:
But Jack [Nicklaus] that year told me some of the putts he’s hit over the years, some of the things that has changed about the golf course and strategy on how to play certain flags. I thought, you know, I never looked at it that way on some of the holes.
He says, “With your length, just go ahead and just beat it down there.” Because obviously at the time, there was no rough, and it was all about angles [of the approach shot into the green]. So you need that angle on 9, you need to get it down that side, you need to fire at the green. Things like that.
We can’t do that now because the golf course is so much longer [with the tees further back, the doglegs are further away meaning that some approach shots will come diagonally into the green rather than straight up its spine]. But at the time, it was all about the different angles.
The questions turned to how to play the par 5s.
Well, as far as the par 5s, Zach [Johnson won by laying up and] proved you don’t have to always go for them. But you still have to play them well. You have to play them at least half under par for the week. I mean, you just have to take care of those par 5s, because there are so many pin locations on the par 4s and the par 3s, that it just gets very difficult to make easy birdies.
Good drives on the four par 5s, for the longer hitters, we can all get there. 8, questionable sometimes. But the other three we know we can get there.
As far as the most strategic, certainly 13. I think 13, TV doesn’t do justice to how hooked that lie is on that second shot, and the green is set up for a fade for a righty. And it’s a hard shot (chuckling) to try and cut one off that lie or trust that you’ve got to start it right at Rae’s Creek or at Rae’s Creek and draw it in there. Sometimes the wind tends to swirl down in there a little bit.
There’s a pretty dicey second shot from that kind of hanging lie.
And what about the advantage of going for the par 5s in two?
If you can get there, you can get in the bunkers, get around the green, short game can take over. There are so many different angles that you can play. For instance, No.2, depends on the flag, you can play right or left [off the tee].
On 8, you have seen guys blow it over to 9 to give themselves an angle in there.
13 is a tough up‑and‑down from the left side, but it’s doable.
Then 15 is really not that tough a pitch unless the pin is down on the left and you’ve got to come down a slope. But pin‑high there, you’ve got a pretty decent shot of making birdie.
And finally, a charming story about how a couple of veterans long past their last victories took care of a 19-year-old amateur kid:
I played with Jack and Arnold on Wednesday in ’95. You know, I was an amateur, so Arnold comes up to me and says, “How about a little Skins Game today.”
I said, “Well, I don’t have any cash.” (Laughter).
He says, “Don’t worry about it. Just play hard.”
I said, all right, here we go.
We go and play. We have a great time. I’m pretty chatty out there. I’m trying to gain as much intel as I possibly can, and I’m asking them on every hole, what do you do here, what do you do here, what do you do here, and I’m pretty sure they got sick and tired of me.
We get to 18, and Arnold makes a nice putt for birdie on 18 for all the skins, basically. And I could see Jack is over there, a little ticked about it. He says, “Enough of this. Why don’t we go get him on the par 3 course.”
I said, “Well, Jack, I don’t have – my tee time is much later.”
“Just come with me.”
“Yes, sir. How are we going to get on there?”
He says, “Don’t worry about it.”
We walk over there, we are on deck, just out of the blue.
Okay, this is nice. (Laughter.)
We get around and play the par 3 course, and probably the most nervous I think I had ever been was the last hole on the par 3 course.
You think it’s just a simple 9‑iron shot, no big deal. Arnold almost holed it, Jack almost holed it, and now it’s my turn. I was just trying to go for dry land, and somehow I was able to hit on dry land and I was pretty stoked about it.
This is why the Masters is such a revered tournament, the most precious of the four majors.