There are many things to discuss when it comes to The Masters. Having been there 3 times, caddying once, I know how lucky I am. The players who slipped on the green jacket those years: Bubba in ’14, Cabrera in ’09, and Immelman in ’08. Being on the bag for John Merrick in ’09 when he finished 6th is probably the highlight of my caddie career and there are countless memories from that week including being in the lead ever so briefly on Friday afternoon before a bogey at 11 and a water ball at the infamous 12th doused momentum. But Merrick stayed strong and on Sunday forced CBS to point their cameras on him for the final two holes after he and playing partner Geoff Ogilvy both birdied 13, 14, 15, and 16, ultimately placing Merrick four shots out of the 3-way playoff at 12-under. That day on 16, with the traditional middle-back left hole location, my pro chose a 7-iron from 180 and my final instructions were, “You’ve seen the hole on TV, you know what to do.” Then he struck a pure shot out to the right that caught the bank and rolled left to inside 5 feet. It’s a funny thing about The Masters that even though there hasn’t been a first-timer win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, you see one or two rookies play the tournament well just about every year and I think that could be because we get to watch it on TV every year and learn the course. Obviously, I hope to be back inside the ropes at The National sometime soon but no matter what, this week is fun for all, in person or watching on TV.
I’ll never forget my dad coming to watch us in ’09, staying with me in an apartment I rented, giving me the bed to “save my back” while he slept on a futon, watching our every shot through binoculars. Even though he’s not a golfer I demanded he go to witness the sporting spectacle of the event and natural beauty of the course. On that Sunday, since we had a later tee time, we could go to Easter mass together and hours later I put on the white jump suit one more time to complete the religious metaphor. On a side, there’s the stories of those who haven’t been able to go to The Masters too, as my girlfriend’s dad told me recently he declined an invitation to the event one year to go to her choral performance instead. He accepted the green jacket for Father of the Year instead.
So, who will earn the green jacket at The Masters this year and what can you learn as you watch the spectacle unfold? Personally, I like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Bill Haas, Marc Leishman, Emiliano Grillo, and rookie Jon Rahm. But no matter what the winner will master the greens and that’s the part of the course that adds the most drama to the event and where you can learn the most to help your game. Why? We’ll hear all week about Rae’s Creek, the famous body of water that sits at the bottom of the course, the point where all putts break toward (picture a pin-ball machine). The natural pull toward Rae is a perfect combination of physics and mysticism. I didn’t read any putts specifically for Merrick that week in ’09 but I did remind him exactly where Rae’s Creek was as he was planning his putts and approach shots. Your course has a Rae’s Creek. Every course has a high point and a low point, sometimes multiple, some more dramatic than others.
Let me rewind a bit to earlier this season and a conversation my current player Seamus Power had with me where he told me how his college coach knew he was going to be a successful PGA Tour player someday. One day he asked the entire team a simple question. Which putt takes the ball longer to get to the hole: uphill or downhill? Apparently, he was one of the few in the coach’s career to get the answer correct. Downhill. The ball takes longer to get to the hole on a downhill putt. Why is that and what are the implications? Remember, we’re talking about making putts and giving them a chance to go in, and if we don’t make them, having about 3 feet or less coming back. An uphill putt is “slower” and needs to be hit harder to get to the hole. Conversely, a downhill putt is “faster” but needs to be hit softer to get to the hole properly. Makes sense which one is going to take longer to get to the hole. So that takes care of speed. Hit your uphill putts firmer and your downhill putts softer. But what about putts that break? When do you need to play “more” break or “less” break? You need to play less break on uphill putts and hit them firmer and play more break on downhill putts and hit them softer. The latter is what you see a lot of at The Masters.
I witnessed a classic example of this on the 10th hole during the first round in ’09. We were paired with ’88 Masters Champion Larry Mize and the U.S. Amateur runner-up Drew Kittleson. Like Merrick, Kittleson was playing in his first Masters, but was much younger and probably bolder in his style of play. The pin was in the back left of the green and both Kittleson and Mize had 20 footers for birdie. The putt was slightly uphill on the green, but going straight down toward Rae’s Creek so effectively downhill. Kittleson went first and hit the putt firm and didn’t play much break and we watched as it went racing by the hole. Then Mize gets up there and aims a couple feet more out to the right and barely hits the ball and we watch as it dropped into the hole on the last trickle to the patron’s delight. He went on to shoot 67 that day, setting the record for the lowest round by the oldest player in Masters history. As he sidled up to me on the green after his 3 I told him nice putt and asked, “Is this your first Masters Larry?” …Downhill putts, that break a lot, that take a long time to get to the hole, that build drama, that go in, that make the patrons roar and echo throughout the Georgia pines. Enjoy watching The Masters this week!