It is not too extravagant to claim that the Masters Tournament is the real opening of the competitive golf season. Everything preceding next week's event is just warmup. This is true for the thousands and thousands of visitors who come to Augusta each spring, it is true for the millions who watch on television, but it is most true for the players themselves. From early January we begin looking ahead and planning ahead. Many of us put in extra practice sessions with the long irons, because a premium is placed on the skillful use of these clubs at Augusta. Others spend hours hoping to develop a putting stroke that will hold up on the Augusta National's mammoth, rolling greens. A few of us make major revisions in our game—as I did a year ago when I developed the hook that helped me to win the Masters. But there is one thing we all work for: power, power, power. Nobody talks about it much—perhaps because it is not obvious to spectators—but power is the key to winning at Augusta.
Judged by modern standards, the Augusta National is not a long golf course. During the Masters it plays at an average length of 6,850 yards, hardly excessive in a golfing age that glorifies courses of 7,000 yards and more. But look who has won in recent years. Arnold Palmer, not only a very long but also a very bold driver, won in '58, '60 and '62. Gary Player changed his style somewhat in the last two years and tried playing more for position off the tee than for distance (a change he recently gave up). In 1961, significantly, he was driving the ball 20 yards farther than in '62 and '63, and in 1961 Gary won the Masters. I won last year at a time when I was driving very well, and Tony Lema, another long hitter, finished right behind me. The only recent exception to the domination of the big hitter is Art Wall, the 1959 champion. But even Art says that his putting was phenomenal. He won by sinking good putts to birdie five of the last six holes.
The reason why power hitters have an advantage is not that they can sometimes reach the par-5s in two shots. This factor is much overrated. Last year, in fact, I was only two under par on a total of 16 par-5s. This was two strokes poorer on these holes than an average taken from the top 24 finishers. The most important reason why power is so highly rewarded at Augusta is extraordinarily simple. On six holes—1, 5, 8 (somewhat), 14, 17 and 18—the long hitter's extra distance becomes doubly extra because of the slope of the fairways. The long hitter can carry upslopes that the average hitter must drive into. Thus the long hitter obtains a normal amount of roll on these holes, while the shorter hitter gets virtually none. Off the tees of four other holes—2, 9, 10 and 13—the long hitter reaches downslopes that are beyond the average hitter's range. A long drive thus gets an unusually long roll where an average drive gets only a normal roll.
This adds up to a severe handicap for the average hitter to struggle against, but since this is a fine golf course he does have at least a chance, especially on Augusta's skillfully laid-out dogleg holes. The fairways are exceptionally wide, but even a long hitter can be in the fairway and, if he happens to have hit his drive into the wrong corner of an elbow, have a difficult shot to the green. It is on these holes—and there are several of them—that the average hitter must make the most of what opportunity he has. By a sort of golfing brinkmanship, by narrowly missing trees, tight corners, ditches and sand traps, by being bold, by playing inspired golf and by not being unlucky, he can get the most out of the course and even win, as Doug Ford did in 1957 when he shot a final-round 66.
"I took a lot of chances that other people questioned," Ford has said, "but if you're a short hitter like me it's the only way to win." Yet this is a perilous kind of golf to be forced to play. One slip, and the strokes saved on 17 holes are lost on the other one. This is the pressure and the risk that the long hitter can avoid. He can, by contrast, play reasonably safe golf and still get almost the maximum out of the course. For him the desirable landing area off the tee is anywhere from 50% to 100% wider than it is for the shorter hitter. Look at the diagrams at right and you will see four holes where the long hitter's advantage and the average hitter's problems are the most obvious, assuming the weather is good. There are plenty of others. Consider:
No. 1, 400 yards, par 4. The fairway dips down directly in front of the tee and then rises sharply up to the tee shot's landing area. The long hitter can reach the top of the hill on the fly and set up a six-to-nine-iron approach to the green. The average-length tee shot will strike just below the crest of the hill and get almost no roll. This will leave a two-to-six-iron approach. The hole does dogleg slightly to the right. A bold short hitter can try driving over a fairway trap just below the right corner and skirt the trees bordering the fairway to leave himself a shorter approach.
No. 2, 555 yards, par 5. This is a dogleg that is similar to the 10th hole (see diagram) in that it slopes downhill from tee to green and from right to left in the landing area. To give himself any chance of reaching the green in two shots, the average hitter must draw his tee shot dangerously close to the left side so that he can take maximum advantage of the fairway contours. But he could also wind up in the trees or in a creek. The long hitter, on the other hand, can play into the left center of the fairway and still get the roll that will take him within range of the green.
No. 4, 220 yards, par 3. Dangerous for the medium hitter when the prevailing wind is blowing, because he must try to control a high wood shot that is hit from an elevated tee. The shot must clear a deep bunker directly in front of the green. Over the green to the right are bushes and out-of-bounds. A long hitter can drill an iron low through the wind and still reach the green, but a wood shot will often get into serious trouble if the wind suddenly changes—or worse, dies down altogether.
No. 8, 530 yards, par 5. The long hitter can catch a relatively flat area with his drive and might get precious extra yards of roll that would enable him to reach the green with a really good second shot. The shorter hitter has no such chance. His tee shot lands on an upslope, so he gets no roll.
No. 9, 420 yards, par 4. The fairway rolls downhill into a hollow, then bends to the left and rises steeply to the green. A long hitter can drive the ball down the middle and still reach the bottom of the hill. To duplicate this and set up no more than a six-iron to the green from a level lie the average player must drive down the left edge of the fairway. The least hook would put him into the woods.
No. 11, 445 yards, par 4. Here the main problem is created by the approach shot. A pool that is part of famous—or infamous—Rae's Creek pushes tight against the green on the left side. A shot to the green that is pulled too much will make quite a splash. Most players will be using long irons and must therefore aim at mounds to the right of the green and hope the ball will kick off these and well into the putting surface. They cannot take a chance on hitting long irons right to the green. The long hitter, with probably a four-to-six-iron approach shot, can fire away at the center of the green with reasonable safety.
No. 14, 420 yards, par 4. The fairway, which slopes upward from tee to green, is especially steep in the normal landing area and is bordered on the left by a clump of pines. A long hitter can clear this steep area on the fly and be beyond these trees should he hook his shot excessively. An average hitter's drive will land directly into the sharpest part of the upslope, leaving a long iron shot to a very difficult putting surface. If he hooks, he is in the pines.
No. 17, 400 yards, par 4. Once again the long hitter can clear an upslope in the fairway that a shorter hitter cannot. A trap guards the right front of the green, and on the last day the flagstick is often placed somewhere close behind this trap. The long hitter can use a short iron to the green, anything from a seven-iron to a wedge, while the others must go for the green with a four-to six-iron. These are risky clubs with which to shoot directly for a tightly positioned pin. In addition, the green slopes from front to back on the left side. A long iron shot can easily kick far away from the pin, or even roll over the green.
The holes I have not mentioned are fine ones, too, of course, but aside from the fact that on them the long hitter will usually be able to hit a slightly shorter iron shot to the green, they give him no unusual advantage. The 15th, a par 5 of 520 yards whose green is guarded by a pond, is a possible, if not very subtle, exception. If a golfer can hit his tee shot far enough on this hole he can reasonably gamble on reaching the green with a wood or long iron. If not, he must lay up short of the pond with his second shot, leaving himself with a very touchy pitch. Very often, however, the wind is dead against you, and even the long hitter is smart to play his second shot safely short of the water.
Add this all up and you see why the long hitters have been successful at Augusta. When the tournament is over at the end of next week the man who gets the winner's green jacket will have played some very good golf, you can be sure of that. But if the new Masters champion is not one of the game's established power hitters you can also be sure that he either putted as if the hole was a foot wide or he played the boldest and best 72 holes of his golfing career.
Off their play in 1964, and especially in recent weeks, here are eight who rank with Nicklaus as top Masters threats
The ebullient South African looks forward to Augusta with the zest reserved for a golfer whose Masters record in the last rive years is second only to Arnold Palmer's. Over this stretch Player has finished in the top eight every time, won in 1961 and lost a playoff in 1962. This year Player's enthusiasm is higher than it has ever been. "I'm really excited about the tournament," he says. "I'm playing as well as I ever have, I'm putting well and I truly feel confident." Player is ever the optimist, but he has made some important changes in his tactics and his equipment that have put real substance in his optimism. For the last two years he has often hit a cautious three-or four-wood off the tee. He has now given that up. "It was just a phase," he says. "I feel good with a driver in my hands again." His driver has felt especially good since he shaved several degrees of loft off it at the recent Doral Open. He has added 20 yards to his tee shots and is now hitting them as far as he did when he won at Augusta in 1961. This may be significant because distance is just what Player needs to win again.
Champagne Tony's victory at the Crosby in January has had a peculiar effect on his golfing career. On the one hand, it has increased his confidence in his ability to win an important tournament. On the other, it seems to have upset his concentration. His record since January has had repeated ups and downs. "I was tired and shaky for three weeks after the Crosby," he says, "and I also started to think badly. I wanted to begin each tournament with a super score, and when I didn't I would get upset." Lema vows, however, that he has never prepared more assiduously for a tournament than he has for this Masters. He is spending extra hours on the practice tee, the cork stays on the champagne bottle and he has given up smoking. "It helps my golf when I don't smoke," he says, his mind on the problems of that now famous nonsmoker, Arnold Palmer. Lema's game, as he proved last year, is suited to Augusta. He hits long, employs a slight hook and is a strong long-iron player. His putting has grown cautious, but if he regains his touch—and his concentration—he will again be a serious threat.
This will be the third consecutive spring in which Casper, on the basis of the winter tour form chart, has come into Augusta as a strong contender. His recent victory in the Doral Open, over a tough field on a tough golf course, proves that he is approaching his peak again. But, despite a consistently rhythmic swing and normally the surest putting touch in golf, Casper has never played up to his promise at Augusta. He tied for 15th in 1962 and for 11th last year. Prior to Doral this year, Casper was bothered by an erratic hook in his iron shots that resulted from an injury to his left hand last May. Now that nuisance has been brought under control, and he has only one serious—and surprising—woe, his putting. "I'm taking 33 putts a round where I used to average 30," he complains. His pluses, however, are big ones. Each year he grows increasingly proficient in all departments, especially the long clubs. And each year he reaffirms that he has one of golf's soundest temperaments: hard to ruffle, yet diligently competitive. He is due for a good Masters showing—overdue, in fact.
There is a growing suspicion that 1964 will be a critical year in Palmer's competitive career, and the 1964 Masters certainly will be a big test. The challenge posed by Jack Nicklaus has not only made it harder for Palmer to win his share of major championships, it has also inspired the other players with the idea that Palmer can be had—this after four years of thinking that Arnie wasn't mortal. "We don't all fall over in a dead faint any more when Palmer starts one of those charges of his," said one pro last month. What is Palmer planning to do about it? Start smoking again? "No, that's no problem," he says, though his concentration is obviously not sharp. Long sessions on the practice tee? "Not necessarily," he says. "I'm playing well. If I can start chipping and putting I'll be in good shape." Intensive practice rounds at Augusta? "No, I think I used up all my good shots in practice there last year. I'll get there Monday or so." All in all, a sensible approach. And don't get carried away by the big ballyhoo of Palmer's troubles. Remember, he wins this one every other year.
"I've always played well on the long courses," says this year's second leading money winner and the golfer who for the last eight months has played about as well as anyone on the tour. "It's because my long irons and woods are the best part of my game." So his golf, too, is well suited to Augusta. Rudolph might also add that though he is not the longest driver on the tour he is one of the straightest, as well as one of its most consistent putters. Another element in his recent success is a change of tactics. "When I first came out I played safe," he says. "I just wanted to build a bankroll. Now I've got that and I can start trying to win titles." His recent victory in the New Orleans Open—over a long course—helped both his bankroll and his confidence. Last year he tied for 15th at Augusta, and he is playing far better golf now than he was then. The question with any young pro is whether he can take the pressure of being a major contender. "I believe so," Rudolph says. "I've blown a few, but now pressure works for me. In the closing holes I'm thinking about birdies instead of pars."
He missed by the margin of a silly two-stroke penalty in 1960, he lost a playoff in 1962 and he tied for fifth last year, but this possessor of one of the tour's steadiest games has still failed to convince many people that he could ever win the Masters. "He's got an awful lot of shots and he's very good around the greens, but..." shrugs one touring pro. "He doesn't have confidence in his hook, and you've got to hook at Augusta," says another. "He can't win because he's not bold enough," says a third. This is hardly a four-star endorsement, and even Finsterwald is not particularly sanguine about his own chances. "I'm not long enough to keep up with guys like Palmer and Nicklaus," he says. "Only if I putt well, will I score well. But the course puts a big premium on putting. You can hit a lot of greens, yet it's hard to get close to the hole." Finsterwald's putting this winter has been as good as ever, and the rest of his game has been sound, if not spectacular. To win at Augusta he will have to stay close to the top and then sink a crucial putt or two on the last 18—which is not so impossible.
Down the fairway, on the green and into the cup is the respectful assessment his fellow professionals make of the man who brought fame to the baseball grip by winning the 1959 Masters. Higher praise could hardly be lavished on a golfer, and now that his sore back is fully mended the praise is all the more justified. "My back used to hurt so much I don't even want to think about it," says the 40-year-old Wall. "Now there is no pain, and I can take a full turn going back and a free swing going through the ball." The result has been dramatic. He won the San Diego Open in January and followed this with three impressive victories on the Caribbean tour. He has regained most of the distance he lost when his back went out in late 1959, and he is hitting the ball much straighter. Where the Masters is concerned, however, Wall's strength lies in his good putting. He agrees with this but adds: "It's partly because I hit the ball to where the putt will be easiest." Wall is one of the quietest and most conservative men on the tour, but he wouldn't mind owning another green coat.
Only in 1946, when Herman Keiser beat Ben Hogan by one stroke, has a genuine long shot won the Masters. The tradition will probably be maintained again next week, but if you are the kind that likes to have a long shot to watch, take Harney. Not quite 35, but now rarely seen on the tour, Harney seems to thrive on inactivity. Last year he arrived at the $100,000 Thunderbird Classic with just time enough to play a nine-hole practice round in shirt and tie, and ended up losing to Palmer in a sudden-death playoff. The next week he nearly won the U.S. Open. "When you play the tour every week you get too involved in it," he says. "Now I feel more relaxed, and I play better." Harney, one of the game's longest hitters, has the length to play well at Augusta. His best showing was sixth in 1961, but he is capable of doing better. Harney dropped off the tour in January, shortly after winning the Los Angeles Open, but he is practicing hard and feels hopeful. "The Masters field isn't all that strong," he says. "Frankly, of the major championships, it is probably the easiest to win."
DAN TODD AND GEORGE W. COBB
A 450-yard par-4 whose fairway rises steeply to the landing area and bends left. An average hitter (circle) must drive safely away from the bunkers at the corner, hit into an upslope and use a long iron to reach the green. The long hitter (grid) can clear the bunkers, land on level fairway and hit a short iron.
A 470-yard par-4 that slopes sharply downhill from the tee and from right to left. Only by boldly skirting the tree-lined left corner can the average hitter get enough roll to set up a mid-iron approach to the green. The long hitter can drive safely down the left center and still have his ball kick down the hill.
A 475-yard par-5 where the average hitter's only chance to reach the green in two and set up an easy birdie is to hit his drive dangerously close to the creek at the left corner. The long hitter can leave a safe margin between his drive and the creek and still hit his ball well around the corner and get home in two.
A 420-yard par-4 with a steep upslope to the landing area. An average hitter's drive lands into the rise. But he must also play into the center of the fairway or risk being stymied by the trees on the right. The long hitter can drive past the corner, reach a flat area and end up 50 to 75 yards nearer the green.