Jack Nicklaus: Six Shots Are Keys to Augusta National

Apr 7, 2016; Augusta, GA, USA; Jack Nicklaus at a press conference during the first round of the 2016 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2016; Augusta, GA, USA; Jack Nicklaus at a press conference during the first round of the 2016 The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus describes 6 critical shots facing the Masters Tournament field.

When Jack Nicklaus talks about how to play Augusta National during the Masters, people should listen.  After all, with six green jackets, his closet is practically exploding.

When Nicklaus talks the players, particularly the Masters first-timers, need to pay attention..

He’s the Hall of Famer who’s completed not 1, not 2, but 3 Grand Slams. And he shared his depth of Augusta National course management experience during his media interview.

"I think this golf course, it keeps everybody off-balance. I don’t care how much you play it or how well you play it."

When the course is wet, he noted, it is not so difficult. But when it dries out, then it’s a problem, Nicklaus explained.

"Once it starts to get firm and the wind starts to blow, and it blows from so many different directions that the golf course changes constantly."

Augusta National Greens

And that’s not all. According to Nicklaus, variable conditions aside, the greens will always challenge.

"I don’t care how good you are, how much you play, the greens are the most severe greens in the game of golf, and I would say they are the most difficult to putt."

Nicklaus, in his prime was an excellent putter, and he made many miracle putts at the Masters as well as in other tournaments, much to the consternation of his opponents.

Critical Tee Shots

But while making putts is critical, Nicklaus said there are some key shots on the back nine that must be well executed to have a chance to win.

"You’ve got about six shots on this golf course that you’ve really got to watch. Your tee shot at 2, and other shots on the front nine are not all that severe. It’s your tee shot on 11, your tee shot on 12, both shots at 13 and your second shot at 15."

He doesn’t think the tee shot at the 16th is difficult, and said it was a middle of the green shot, letting the ball take the slope.

"You’ve really got to watch those shots because that’s where you can build a big score. If you’re smart with those shots on the difficult conditions, and you play them pretty well, then you probably will do pretty well in the tournament."

He suggested a bad tee shot at No.2 can easily lead to an early ticket home.

Course Management and Club Decisions

On the 11th, he said if anyone ever hit left of the hole, he should be hit in the head.

"You always want to be on the right side of the green some, where, I don’t care where that pin was. No sense in bringing that water into play."

At the 12th, which was Jordan Spieth’s demise last year, Nicklaus said,

"If I hit it to the outside, maybe to the front left, if you only had a 9‑iron, it wasn’t too bad. But if that pin was to the right, if I was ever to the right of that bunker, I would have my head examined. If I played the outside edge of that bunker, I played a bad shot."

On the 13th, he didn’t care very much if his tee shot went through the fairway, although that wasn’t the goal. And he added that, while he played a fade, he could turn it if he had to.

"But you just can’t go left, as you know. It multiplies real quick there,” he said about the tee shot. “And then the second shot at 13 was, probably after a good tee shot, was not as dangerous, but obviously, you just make sure that you just do not go right."

Left off the tee is woods and Rae’s Creek.  Right on the second shot is Rae’s Creek.

He remembered a time when he made a bad decision at the 15th on his second shot in 1971, the last of the big decisions when it comes to playing smart.

"I was in position to win the golf tournament, and I decided back at about 255‑some yards to take a 3‑wood, and I hit it in the water. Then I went down and dropped it and dumped it in the water again and made 8."

When he’s asked for advice on the 15th, what Nicklaus tells young guys is to ask themselves if they hit ten shots, how many times are they going to reach the green and how many times are they going to be in the water. He said if it’s half in the water and half not, that wasn’t a good enough percentage to take the shot at the green.

"If I drive it out there to where I’ve got 210, 215 yards or 220 yards or whatever, it might be, and I’ve got a 4‑iron in my hand or something, I know nine times out of ten I’m going to hit it into the water and the tenth time I’m not going to hit it in the water. You just don’t do that."

Those shots are the biggest traps, and may be ones golfers are not able to recover from at all.  They are score-killers.

"When it’s tough, you’ve got to be very patient. And it is very easy to get out of being patient on this golf course."

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Nicklaus did recall a time when Augusta National was not difficult for him.  It was 1965. The greens were firm, but holding. Nicklaus was always one of the longest hitters of his era, and he recalls that he hit 9-irons and wedges into greens.

“It was a very easy game and never got off-balance that week because I shot 271,” he added. His score was a record low for the tournament, bettering Hogan’s 274.

The committee decided to raise the height of the fairways the next April.

"We had nothing but little flyers the next year. The greens were hard as a rock, and the wind blew and the winning score went up 17 strokes. They can control this thing pretty much, what they want to do."

Apparently, they were trying to Nicklaus-proof it.  But he out foxed them.  After missing a 40-foot putt on the 18th that would have won the tournament outright, Nicklaus tapped in to tie with Gay Brewer and Tommy Jacobs.   He then prevailed in a playoff.

With that victory, Nicklaus became the first golfer to win back-to-back Masters tournaments although there was a 17-shot difference in the winning score from 1965 (271) to 1966 (288). So much for Nicklaus-proofing.

Next: 2017 Masters: Five Past Champions to Watch

Let’s see if the first timers were paying attention to Jack. Keep an eye on how they play the 11th and 15th holes. That could be the key to their survival.