Did Augusta National Ruin or Improve The 13th Hole?

Jordan Spieth, The Masters, 13th at Augusta National,Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Jordan Spieth, The Masters, 13th at Augusta National,Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

When you hear that Dustin Johnson laid up on the 13th green at Augusta National in a practice round, it’s a little like hearing the angle of the earth tilted a notch or two on its axis. But it happened last week. Twice.

D.J. was playing a practice round at the more-than-famous course with Patrick Reed. Reed explained the change in the challenge of the hole to a Golf Digest writer during a LIV event in Orlando.

What is it like now? Reed used a hybrid for his second shot. He noted that with the ball above his feet, which promotes a draw or even hook, the ball is coming in lower than it would with the 4-iron or less that he normally uses on that hole.

The 7-iron or 8-iron shot, used by many in the past, depending on the success of the tee shot, may be a thing of memories.  If players are using 4-iron or hybrid, the ball is going to be harder to stop on the greens at Augusta National than when using a 7 or 8-iron.  Especially when they are what Reed called “tournament speed.”

"“I’m looking forward to the 13th tee.”  “I want to see how that really affects how they play the hole.”   – Andy North"

The hole at Augusta National, well known for the beauty of the green setting as well as many disasters and miraculous eagles, has now been lengthened from 510 yards to 545 yards from the back-back-back tee.

While the change may take some of the excitement out of the course, no one is saying that the club will play the hole at full length all four days. If they do, that could certainly ruin the excitement of Amen corner. 

But perhaps excitement isn’t what Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones had in mind. Perhaps what they had in mind is what they call a tough decision and a well-executed shot.

Curtis Strange faced that exact problem at Augusta National in 1985.

Should he hit 4-wood and take a chance that he could get across Rae’s Creek?  Or should he lay up? He landed in the water because he hit the shot too far to the right. Had it gone where he wanted, it would have cleared.

“At 13, the ball was above my feet, you’re supposed to hook that shot, but I pushed it,” he said after the 1985 round, according to the New York Times, which also said Strange had 200 yards to the front of the green.

Strange lost the Masters that year because of that shot and another poor one on the 15th hole at Augusta National.

“The thing that I always thought was so cool about the 13th hole was the second shot,” said Andy North during an ESPN preview call.

"“You put it out there in the middle of the fairway, and you’ve got a lie where the ball is literally 18 inches above your feet, and you’re trying to hit a 2- or 3-iron or 4-wood, whatever, that length of shot in there. To me that was just such a cool shot, and it was a difficult shot, and you had to just suck it up and hit it. I love that hole.”"

It hasn’t been quite like that lately.

A 200-yard shot is probably less than a 6-iron these days, depending on the golfer. In 2000, Tiger Woods hit one of his greatest shots ever at the Canadian Open.

It was on the 18th hole in the final round where he hit a 6-iron from a bunker to have a shot at winning the tournament, which, of course, he did. It was 208 yards.

Phil Mickelson’s shot out of the pine straw at the 2010 Masters was an 8-iron, and the distance was 187 yards. Mickelson won that year.

Those examples are just for comparison to show the differences in the way golfers played in the past compared to the near pitch and putt some holes have become.  When golfers are hitting driver or 3-wood off the tee and 7- or 8-irons to the green on a par 5, an adjustment is needed somewhere.

“To me, it could actually be an easier tee shot. It just depends on how much they want to take away,” Curtis Strange said in an ESPN media call about the Masters.

“We saw so many people, players over the years go through the fairway whereas we couldn’t hit it really far enough to get through the fairway.”

He suggested if golfers have to hit 2-irons or 4-woods or hybrids into the 13th green we would find out how good they really are.

“I don’t care what position in the tournament you are in, if you’ve got a nice lie with a 4-wood, 208 to the front of the green, I don’t know who’s going to lay up, honestly,” Strange added.

He said knowing the 1985 outcome, he’d never do the same thing again, but he just thinks that distance today is not a layup.

“The ball is above your feet on a downslope, but I’ve got a 4-iron. That’s a whole lot easier shot than hitting a 2- or 3-iron off of that lie,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to the 13th tee,” Andy North said.

"“I want to see how that really affects how they play the hole. I suspected the longer guys can still go 3-woods there around the corner and hit it on easily or maybe take driver up around the corner.”  –  Andy North"

So, will there be fewer roars because there are fewer chances to go for the green? Or will golfers still be able to reach the green easily in two shots?

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The changes to the 13th at Augusta National could mean that there is less volatility on the leaderboard on the weekend.  It could mean a lead is safer because there are fewer chances for birdie and eagle.

If you love watching car crash golf, will 13 now be more like 12 in terms of round wrecking?  And most importantly will the change ruin watching the Masters? We won’t know until Thursday.