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.