A rookie on the PGA Tour a year ago, Mackenzie Hughes captured the RSM Classic in November 2016 - and with it, he earned a spot in the 2017 Masters Tournament.
After experiencing the patrons, the clubhouse, the stories, and the competition, he’s anxious to get back to Augusta National once again.
One of the world’s most iconic golf courses, Augusta is a tricky, beautiful, long, pristine, mind-boggling layout that has felled many a man who's teed it up since the tournament debuted in 1934.
It has one of the smallest fields in golf (this year will be its smallest since 1988), and subtle tweaks have been made to the course for years as it adjusts to the modern game.
The names of each hole have stayed the same (they’re all named after plants to pay tribute to the fact the club was a nursery prior to becoming a golf course), and viewers of the tournament feel like they know the course. However, until you get inside the ropes, it’s tough to truly appreciate Augusta National’s difficulty.
Hughes says Augusta is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one - golfers must stay focused or a bogey or worse can creep up on them quickly. There are a lot of holes where par is a good score, he says, and success has a lot to do with playing angles and finding a way to approach a green aggressively, versus being on the wrong side of the hole or the fairway.
Here, Hughes breaks down how a PGA Tour pro plays the front nine at Augusta National.
No. 1: Tea Olive (Par 4, 445 yards)
TV doesn’t do justice how uphill that hole is. It looks like it’s a gentle dogleg right, but you need to keep your tee-ball in the fairway there. If you land in the bunker it’s incredibly difficult to get on the green. You need a good drive, and really, you’re just trying to hit it in the middle of the green (because) of all the greens, I think it’s the most underrated, difficult one. It’s the most perched up. If you’re long right to a right pin, your shot is so difficult that you’re just making yourself silly out of the gates. Knock it on the middle of the green, take your two putts, and a four is a great score there.
No. 2: Pink Dogwood (Par 5, 575 yards)
A lot of guys hit 3-wood here. From (where you end up) you could hit another 3-wood or a 5-wood because it plays so far downhill from up top. If you’re up top, say you have 270 yards, it’s more like 250 yards. Some guys choose to blow it past that bunker, but it really depends on who the player is. A guy like (Rory) McIlroy … it’s going to suit him to hit a high draw down there and probably have 8-iron in. It all depends on the guy. You really have to pay attention to where that pin is. There are a lot of ways to play that hole, but you really have to be strategic for where the pin is, and where your second shot goes. It’s not about just hitting it on the green.
No. 3: Flowering Peach (Par 4, 350 yards)
On a normal day, guys could hit driver and get it up there close to the green where they have a small pitch or a flip wedge. That can be great for those back pins, but for the front pins, TV doesn’t do it justice for how far below level from the green you are. Those pitches could be difficult if you’ve got a front pin, so I thought laying it back where you had a wedge in your hand wasn’t going to be a bad play, but you will see guys push it up there. That’s one that depends on the pin. If the pin is in the back, hit it up there and pitch it on. If it’s on the front, lay back, hit a wedge, and try to get a (birdie) look.
No. 4: Flowering Crab Apple (Par 3, 240 yards)
Even when you’re going after that right pin you can be kind of aggressive because even if you get into that bunker, you have a good chance of getting it up and down, but again, you just want to make a three there and move on. You want to try to get it on the proper level, but on the green, putting … that’s a great shot. It’s one of those holes where if you make par, you’re very happy and maybe making up shots on the field. There are probably five or six holes at Augusta where a par goes a long way, and that’s one of them.
In practice, I played it all the way back at 230 or 235 yards and I hit 5-wood. It’s not a fun green to hit a 5-wood into, I’ll tell you that. But they typically won’t play it all the way back.
No. 5: Magnolia (Par 4, 455 yards)
You don’t want to hit it right (off the tee), but left you’re just as screwed down there. You really need to hit the ball in the fairway and on the proper level down there. It’s just a 3-wood for most guys, favoring the right-center. That left side, you could hook it around the corner, but trying to control it to that green is really tough. The way that green sits, you’re just trying to get something into the middle of that green and it’s good to any pin. There’s a big ridge, and you want to pitch it just over that because on the proper level, in the back, it gives you a pretty good look to any pin. It’s one of those holes that if the pin is just over that ridge and you have a putt up the hill, it’s so hard to get the right speed. It’s a huge hill to get up, and then it starts running up as soon as its there. The green is so fast that it’s just a huge headache if you have to hit that putt. It’s another one of those holes that if you make four, then you’re ahead of the game.
No. 6: Juniper (Par 3, 180 yards)
The hardest pin is back right, and they use it twice. So two of the four days you’re hitting a shot from 190 yards, downhill, to a dining room table with different levels and the wind swirling in the trees. You really have to hit a great shot there and if you miss that level, your putt or your chip up to that level is incredibly difficult. You need to hit a good shot there. Left pins are more accessible, but making a three to a right pin is a good score.
No. 7: Pampas (Par 4, 450 yards)
In the past, No. 7 may have been a birdie hole, but I never got to experience it that way. Generally, if guys hit a good drive there then yes, it’s a hole guys could make a birdie on. It’s a green that isn’t overly deep. The pin on Sunday has everything funnel towards it, but the other pins on that green during the week are pretty difficult because they are on very small sections of greens. The way they’ve lengthened Augusta, No. 7 is a hole that you shouldn’t be too disappointed if you make a par. If you make four 4’s there I still think you’re ahead of the field for the week. You need a good drive, it’s relatively narrow, but then you need a good iron shot to the proper section of the green.
No. 8: Yellow Jasmine (Par 5, 570 yards)
There’s no one, with the way the tee is now, driving into that hill - everyone is driving it to the base of that hill or maybe just on the upslope. The tee shot is so long and the bunker is in play. In the past, it’s been one of those tee balls guys used to take advantage of. Tiger (Woods), in the late-90’s, could probably just blow it over that bunker and move on. But you really need to think about that tee shot, and if you get it in play, you can take advantage of that hole. If you’re short right, you can have lots of options with your pitch to any pin. It’s one of those holes that you want to make a birdie on then you buckle up for the next stretch.
No. 9: Carolina Cherry (Par 4, 460 yards)
It’s a great hole. Like No. 1, I think it’s an underrated hole at Augusta. It requires a lot of you because off the tee, you have to find a good landing area. You have to hit a good tee ball, then you’re hitting a mid or short-iron but off a very severe, downhill, left-to-right lie. You have to hit two great shots, but then after that, your work isn’t done yet. The green is really severe back-to-front, so even if you hit it 20 feet above the hole, you’re playing defense. It’s a birdie opportunity, but bogeys are everywhere you look at Augusta, including here.
Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He's also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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