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 back nine at Augusta National (you'll find his front-nine breakdown here).
No. 10: Camellia (Par 4, 500 yards)
Most guys hit 3-wood but some guys hit driver because it's one of those tee balls that you want to be turning over, and if you hit a 3-wood that lands 275 yards and a driver that lands 300 yards, they're probably going to end up in the same spot. That's the unique part about that hole - you don't have to hit it as far as you would think given that it's 500-plus yards. It doesn't really need to be a driver; a 3-wood can go just as far if it gets the right flight and the right kind of bounce.
... I don't think there is a harder second shot on the golf course. It's a very narrow green and you're hitting it off a downhill lie. You're hitting a 5-iron or 6-iron and the green is narrow and you don't want to hit it and miss it on either side. You're getting into a stretch here where a four goes a long way.
No. 11: White Dogwood (Par 4, 505 yards)
I think No. 11 is top-three hardest holes on the course. You get on 11 tee and it’s a driver for everybody and you just have to keep it left of center, because if you get it on the right side you get blocked out pretty quickly. In the olden days, guys would blow it up the right side, over the trees, and guys would be fine. You can't do that anymore. Those trees go a long way up there, they're thick, and they're well-placed. They think of everything at Augusta, and if one guy gets away with it up the right side, they're going to put a tree right there next year. Anything short right to the green is a good miss. You still have a hard chip, but it certainly beats the alternative.
No. 12: Golden Bell (Par 3, 155 yards)
I was playing with Mike (Weir, 2003 Masters champion) in a practice round and he said you had to wait to get the wind you want for your shot and then just commit to whatever you feel like it is. You can't second-guess yourself. We were talking about the wind and I was over my shot and lo and behold, the wind flipped while I'm over the ball and I backed off. ... It's spinning around down there. The flag on 11 is doing one thing and the flag on 12 is doing something else. Most guys told me to look at the flag on 11 because that gives you the best indication about what the wind is doing. To the left pins, you can be a tad more aggressive, but to the right pins, you're looking right over that bunker. Get the middle-of-the-green yardage and commit to the shot you're going to hit. Then, fire away.
No. 13: Azalea (Par 5, 510 yards)
Being on that 13th tee is so cool because there are no patrons, nothing but the golfers. You're there looking at the throng of people on 12 and up the side of the fairway but it's just, on the tee, a few guys, a couple caddies, and you're just chilling back there, playing some golf. It's so quiet. That's the coolest part of the course.
If you're a guy that doesn't draw the ball too much, that's a hole I'm trying to hit 3-wood up the left side. You want to get it around the corner but guys can play it from the right side. If you hit that right-to-left shot, send it around. But if you get a 5-iron or a 4-iron in your hand for the second shot it's a bit of a green-light special and it's one of the holes at Augusta you need to attack. The green is deceptively difficult, like all of them. It's a green that's got a lot going on, but it's probably my favorite hole on the course.
No. 14: Chinese Fir (Par 4, 440 yards)
I end up hitting 3-wood off the tee, out to the corner so I leave myself a little bit further in, but it's important to be in the fairway on that hole and not run it into the trees. Most guys will do that, but depends on the shape of their shot. It's a green where there's a lot going on and it reminds me of No. 5. The front part (of the green) is basically just a giant false front. You just need to be beyond that ridge at all costs. Coming up that slope it's really difficult to judge your speed and pace. If you're in the fairway there, it's a legitimate birdie opportunity.
No. 15: Firethorn (Par 5, 530 yards)
You're hoping to walk off the green with a (birdie). It's a very gettable par 5 but guys make big numbers there. It's not a pushover by any means because you could hit a wedge in there with a little too much spin and you're back in the water and you're hitting the same shot again. Some guys go for the green but miss it long, and then they chip it back in the water. Your work isn't done even if you hit it near the green or lay up to a nice wedge number. That's a hole with two good shots hopefully you're putting, and there's a chance for a birdie or eagle.
No. 16: Redbud (Par 3, 170 yards)
Another hole where the pin dictates what kind of scoring opportunity you have. When they put the pin in the Sunday location, it's really quite inviting for a shot that's a little right of the pin and you can use the slope. But if you put the pin top right, guys are afraid to go long because it's an automatic bogey. That hole can be very challenging depending on the pin, but you get that Sunday pin and it can be a scoring opportunity.
No. 17: Nandina (Par 4, 460 yards)
It's straight away, so you just send driver. It used to be about 400 yards but now it's 460, so it’s not driver-wedge anymore. It's driver and a good mid-iron. When you get it into the fairway it's a (birdie) opportunity because, of all the greens, it probably has the least going on ... it's probably one of the most benign.
No. 18: Holly (Par 4, 465 yards)
It's probably one of the hardest tee balls on the golf course. It doesn't allow you to be off, with the size of the chute you're coming out of. You could just hit a marginal tee shot and clip one of those trees and you're in for a long hole. With the iron shot, all you're doing is to try to get on the proper level because then you have a good look. The tee ball is everything on 18 because once you get past that you have a chance to make a birdie. It wants you to bend it around the corner, but you could just hit one straight at the bunkers and be fine. Guys could try to hit one around the corner, clip a tree, and then you've got to hit a low shot from the pine straw and your life becomes pretty difficult.
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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