AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | During a Monday afternoon practice round, Zach Johnson and Lucas Glover walked off Augusta National’s 10th green, down a slope and then turned up the hill toward the newly relocated 11th tee.
Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, kept his head down trudging up the hill behind Glover.
“Come on,” Glover said.
“I don’t want to look yet,” Johnson said.
He wanted to get the full effect of the changes to a hole that has played as the second-most difficult in Masters history yet has been lengthened this year by 15 yards, with the tee being shifted to the golfer’s left. White Dogwood, as it is named, now measures 520 yards, and the case can be made that it gets progressively more difficult as it goes.
Tough got tougher.
When he reached the tee, Johnson paused for a moment and took a breath. Turning around, he looked at the new perspective – which offers a wide tee-shot corridor – and said, “Holy crap.”
It’s different, for sure.
“I think it’s going to be a more difficult golf hole than it used to be,” Rory McIlroy said of a hole that has played to an average score of 4.30 since Masters statistics began in 1942.
In the perpetual cycle of refining and reworking Augusta National, the changes to the 11th hole are the most substantial on the course since last year.
There have been other changes. Three greens – the third, the 13th and the 17th – have been re-grassed, with some subtle changes made to the contouring with the goal of adding a new hole location on each green.
The par-5 15th tee was moved back 20 yards, and the fairway was recontoured so that tee shots are likely to kick to the left, raising the risk of having the second shot at the 550-yard hole obstructed by trees along the left side.
Another 13 yards has been added to the 18th hole, making an already difficult tee shot at the 465-yard par 4 even more challenging through a tunnel of trees. Around the clubhouse, three buildings, including the pro shop, have been torn down and completely rebuilt, looking exactly as they did one year ago because that’s how Augusta can do it.
The alterations to the 11th hole figure to have the most substantial impact on how the tournament unfolds. It’s part of the Augusta mindset of continual improvement set forth by founder Bobby Jones and continued through the years.
“We believe these enhancements will improve the strategy of these holes,” chairman Fred Ridley said.
The forest of trees planted along the right side of the 11th fairway in the days of chairman Hootie Johnson to deal with the distance dilemma have been thinned out. … What’s different is the placement of three new trees – fully grown – in the right side of the fairway as it begins to tumble toward the green.
By shifting the 11th tee to the left and clearing out a significant number of trees along the right side, the tee shot looks and plays differently. The fairway is almost 60 yards wide at one point and offers a more open look than before.
“It’s a more generous tee shot,” McIlroy said. “It was always an awkward tee shot.”
“You had to hug that right side, and then if you just got it slightly right, you were in those trees. You had to be very fortunate to have a shot to the green unless you blew it way right into that sort of alleyway where people walk.
“So, the tee shots may be slightly easier, but then it leaves you with a longer second shot in, and I think that’s where the hole becomes a lot more difficult.”
The forest of trees planted along the right side of the 11th fairway in the days of chairman Hootie Johnson to deal with the distance dilemma has been thinned out. Too far to the right and there is still tree trouble.
What’s different is the placement of three new trees – fully grown – in the right side of the fairway as it begins to tumble toward the green. They are enough of a menace to keep players from firing away at the right side from the tee.
“Obviously the right side’s a little more friendly, but there’s still … if you miss it right, you’re behind those trees,” said Dustin Johnson, the 2020 Masters champion.
Not only will the second shot be longer, but the target area is different. The pond guarding the left side of the green has been extended toward the fairway, minimizing a conservative landing area.
Additionally, the traditional “bailout” area to the right of the green has been redesigned. Basically flat previously, it now has a noticeable dropoff into what is likely to be a busy collection area.
“It’s more so a second-shot hole now, which I think is great for that hole, and they made the miss to the right more severe, which just in turn makes that second shot just a little bit harder,” said Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters winner.
Some purists might question the change, considering Ben Hogan said he always intended to miss the 11th green to the right side.
Remember the Larry Mize chip-in to win the 1987 Masters?
It won’t be duplicated now because the hole design is different.
“What they did on 11 is interesting, just from the standpoint that we’re further back, and then we thought the Larry Mize shot is gone,” said Tiger Woods, a five-time Masters champion. “Now it’s really gone, with them raising the green up even more on the right-hand side, and we’re further back, so we’re more prone to hit the ball over there anyways. So it’s a harder and more difficult pitch.”
How much more difficult?
It’s time to find out.
For first-round pairings, click HERE.
Top: A view from Augusta National’s 11th tee. Photo: Courtesy Augusta National
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