Gary Player shows how Augusta and his game have changed in half a century

Monday March 16th, 2009
Gary Player in 1959 (left) and today (right).
Getty Images

When Gary Player notched his first top 10 at the Masters, in 1959, Augusta National played about 520 yards shorter than it does today. The three-time champion discusses what's different today.

MY GAME
THEN: "My yardages in 1959? Driver: 255 yards. Five-iron: 175. Pitching wedge: 125, with a ball that dropped out of the sky like a rock. Like a rock!"
NOW: "Today's lightweight shafts and metal heads allow me to hit the ball the same distance. I'm 5'6", and I use a 46-inch driver that's almost as tall as me. Also, today's balls fly 50 yards longer."

THE COURSE
THEN: "Augusta was so much shorter. I hit irons into most holes and could attack and make birdies. The greens were slower and bumpier. We wore steel spikes, so spike marks riddled the greens. The year Vijay Singh got upset over Phil Mickelson's spike mark [2005], I thought, 'This is nothing!' "
NOW: "It's so long, I hit a wood into 14 greens, all except 3, 8, 12 and 13. When you hit 3-woods into fast, slick greens, you have to chip and putt well. If I break 80, it's an unbelievable score. I shot a 77 and 78 at my last two Masters, two of my all-time top-10 Masters rounds."

FAIRER FAIRWAYS
THEN: "Today every lie is near perfect. But I remember in '62, I was three ahead of Arnold Palmer in a playoff. We're side by side in the fairway on the par-5 13th. He had a perfect lie; my ball was slightly below the surface. He went for the green in two and made birdie. I laid up and made par. Arnold won."
NOW: "The most immaculate fairways in golf. If they found a single weed, the greenskeeper would be fired."

THE LONG HAUL
THEN: "Before jets, it took 40 hours to get there from South Africa, with five stops: Johannesburg, Zimbabwe, the Belgian Congo, Dakar, New York, Augusta. Jet lag? No! I'm a champion sleeper."
NOW: "Seventeen hours nonstop, in a 747. Things have changed. I once flew Paris to New York to L.A. to Hawaii to Fiji to Sydney to Royal Melbourne Golf Club, which I'd never played. Got there two hours before my tee time and won by seven shots.

IN 2059...
"Today's Tour players are dwarfs compared to what we're going to see. It's tragic. Courses will keep getting longer because players will get bigger, stronger — the size of Shaquille O'Neal — and they will hit the ball much farther than Tiger Woods. This is gonna happen as sure as God made little apples."

PLAYER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
If your tee shots max out at about 250 yards, you can relate to the challenges that face Player at Augusta National. Here are two holes in particular that leave Player pining for the days (and yardages) of old.

No. 11, PAR 4
1959: 455 YDS 2009: 505 YDS

1959: "I hit driver, which would roll down into a nice, flat area, the lowest part of the course. Then a nice 5-iron in, about 170 yards."
2009: "It's unbelievably long. I need my best drive, then I might have a 3-wood off the side of a slope, and I have to keep away from the pond. Brutal."

No. 18, PAR 4
1959: 405 YDS 2009: 465 YDS

1959: "Driver off the tee, 255 yards. That left me with a 6-iron in. It wasn't easy, but it was fair, and you could make birdie."
2009: "Driver, 3-wood — and my drive lands halfway up a hill, so it plays longer. It's the same on No. 1 [fairway]. The length changed Augusta for me. I'm happy to break 80."

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