Johnny Miller's guide to Augusta National

Johnny Miller’s guide to Augusta National

He never won the Masters, but Johnny Miller did play in 19 of them, finishing runner-up three times. In this no-holes-barred tour of Augusta National, the game’s best analyst reveals Augusta’s toughest shots, the hole he’d redesign, and how he blew his best chance at a green jacket.


So many things can happen here because you have to fit your drive between those pine trees left, and the right hills and the rough. If you get it over there you’re confronted with the hardest shot in golf, which is when you want to hit a high ball off a downslope. When you do that, like when Seve lost the Masters to Nicklaus [in ’86], you’re on that little downhill lie. Then you’re trying to get it up in the air, and you hit it thin right in the pond. So that second shot is amazing because you must swing with the slope and hit a high cut that will hold that shallow green. If you lay it up, you’ve got that downhill lie again, and you’re trying to hit it high, and you can hit it thin or fat. And over the green, all kinds of bad things happen. This is probably the most compelling hole. You can have the eagle-bogey exchange. There are many great holes at Augusta, but to pick one hole, I’d go with 15.

No. 12: A “CRAZY” HOLE

I don’t want to say there’s luck involved on this hole, but, well, there’s sort of luck involved. It’s a crazy hole; I’ve seen a guy hit a really good shot and hit the middle of the pond when a gust of wind came out of nowhere. That wind comes down 13 and swirls around over to 11 green, so you never know what’s going to happen. In some ways, it’s a very intriguing hole, but it’s not the kind of hole I like because I prefer a hole that has perfect strategy, where there’s not luck involved.


One reason Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have done so well at the Masters is that they hit a high fade. Augusta favors a hook off a lot of tees but a fade works for approach shots. Many holes on the front nine favor a high fade, especially the par-3 fourth. No. 4 is treacherous. It can eat your lunch because of that front-right bunker. It’s a double-bogey hole because you can bury your tee shot in that bunker, and it’s easier to do that if you hit a hook, rather than a nice, high fade. From there, it’s tough getting the bunker shot to within 30 feet, and then you can 3-putt a big ol’ sweeping right-to-left putt. But if you play to the left side of the green and cut it, regardless of where the pin is placed, you’re in good shape. It’s one of the hardest holes on the front nine. Bury your ball in that bunker and the bunker will bury you.


The 13th is an amazing hole because you hit it around the corner on that big sidehill lie, and the green is designed for a cut. So you have these contrasting things going on. You’ve got a hook lie, and you need to hit a high cut. That’s why the guys that win Augusta can usually cut their long shots in to the green, and so 13 is an amazing second shot because the lie wants you to hook it, which the green does not let you do. So that hole, that second shot on that hole is very underrated. A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to pull that shot off.


If I could redesign one hole, it’d be 18. It’s pretty good but not a sensational finishing hole. It could be so much better if the green was farther back and to the left. It could be a tougher, more dangerous par. The drive is difficult, but once you get it out there, you’re not scared to death. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not bad to have a birdie hole that maybe lets a guy force a playoff, but I’ll put it this way: There’s no such thing as a great uphill hole in all of golf. Uphill holes don’t set up well. They’re not pleasant to play. The best shots are when you have a plateau and the green is a little below you. It’s pretty. It shows off the hole. An example is No. 8 at Pebble, which is perched up on a plateau, with the cliff and hole in front of you, the green sitting there on the edge. That’s probably the greatest second shot in all of golf. Not only does it play great, it looks great. Uphill holes are blind. For a finishing hole at Augusta, 18 is kind of bland.


My most nerve-racking moment at Augusta was the ’75 Masters, that great battle with the three best players in the game at the time — Tom Weiskopf, Jack Nicklaus and myself. I was challenging Jack to be the No. 1 player in the world, and then I got off to a bad start. I shot a 71 the second round and a 65 on Saturday with six straight birdies on the front nine. On Sunday I was trailing Weiskopf and Nicklaus by a shot or two, and I birdied the 71st, which put me one back of Jack, who was in the group ahead. It was the first time I got within a shot [of Jack] and I’d tied Weiskopf. Suddenly, all this fun I had chasing the lead horses, I’m within a shot of them. I finally have a chance — birdie the last hole and I probably force a playoff — and all this nervous adrenaline came through. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck went up. I got too nervous — probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. A fun nervous but nervous nonetheless. If I have any regrets, it’s the second shot on the 72nd hole. One part of me said go right at the flag, and the other part of me said, “Gee, the pin’s front left, don’t go at the pin, you might go down the hill on the left.” I hit it to within an inch of where I was aiming. If I’d aimed at the pin, it probably would have been a “leaner” because it was dead pin high. I think that was part of the nervousness. I still have regrets about that decision.


1. Jack Nicklaus winning in 1986. The guy’d been written off. But they say every great fighter has one last great fight in him, and this was Jack’s last great fight. And who you beat at Augusta is important. He didn’t beat some Cinderella stories. It’s one thing to beat an Ed Sneed; it’s another when Greg Norman and Seve are involved.

2. In 1975, the three best players in the world went head-to-head…to head. I was one of them, along with Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf. I don’t think we’ve ever seen literally the three best players in the world in two groups go at it. And we all played our A-game. No A-minuses. A-game. As good as it gets. (Nicklaus beat Miller and Weiskopf by a stroke.)

3. Call this a three-way tie for third. Ben Crenshaw’s win in 1995, after Harvey Penick died, was pretty darned good. Nick Faldo’s come-from-behind win in 1996 was special because he shot 67 on a course playing brutally tough, and it was Norman’s last big hurrah. And Phil Mickelson getting his first major, in 2004 — that was pretty great.