Masters Musings

Masters Musings

Augusta National once again provided the backdrop to a fantastic golf tournament, and produced a popular champion. Phil Mickelson played very solidly, and seems to have found the just the right formula for playing well in majors. Here are two things I am taking away from this year’s Masters:

1.) Phil Did It The Old Fashioned Way
Some traditionalists out there already saying that Phil Mickelson’s successful experiment using two drivers at the Bell South Classic and the Masters is not right. It’s technology trumping talent and somehow, in their eyes, it taints his victory.

I couldn’t disagree more. If anything, Mickelson is going back to the future and using a strategy that’s as old as the game itself. Can you remember Drivers and Brassies?

Before the 14 club rule went into effect, golfers carried lots of clubs and many were designed for very specific situations. There were clubs for hitting out of the water (water club) deep grass and depressions (Rut iron) and other kinds of trouble. You were only limited by your budget and how many clubs your bag could hold.

So in that regard, Phil Mickelson’s strategy of using two drivers — one that has a draw bias and one with a fade bias — is not new at all. His advantage (if you want to call it that) is golf club manufacturers today can now make internal modifications to clubs that can produce the shot you are looking for. But lets remember, good players have been adjusting their equipment for years. Shaving the face of a wooden club to improve ball flight was one way and, lead tape was and is commonly put on clubs by players to help improve or adjust a club’s performance. Mickelson’s weight adjustments are just being done on the inside of the club, not the outside.

Stigmas about golf clubs are falling by the wayside. It used to be that players carried a standard set that included a couple of woods, the standard number of irons plus a pitching and sand wedge. Whatever shots they could hit with that set were the shots they had to play. But today’s player is different. They see a shot that is required and then get their club maker to produce a club that will let them hit that shot. Can you say 60° wedge, hybrid iron, 7-wood, 9-wood or gap wedge? When players saw Tiger’s 2-iron fly driver distance with 7-iron trajectory, they knew they had to do something!

Going forward, I think we will see more and more players looking at the courses they are about to play and thinking about what shots they’ll need to hit. Then, based on their needs, players will put clubs in their bag that will allow them to hit the necessary shots without changing the way they swing. Develop a repeatable swing, and let the equipment adjust the shot.

2.) It’s An All New Augusta
Walking around the course last week, I heard a lot of people say, “The changes to Augusta National have taken the short- and medium-length players out of the running.” With the added length and trees, the course certainly played differently than it had in the past.

I don’t think the changes are necessarily all good or all bad, they just make for a different course. When conditions are fast and firm, the short- and medium-length hitters in the field can compete and win at the Masters. Ben Crenshaw, who is far from being a long hitter at age 54, was very impressive in scoring a pair of 71s on Thursday and Friday.

But under wet conditions that don’t allow the ball to roll out in the fairways, shorter hitters will have to play nearly flawless golf in order to compete, and that’s a tough chore over 72 holes. Big hitters will still be able to get away with a loose shot here and there off the tee.

Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed Augusta National in the early 1930s, inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews, which is exceptionally open and encourages a lot of creativity. Like Augusta, it’s no accident that the Old Course has always been a bombers’ paradise. But with the changes, Augusta now dictates more forcefully what shots the pros must to play. Because of recently added trees and rough, you can’t drive the ball to some places that would give the best angle of attack. I don’t particularly like those strategic qualities being taken away, and because they couldn’t get the proper angle to attack certain hole locations, a lot of players in the 2006 Masters had to bail out and leave themselves long approach putts — or even intentionally aim for bunkers or chipping areas instead of trying to get the ball close. Consequently, the pros in this year’s tournament saw putts no one has had to make in years. And on Augusta’s greens, if you are on the wrong part of the green, you might as well be in a hazard, because the penalty will be at least one extra stoke with the putter.

Will there be more changes to Augusta National? If the tournament committee feels that they need to adjust the course to keep up with technology and maintain the shot values they feel Jones and MacKenzie had in mind, we may not have seen the last of the tweaks to some of the most hallowed ground in golf. But, rest assured, the players will also make adjustments and eventually those “3 iron or stronger” clubs that Jones and MacKenzie had envisioned players using probably won’t even be in their bags.

Peter Kostis, is a Contributing Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE, as well as a Top 100 Teacher and golf analyst for CBS Sports television. E-mail him your thoughts at [email protected]

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