AUGUSTA, Ga. — People get confused about Amen Corner, but I got this straight from the fountainhead, Mr. Herbert Warren Wind himself. That is, the man who invented the phrase. (His long writing career included two major stops, The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated.) The name is, properly, Amen Corner, and not, the Amen Corner, although it is thoroughly charming to hear Jon Rahm, the young Spaniard with perfect command of English as a second language, refer to it that way. When Rahm talks to his golf ball, he does it in English. Seve’s colorful muttering was always in his native tongue.
Many people seem to think that Amen Corner is the whole of holes number 11, 12 and 13. For starters, that would not comprise a corner. Amen Corner is the second shot at the par-4 11th through its completion, followed by all of the par-3 12th and concluding with the tee shot on the par-5 13th. If your ball stays dry through Amen Corner, you already have cause to say, “Hallelujah.” Not Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Mildred Bailey’s suggested hallelujah from Shoutin’ in the Amen Corner. That’s where Herb got that bit of two-word magic, having first heard it at Yale, in the ‘30s. He used it in his 1958 SI Masters game story and an editor grabbed a piece of it for the headline: “The Fateful Corner.” That Arnold won that week — his first Masters and first major — surely helped give the phrase legs.
This preamble is intended to set the stage for this news bulletin: a male professional golfer does not fully come of age as an elite until he plays Amen Corner on a Masters Saturday with the tournament on the line. It is an unspoken part of a four-part secret bucket list for the Modern American Tour star. The other line items are these:
1. Playing your first shot in a Ryder Cup.
2. Getting paired with Tiger Woods often enough that it becomes something like a routine activity, even though it never is.
3. Playing in the last group of a Tour event on a Sunday with Johnny Miller of NBC critiquing, and ultimately praising, your play.
Patrick Reed has now checked off the Big Four, and he has done it in style. He is only 27 years old. (You would have guessed older, right?) He played in his first Ryder Cup in 2014 — four years ago already. Earlier that year, Reed won at Doral, from the last group, Johnny Miller digging his whole down-and-left draw action. When Woods made his (temporary) return to tournament golf at his Hero World Challenge in 2016, he paired himself with Reed, his Sunday sartorial doppelgänger, and it was no big deal.
On Saturday, in the 82nd Masters, Reed checked off No. IV. Eleven, at 500 yards, is great for a left-handed slicer like Bubba Watson, but it gives fits to the dwindling number of Tour players who can step up and hit high draws with the driver. Patrick Reed is not one of those players. His smashed into-the-breeze tee shot on Saturday’s soft fairways left him 176 yards to the hole, which was frontish and leftish. Welcome to the corner, kid.
“Six short of where I wanted to fly that,” Reed told his caddie, Kessler Karain, his brother-in-law, when the ball came to a halt on the front edge. Still, it was dry, and the two-putt was easy and a 4 on 11 is never a bad thing.
The old wisdom on 12 is that you have to read the swirling winds but there wasn’t much wind by the time Reed got there, late on Saturday afternoon, rain clouds moving in. What you hear less about it is the role adrenaline plays in that tee shot. Reed played two years at Augusta University. His parents live on the outskirts of Augusta today. (He does not speak to them.) He was playing in his fifth Masters and leading it. Do you think he might have been a little pumped up?
The tee shot was long, the pitch was indifferent, the putt for 4 was a tap-in. The hole is only 160 yards, if that. Four is not the worst score you can make there. Arnold would tell you that. One dropped shot in the corner for P. Reed. But nothing wet.
A lot can go wrong on the tee shot on 13. (See: Garcia, Sergio, 2017 Masters, Sunday.) The creek that runs down the left side of the hole? It’s in play more than you might think. Not so much for member play. That’s where the trees on the right see so much action. But for the fellas, in early April. Herb Wind knew that well. You can overcook the draw shot, easily. Reed did not. Let’s play his eagle putt backward. It was set up by a smashed second from 228. And that was set up by a rock-solid baby-draw tee shot. He had played 11, 12 and 13 in one under par.
In his Saturday round in 1958, in the days before Herb Wind coined his magical phrase, Arnold Palmer played 11, 12 and 12 with a par, a bogey and a birdie. He rinsed his tee shot on 12, according to the thorough game story of Johnny Hendricks, the sports editor of The Augusta Chronicle. Arnold went on to win, and you can read all about it in “The Fateful Corner.” Sixty years later, Patrick Reed might follow suit.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]