The secrets of Amen Corner: Dawn to dusk at golf's most famous stretch of holes

The secrets of Amen Corner: Dawn to dusk at golf’s most famous stretch of holes

AUGUSTA, Ga. — On a rollicking Moving Day at my first Masters, I decided to take in the day’s action from golf’s most nicknamed territory: Amen Corner. And not just the golf. Here’s how the action went down, from dawn to dusk, at the game’s most famous stretch of holes.

7:00 a.m. Fans — sorry, patrons! — have been lined up at the front gates since just after 6, but Augusta is finally open. The crowds stream through the entrance and disperse hurriedly throughout the grounds, but remember: no running! Top speedwalker wins.

7:07 a.m. The first of these speedwalkers arrive at Amen Corner. 7:07 is, of course, an approximation; your favorite GOLF.com staffer was still in bed. But we can be fairly sure of it, because this a daily Augusta tradition: a large percentage of those in the know take their Masters-branded green fold-up chairs and disperse to their favorite spots throughout the course. There’s a specific protocol to this madness: certain areas are designated for the chairs, which are sorted by employees into neat lines. Once you drop your chair, no need to camp out: drop a business card in the rear pocket. This works because the Masters is the sort of place where everyone carries business cards, and more simply because it’s the way Augusta has decided it should work.

8:35 a.m. I arrive at Amen Corner for a quick scouting mission; it’s interrupted by the calling of a higher power: breakfast. Beeline to the media castle.

10:15 a.m. After a healthy helping of press center bacon (’tis a spoiled life we lead), I head out onto the course with colleague Sean Zak to take in the beginning of the day’s action. Tiger Woods, human crowd vacuum, is about to tee off on No. 1 and has sucked in most of the patrons.

11:05 a.m. We follow Woods for a couple holes, but besides the opening tee shot (a 340-yard laserbeam) this turns out to be kind of a bummer. When things aren’t going well in the Tiger gallery, the collective frustration can be pretty deflating. After watching back-to-back bogeys end any hope of a dream comeback, it’s time to settle in for the day at a place with better vibes. Amen Corner awaits.

11:15 a.m. After a stroll across No. 17, No. 15, and No. 14, then down along the fairway at No. 13, we’ve arrived. The full-bloom azaleas behind the green at No. 12 are staring us right in the face. It’s a striking sight, unmatched on property. Only problem? The rain has started up again. We take shelter under the trees.

11:18 a.m. The rain slows to a drizzle, so we venture up into the bleachers. I wipe down my seat with the sleeve of my jacket, which sort of helps.

11:20 a.m. As we settle into our spots, I start to take in the day’s sights and sounds. From left to right: a verbal panorama: The last 150 yards of No. 11, with woods beyond. The pond guarding the left side of the green. A large leaderboard on the far side of the pond. The green itself, looking slick. In the foreground, No. 12 tee. Further right, Hogan’s Bridge proudly crests over Rae’s Creek. Beyond that sits the skinny 12th green, flanked by bunkers. Further away still, tucked in a quiet corner, the 13th tee. Then, back across that bridge, a wide expanse of fairway and then the woods to the right of the 13th fairway. Here’s a picture.

[image:14116727]​11:25 a.m. There are no spectators allowed on the far side of Rae’s Creek here, but a close study reveals several people on the far side: Two cameramen, killing time. Three scoreboard operators, tucked in chairs in the bushes over the pond, barely visible. A handful of stealthy grounds crew, perhaps security, in the woods beyond. Two men, one in a blazer, peering at some areas around the 12th green, doing important-looking pointing and foot-tapping. Greenskeepers? For there being nothing going on, there’s a lot going on.

11:35 a.m. The bleachers are probably 10 percent full at this point, and a similar percent occupy the green chairs in front. There’s no real point in being here, after all: Paul Casey was first off No. 1 tee at 10 a.m. and won’t be around for the better part of an hour.

11:40 a.m. Augusta’s no-phone policy has a way of freeing up the mind. “People talk a lot about the future of Augusta, but I’ll tell you what it is,” Sean says, looking across the creek. “VIP treehouses.” In the moment, this makes a lot of sense.

In front of us, there is some forecasting going on — again without the benefit of any actual information. “I heard from somebody that they heard it’s going to clear around noon,” one woman says.

11:45 a.m. Now that we’ve settled in, it’s striking to consider the contrast between the pent-up frustration around the Tiger crowd and the chillness around us now. With no technology to turn to nor action to distract, people around us are sitting and having actual conversations. It’s rather like being at a public park, but with a lot more booze. Maybe a bird sanctuary, although “are the birds real?” is a question I’ve been trying to answer all week. There definitely ARE birds around, but it seems like there’s more bird noise than there are birds. More work to be done on this front.

11:55 a.m. The bleachers have filled significantly by now, and the sun is peeking out. “I heard from someone that their friend said it would get nice around noon,” a woman in front of us says. Weatherman status! The man in front of her still has his umbrella up anyway, a sturdy green-and-white Augusta number. I’m vaguely annoyed by the umbrella because it’s blocking my view of the pond and the leaderboard, although I shouldn’t be, because neither one of those things is changing.

12:05 p.m. “With lateral, you get two extra options,” I hear from the row behind us. Three thirty-something guys cradling beers and barbecue chicken sandwiches are talking about the nuances of taking drops; specifically with regards to the new USGA out-of-bounds rule. They have it wrong, but I can’t bring myself to join in. The name “Dudes of Hazard” pops into my head. Worst boy band ever.

12:15 p.m. The cameraman behind the 11th green stirs to action and climbs into his forest-green tower. There must be some golf on the way.

12:20 p.m. A ball lands in view! The excitement is dampened somewhat by there being no way to tell who hit the shot, but it settles in a satisfactory spot in the right fringe, pin-high. It won’t be the last ball we see hit safely away from the water’s edge today.

A second ball follows, this one landing at the front of the green and chasing left of the pin. A much bolder line, one that would barely be replicated all day.

12:23 p.m. The latter shot, which ended up 25 feet beyond the hole, belongs to legendary marker Jeff Knox. He’s clearly comfortable here; on his strut down the fairway he pauses to chuck an apple core into the woods. It’s strange, seeing Knox in the flesh; he’s the sort of figure who I imagine only existing in Twitter jokes and GOLF.com archives. But here he is, taking on the pin at 11.

Casey chunks his chip a bit; it comes up 12 feet short. “Not what he’s looking for there, Jim,” one of the Dudes of Hazard announces in a brutal Nick Faldo impersonation. He laughs, although nobody else does. One of his friends sees Sean write something in his notebook. “What are you guys doing?” he asks. We have a hard time answering.

12:25 p.m. Knox starts his putt several feet left of the hole, but oh boy does this thing break! The putt pulls back toward the water, on a determined line to the center of the hole. As it falls in the dead-center, Knox throws a fist pump and gets a big cheer. We’re a near-capacity crowd now, and this is a better start than we could’ve imagined. “I’m not leaving,” the guy next to us tells his friends. “I can pee my pants right here, but I’m not going anywhere.”

12:35 p.m. There’s a significant gap between the first group, who each par No. 12, and the second. We spot two golf carts through the woods beyond. It’s a reminder that there’s another golf course, Augusta Country Club, literally yards beyond the 13th tee. And people are playing golf there! Not a bad morning tee time before heading through the gates (or sneaking through the woods?!) to watch the leaders.

12:45 p.m. Given the absence of technology, the scoreboard updates are crucial. The main scoreboard shows the top 12 names (none of whom have teed off yet) and then there’s a mini scoreboard off to the side, announcing the status of the players approaching the green. It’s possible (okay, probable) that these are operated by humans behind the signs, but by all appearances they’re changed with magic. There’s a growing line of people now waiting to get in the bleachers, but I’m curious what their plan is. Who would be leaving at this point? Players literally just started coming through! Matthew Fitzpatrick (+3) and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (+6) come down the hill.

12:55 p.m. Phil Mickelson’s score, +6, appears, followed soon thereafter by his ball, which settles neatly to 14 feet. Tyrrell Hatton hits it even closer, but he was actually in sight when he hit his approach, which means it must have been his third. Phil shorts his putt but taps in for par.

Hatton, who always runs hot, just misses his effort for par but then has a bit of a temper tantrum. He throws his putter from one hand to the other but fumbles the exchange; the putter hits the turf and tumbles precariously toward the water, but Hatton scrambles to just stop it with his foot. He’s committed to the bit by this point, though, so even when he picks up the putter he looks for a moment like he may toss it in the water anyway. Instead he stares back at his ball and the hole, gesturing and muttering in their direction for another fifteen seconds before begrudgingly tapping in his bogey.

1:05 p.m. Hatton nearly holes his tee shot on 12. This only seems to enrage him further.

1:10 p.m. There’s a man dressed as a caddie who stands on the 12th tee. After each player hits, he fills in their divots with some special green sand. The divot caddie. This strikes me as one of the easier jobs on property.

1:15 p.m. The crowd has grown considerably, and stirs as “Woods” appears on the side leaderboard. His name is accompanied by a green “4,” which isn’t bad, actually — at last check he’d been six over. Sean points out that to the colorblind, there’d be no way to distinguish between being his being four over and four under.

1:20 p.m. One ball settles on the right fringe, but it’s clear from the applause that Woods’s is the second approach, which sticks pin-high, 20 feet right of the pin. He appears, wearing the shade of electric blue that Nike had selected for all its Saturday competitors. It’s an objectively ugly shirt; looking directly at Woods requires squinting a bit. He paces around his putt, studying it from each side, unhurried. That doesn’t seem to help, though: he plays nearly two feet too much break. Par it is.

1:25 p.m. There’s extra anticipation for Woods’s tee shot on No. 12, as he’s rinsed this one the first two days. Not today, though. He throws up a high draw that starts at the center bunker and falls left, settling to 10 feet. An impressive shot. Roars. Woods throws up his hands in mock celebration, then mimes a “safe” sign and grins.

1:30 p.m. Woods misses this putt too — it slides just to the low side of the hole. As he walks to the 13th tee, the exodus of fans is already in full swing. All of a sudden there are lines are to get out of the bleachers.

1:35 p.m. The green-jacketed member next to us asks who we write for. He’s relatively cool- and young-looking, on a scale of the members we’ve seen, nattily dressed in shirt and tie with a green Augusta bucket hat atop his head. The look makes sense when I see his name tag: It’s Pat Haden. I know him as the USC athletic director, although a Wikipedia search would later reveal that he’s a former Pro Bowl quarterback, Rhodes Scholar, lawyer, and color commentator, too.

He took his green jacket off and draped it over his grandson’s shoulders as he changed out of his vest. “Don’t get used to it,” he tells the kid.

1:45 – 3:15 p.m. A bunch of stuff happens as the middle half of the field comes through. Most guys play No. 11 about the same: their approaches land on the right fringe and they get up-and-down for par. A few make bogey. Nobody makes birdie.

They have a better time with No. 12, which has (foolishly) started to look easy from my vantage point. The hole yields a handful of birdies.

Sean leaves; he has a more urgent story to write. I pick up a delicious chicken sandwich.

3:20 p.m. “They should sell little, like, broadcast TVs,” a twenty-something guy next to me says, less than charmed by his inability to see the action atop the leaderboard. “Or even like, a radio.”

“I don’t think Augusta is gonna go for that,” his friend laughs. “Maybe your dad can tell them to.”

3:30 p.m. A roar rolls in from across the course; it’s distant but distinct, and the first time I’ve heard anything quite like it. A few minutes later, they change the scoreboard: The red number next to “McIlroy” changes from a seven to a nine. Eagle at No. 8!

3:40 p.m. We’re finally to the day’s featured players. Rickie Fowler makes a fantastic up-and-down for par from 100 yards out. Sprinkles of rain begin again.

3:45 p.m. From my new perch, I can see even more clearly: there’s definitely golf going on next door at Augusta Country Club, which is really close. Imagine if a shank from that hole took someone out on the 13th tee? Two more carts whiz by.

4:00 p.m. Is there anybody who makes a golf club look smaller and lighter than Tony Finau? He hits what looks basically like a little chip shot to 10 feet on No. 12 and rolls that in for a neat deuce.

4:15 p.m. Jordan Spieth is down by the green, but Dustin Johnson is wading around in the bushes left of the 11th fairway. It’s hard to tell what he’s doing, exactly, but it doesn’t seem good, and takes him a while. He takes some sort of drop in the woods, chips back onto the fairway and ultimately taps in for a double bogey. If this bothers him, it’s hard to tell. He birdies 12.

4:35 p.m. I get into more conversation with the two sitting next to me; one is the son of a prominent member who’s an investment banker from New York City. He tells me the vibe at Augusta has changed noticeably since Fred Ridley became chairman. “I mean, it’s still Augusta,” he says. “Nobody’s walking around in bathing suits. But still…”

4:40 p.m. Birdies for leader Patrick Reed appear on holes 8 and 9: he’s gotten all the way to 11 under par. A couple murmurs rise from the crowd. Then a birdie at 10, too, and Reed is three clear of the field. More importantly, he’s about to arrive at our hole!

4:50 p.m. Dressed in the same shade of Nike electric blue as Woods and Casey before him, Rory McIlroy appears over the hill, bouncy stride and all. He pars 11 and hits it into the bunker at 12, crossing the Hogan Bridge just as his bright-blue brethren Reed arrives at the 11th green. In rapid succession, looking left to right, we see Reed leave his birdie putt just short and McIlroy make his sand save.

5:00 p.m. They say the 13th tee is the most exclusive spot on a golf course, and McIlroy’s caddie Harry Diamond seems to think so: after his group tees off, Diamond leaps over some flowers into the woods behind the tee to relieve himself next to the safety of a tree. Live streaming indeed.

5:05 p.m. If it weren’t so exciting, it would be anticlimactic: after all that waiting for the leaders, they’re suddenly gone! Reed hits his tee shot over the 12th green as the rain begins to fall. By the time he gets to the green, half the chairs are being folded up. “Let’s finish our beers here and then take off,” one woman says to her husband. Two buddies scavenge the rows for extra plastic “Masters” beer cups.

Reed’s chip runs well past the hole. The rain is rolling in now; I can see it coming down off the 13th tee and over Rae’s Creek. Leishman taps in for par and beats a hasty retreat to the rear of the green to join his umbrella-wielding caddie. Reed misses his par putt, dropping back to 11 under. The final group hasn’t even completed the Corner, but literally everyone has fled the bleachers. The only people remaining are myself and the “Amen Corner” announcers, who have a mini shelter built in the rear of the stands to house their monitors and are required to stay until the players putt out on No. 13.

The magic leaderboard operates quickly, too: before Reed has even hit his tee shot on No. 13, the names on the giant leaderboard have come down. The accompanying numbers come down soon thereafter. It’s a blank slate at Amen Corner now, where the tournament has suddenly become a faraway event. It’s raining in earnest now, but I stay in the bleachers, committed to the cause.

5:15 p.m. A swarm of green-pullovered employees descends on the sitting area, where some two dozen chairs sit abandoned. They’re armed with plastic gloves, green garbage bags and those trash-picking sticks. Several carts roll in behind them. The trash is thrown in the bags, the bags are thrown in the trailers dragged by the carts, and the carts circle away to dispose of the bags. There’s a roar up ahead. “Reed will have 10 feet for eagle,” the announcer says.

5:30 p.m. The rain has mercifully slowed, but the trash people have come for me. In just 15 minutes they’ve already run through the entire chair area and are now going row-to-row in the bleachers. “Hey,” one says to me. I take the hint.

5:35 p.m. I wander down from the stands to the 12th tee, where two men are replacing divots the way you’d typically replace hole locations. One of the men uses a machine to gouge out the ground around the divot, while another grabs a sculpted chunk of sod and molds it by hand to fill the void. This blows my mind. No divots allowed!

Two patrons are standing a few feet away, two beers each in hand, mesmerized by the process and by their proximity to one of golf’s great par 3s. One reaches out under the ropes with his foot to tap the edge of the tee box.

“You ever going to be this close again like, ever, ever, ever?” one asks.

“No, that’s why I’m trying to drink it in,” the other says. “I forget everything. I forget what socks I put on this morning.” We stand for a while in silence. “TV doesn’t do this place any justice, man.”

5:40 p.m. I’ve struck up a conversation with the two men: Derek and Andrew from Phoenix. A woman wielding a lawnmower comes across the fairway and onto the 11th green. “Is that thing hard to handle?” Derek asks one of the men on the tee.

“Well, if it was you, you’d be in the pond with it,” he replies.

5:50 p.m. Where do these people keep coming from? Seven men are now on the tee box supervising divot replacement surgery. Six more have made their way onto the green with little spray bottles — green sand for the ball marks, we’re told. A half-dozen more lawnmowers appear; their mowers are on strings so they can be lowered down the hillsides at the edge of the water. Their operators drag them along the side of the 11th green and in front of No. 12, sending up spray from Rae’s Creek as they reach the edge of the mown area. There are more people still. A man with a cup of green dirt on the tee. Another with a leaf blower. A third in a blazer, holding court. This is an efficient army.

6:00 p.m. A few other spectators come strolling down to the tee. One points out some of the different features of the holes, tour-guide style. “That pond over there, that really makes the hole difficult,” he says knowingly.

6:10 p.m. Derek and Andrew finally move along, shaking their heads, still grunting in satisfaction. They’re low on beer, and this concession has shut down.

6:30 p.m. At last, stillness. This is interrupted by roars echoing through the pines — Reed for eagle! Rory for birdie! — but I don’t really have a way of knowing what the roars mean. The divot men are gone, and I’m struck by a sudden urge to tee one up on the fresh turf on No. 12. There are still mowers on No. 11, but the place already looks immaculate, the few tiny imperfections from the day’s light rain and the tread of 54 players have been disguised or rehabilitated.

6:45 p.m. Tomorrow afternoon at about 4:30 p.m., it will be impossible to get anywhere near this spot. Rory will be here, and Reed and Rickie and Rahm and who knows who else may be working their way up the leaderboard. The chairs will be set up early for a chance to see this firsthand, from this close. Before and after the players roll through, Amen Corner will be here just the same: a pond, and a creek, and some well-mown grass.