Every Masters, we watch in morbid fascination as the world’s best golfers suffer three and four-putts that make them look like rank beginners. Augusta National is famous for having the slickest greens on the planet and incredible undulations that produce wicked breaks. But none of us really knows how difficult Augusta’s greens are – until now!
We’ve teamed up with AimPoint, who map greens and use complex mathematics to predict accurate reads on any putting surface to help golfers make the correct read every time, to reveal how fast the Masters greens play in comparison to typical UK greens and how much break there really is. Some of the findings have been incredible. For example, the force needed to send a putt 20ft across a flat Augusta green would send the ball a mere 11ft 3in on a typical UK green – you would start the ball with 30% less speed for a putt at the Masters. A 20ft putt downhill and across a slope that would break 27 inches on a typical UK green would break 68 inches at Augusta. That’s five-and-a-half feet of break in 20ft.
“Players have to quickly recalibrate their aim and speed control for the Masters, as putts behave unlike anywhere else on tour,” says AimPoint instructor Jamie Donaldson, who is based at Brocket Hall and offers one-on-one or group tuition. “The faster speeds also exaggerate any errors they make in reads, causing a higher number of three-putts than any other tournament.”
Donaldson analysed four 20-foot putts around the Sunday pin position of each back-nine hole to show how each putt would have to be hit to go in – the perfect combination of speed and break. Now you’ll know what the players are facing as they battle it out for the Green Jacket on Sunday. The undulations and green speed don’t just affect putting – they have a big influence on approach play as well. The ball will not come to rest at Augusta unless the slope amount is less than approximately 5%. This means approach shots will roll downhill until they find a 5% slope or flatter. To give you a comparison, a typical UK course slope needs to be almost twice as steep – 9% – before the ball starts to roll. So at Augusta, approach shots need to be struck with extra precision to ensure the ball isn’t close to the hole one minute... and 40 feet away the next.
AimPoint founder Mark Sweeney has played Augusta. “It taught me how important positioning was, whether off the tee or on the green. Poor approaches are punished by big slopes that repel the ball away from the hole if your shot is more than 15 feet away. On the par-3 6th, any shot not within 20 feet of the top right pin will roll about 40 feet back down to the front of the green. The same goes for the 16th except you’ll have to hit your shot within 15 feet to keep it on the top tier. And being above the hole on some greens is an almost guaranteed three-putt.
“When putting from the top tier on the 9th down to the middle tier, it's almost impossible to stop the ball within 10ft. I’ve had this putt twice; both times I hit what felt like a five-foot putt that ended up rolling 25ft down the slope. The same problem applies to being over the back of the 7th or the 18th. The good news is that when you are in position – within 15 feet and below the hole – the putts are very fair – and makeable!"
So what do the players say? “You try to lag them, and if they go in, they go in," reveals Zach Johnson, the 2007 champion. “Those greens are just extremely difficult.”
Only three players since 1995 – when Augusta started keeping track of three-putts – have won the tournament without a three-stab. They were Ben Crenshaw in 1995, Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999. A board in the caddie’s hut has drawings of every green with a big dot telling you where Rae’s Creek is in relation to that green. Yardage books also feature arrows on every green, revealing the breaks toward the creek. But it doesn’t help.
“You can have all the information you need, and you’ll look at a putt, know where Rae’s Creek is, think you know how it will break, and it will go the exact opposite,” says Jason Day. “The greens aren’t tricked up. They’re just plain hard. In good weather they run 14 on the stimpmeter, and that’s pretty scary. You try to keep yourself below the hole at all times. If you happen to do that, great. If not, then you’re kind of screwed.”
“They are the most difficult we play every year,” added 2012 winner Bubba Watson. "What’s so crazy is that we see this course every year, we study the greens every year, we learn something new every year, and they are still difficult. You’ve read putts, you’ve watched putts... and you still don’t understand it.”
Snedeker sums it up best, adding: “It’s just crazy. There’s no place like it. There are just putts where you have 10-footers for birdies and you have to just try and two-putt and get out!”