The most interesting thing about Augusta National Golf Club isn’t necessarily Amen Corner, Bobby Jones, or Magnolia Lane. It’s that the former fruit orchard turned golf cathedral is not exactly what you see on TV. Until you’re actually on property it is difficult to appreciate that Augusta is one of the hilliest golf courses on the PGA Tour.
Some severe elevation changes—particularly downhill off the 10th tee and uphill to the final green—combined with the fast and undulating greens, can cause even the game’s best players to reconsider their usual tournament-week routines. For example, Phil Mickelson has famously been known to carry two drivers in his Masters bag, one to hit draws and one to hit fades. The three-time champion has yet to say whether or not he’ll use more than one Callaway driver this year, but remember, Mickelson is a left-hander, meaning he has to fade the ball on holes (such as Nos. 9, 10, and 13) where most other players will be hitting draws.
And a draw—for right-handers—is a good shot to have at Augusta National Golf Club. The search for right-to-left movement will keep Paul Loegering, PGA Tour relations manager at TaylorMade-adidas Golf, busy making adjustments to players’ drivers early in the week.
“I’m adding loft or manipulating [club] faces to help all the right-handed players,” Loegering said. “You have to be able to move the ball a little bit more right to left on that course. That’s just a given.”
Loegering already has worked with some players, including Brandt Snedeker, Johnson Wagner, and Dustin Johnson, on getting their drivers just right. Or right to left.
“These guys don’t want to miss [left] with their drivers, but they want to make sure they’re turning it over, getting a little draw,” Loegering said. “On the launch monitor we might add a half-degree of loft or we might close the club face a degree. We might change the shaft to get a little bit more of a kick so it will promote more of a draw spin.”
It’s difficult to get the players or their equipment companies to spill the beans about any changes being made to suit a specific event. But it’s no secret that players commonly add an extra high-lofted fairway wood or hybrid to tackle Augusta’s 240-yard, par-3 fourth hole, as well as the 9th, 10th, and 13th holes, all of which require right-to-left ball flight on the drive or approach.
“It’s easier to move the ball [right to left to right-handed players] with a higher-lofted fairway wood than it is with a driver,” said Rick Nichols, Nike Golf’s long-time Tour Field Manager.
“The biggest advantage is you can get the ball in the air a lot quicker and land it softer,” said Justin Honea, director of product development at Adams Golf. “The majority of players will at least put a 3 hybrid in their bags bag instead of 4 iron. If you try to hit a hard 4, it’s going to come in pretty hot.”
Along with hybrids, many players will wield a new set of wedges because untainted grooves will provide more bite on the greens. That’s been particularly true the past couple of years in the wake of the U.S. Golf Association’s ruling that banned the so-called “U” grooves because their sharp edges made it too easy (in theory) to get the ball to stop on greens out of long grass and bad lies.
“They’ll stay with the same lofts because they’re pretty dialed in on the distances,” said Dean Teyki, Tour Manager for Callaway Golf Co. “They’ll mostly change the bounce, optin for a little less bounce because it’s so tight around the greens.”
“I know for a fact Sergio [Garcia] will change out his grooves on our xFT insert wedges,” Loegering said. “So will Dustin Johnson. Retief Goosen does it every year, too.”
But even with all these tweaks and changes, PGA Tour players are creatures of habit, particularly on the greens. So don’t expect any significant changes among putters. Those players who use belly and long putters will keep them in play at Augusta, just as the players who use standard length putter will have them in their bags.
Adam Scott raised the visibility of long putters (and the ire of golf purists) when he finished tied for second at last year’s Masters with a broom-length flat stick. Those kinds of putters might be popular these days, but will they a difference in Sunday? Remember Ben Crenshaw won a pair of green jackets with an old-school 8802 putter.
If there are any changes or tweaks to putters, chances are they will be subtle.
“Some guys might add a degree of loft to their putters,” Loegering said. “The greens at Augusta are so smooth they can get the ball rolling a little bit more.”