The 1st hole at Augusta National kicks it all off. Until recent years, the only televised camera shot of this hole was always Thursday morning shortly after sunrise. With the dew still on the grass when the likes of Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and now Jack Nicklaus get the tournament started by hitting the honorary first tee balls.
Named Tea Olive, the first hole is a 445 yard Par 4 with a slight dogleg right with a bunker guarding the right side of the fairway. The opening hole of any tournament is nerve racking, and that will be more accentuated here for the players at the Masters. Getting a tee ball off safely and into the fairway is the goal on every hole, but even more so on the first hole because of the confidence that builds for the rest of the round.
Golf is a head game more than it is physical, and seeing a good shot on the first hole after you’ve come off the practice range will bring a sigh of relief for the players. They won’t want to get behind the eight ball right off the bat, because that could spell trouble for the next holes to come. Missing fairways makes the rest of the hole that much more difficult.
The longer hitters on tour will carry this bunker normally if they can hit their driver 300 yards or more. The shorter hitters will have less room for error as the bunker is right in their landing zone. They may choose to play short of it, and opt for the longer second shot from an uphill lie.
Ideally the players will want to play a little fade off the tee and shape it from left to right (unless you’re Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson who have all won the Masters in the past as left handers).
Being able to shape the ball left and right and hitting controlled fades and controlled draws will give you all sorts of new options on the golf course as you play your rounds. This should be your goal. Tour players very rarely try to hit the ball straight. Almost always will they intentionally hit a draw or a fade in order to stay away from danger.
The approach to the green on Tea Olive will be uphill. The large undulating green slopes from back to front…in fact, Augusta is known for their massive greens, multiple different levels and cut and rolled to a speed of near 13 on the stimpmeter. There is always a premium placed on putting, and avoiding a 3-putt should always be the goal.
On the greens at Augusta, there’s a time to go for it, and a time to be conservative and make sure you make a good lag putt. Beign able to determine the difference and take the calculated chances when the opportunity is there and play it safe when it’s not, will factor int to who wins this tournament. The consistent putters will win this tournament more often than not.
We’ve heard it, you drive for show and putt for dough. I’d be curious to know this stat for previous years, but I would bet that the winner of the Masters this year will be in the top three for fewest putts for the week. Back in 1997 when Tiger Woods won the Masters in record setting fashion, all the talk was about how long of a hitter he was and how he overpowered the course. This led the PGA and Augusta National to make changes to the course to “Tiger-proof” it, and by doing this they made the course longer. What rarely goes mentioned about Tiger’s performance in 1997 was that he didn’t have a single 3-putt during his 72 holes. Yes, he was long and could take advantage of shorter approach shots into greens, but his putting was what made the performance record setting.
A big bunker guards the front left of the green on Tea Olive. Avoiding this bunker will be key to carding a par on the opening hole of the tournament. With an uphill approach shot for most players, it’s easy to under club, and any mishit approach shots due to nerves will have a tendency to come up short.
It’s not likely that you will see hole #1 televised very often in it’s entirety until the weekend of the Masters where the leaders will be teeing off last, and the television coverage will pick up the leaders at the beginning of their rounds.
Each of the 18 holes at Augusta are named for a specific tree or plant that grows on the specific hole. The Tea Olive grows on the first hole on the right side of the fairway as well as off the back of the green. The flowers bloom over the fall and winter months October – March, so it isn’t likely they’ll be in bloom come April 10 this year when the Masters Tournament starts on Thursday.