The nervousness of the first start takes on a whole new meaning on Thursday as Masters contestants tackle one of the most intimidating tee shots at Augusta National Golf Club.
The No.1 plays 445 yards long from a tee box that has been pushed back several times over the past few decades. Throughout the length of the hole, the elevation only changes about 10 feet from tee to green.
But that only tells part of the story on this par 4 which historically ranks as the sixth toughest hole on Alister MacKenzie’s famous course, which ranks # 3 on Golfweek’s best list of all. classic courses in the United States, although it is one of the shorter par 4s at Augusta National, there is no loosening in the round on the hole named Tea Olive.
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A valley descends about 35 feet from the front of the tee box before starting to climb again 165 meters from the tee. From there, the typical fairway landing zone goes up almost to tee level, and it’s hard to appreciate the steepness of this hill on TV. The tee shot requires a carry of over 290 yards to reach the flattest section of the fairway where players might expect a lot of body roll.
Tiger Woods, Ian Poulter and their caddies descend the hill in front of the first tee box during the 2019 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
And that’s where the normally wide Augusta National gets pinched. A deep bunker awaits 280 yards from the tee on the right side of the fairway, with just 30 yards of fairway width before a tee ball rolls into the pines on the left side of the fairway. For a course historically described as wide to leave plenty of room for strategic play, you need to start by requiring a precise tee ball to set up a clear approach to the green.
Miss right, and it’s a bunker. A check to the left often leaves a player with some sort of punch through the trees with a bunker in front of the green to block that line. And any tee shot that doesn’t lead to the flattest section of the fairway at the top leaves a medium or even long iron in a demanding green.
The longest of the long hitters can try to blast him over the right fairway bunker, a range of some 320 yards – did we mention that Bryson DeChambeau took off at 1:36 p.m. ET on the first round? That means 27 pairs are in front of the PGA Tour driving distance leader, most of them filled with players who can only dream of hitting their opening shot on that bunker.
As the hole curves to the right from there, things don’t get much easier. The elevated green features a false front, capable of repelling balls that climb 20 feet onto the putting surface before turning around and rolling. Experienced caddies will tell players that a short or straight check offers a reasonable chance at par. Long or left are both a no-no, with runoffs that require a skillful throw across the putt surface – it’s not uncommon to watch even the best players in the world play all the way down the long or long green. left, or wrong – hitting a pitch only to watch the ball roll off your feet.
When Dustin Johnson won the Masters 2020 in November, he parried No.1 every four days. Same thing when Tiger Woods won in 2019. We have to go back to the second round of Patrick Reed in 2018 where a possible winner birdied No. 1.
The hole averaged 4,168 in 2020 with 28 birdies, 204 pars, 64 bogeys, six double bogeys and a dreaded “other”. This made it the fifth toughest hole in last year’s tournament.
So while the cliché that you can’t win the Masters on opening day is true, players can certainly dig themselves in a hole early on. Any player on the pitch should be happy to take a par and pass the pins until start # 2.