Prayers or curses rend the air at Amen Corner

‘If you don’t pay it the respect that it deserves, it will bite you with a double . . . it’s the risk-rewards opportunities’, says Phil Mickelson

The 13th green at the Augusta National Golf Club.

The 13th green at the Augusta National Golf Club.

Thu, Apr 11, 2013, 10:08

The tapestry of holes from the 11th to the 13th at Augusta National has a lyrical, even religious, connotation. It is known as Amen Corner, so-named by the sportswriter Herbert Warren Wind, who found inspiration from a jazz tune when reporting on the 1958 Masters in Sports Illustrated to come up with a suitable moniker for the stretch of holes which proved decisive in that year’s tournament when Arnold Palmer won his first Major title.

On that occasion, Palmer benefited from a local rule which was brought into play for the final round. On the Saturday night, heavy thunderstorms left the course soaked and a rule was adopted to allow a player whose ball was embedded to lift and drop it without penalty.

On the 12th hole, Palmer’s tee-shot overshot the green and became embedded in the steep bank behind it. Uncertain about the applicability of the local rule, Palmer and the rules official positioned on the hole agreed he should play the ball as it lay but that he could also play a second ball (which he dropped) pending clarification from tournament officials.

Palmer made a double-bogey five with the original ball, but managed a par three with the second, which was subsequently ruled to be the ball in play.

Palmer, who followed up by holing an 18-footer for eagle on the 13th, won his first Masters – edging out Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins by a shot – and started a legacy of his own.

Yet, Wind’s description of Amen Corner has provided an equally enduring legacy for a sequence of holes that continues to produce its fair share of dramatic moments.

Phil Mickelson rates the Par 4 11th hole – which starts the famed stretch – as the hardest hole on the course because, “right (of the green) is one of the toughest up-and-down anywhere. With that green going away, water is always in play and it’s so difficult to chip over there because you can’t really fly the chip on the green, so you’ve got to bounce it up.

“And yet, you can’t miss left because it’s water. You’ve got to hit great shots there. And when you start thinking birdies and firing at flags and you make a mistake it bites you, that’s the thing about Amen Corner, the respect it demands.”

In 1987, the 11th was the scene of Larry Mize’s greatest triumph. At the second hole of a play-off with Greg Norman, Mize – a native Augustan – did what many players do when playing the hole: he left his approach short and right of the green. Norman, on the green, had a clear advantage.

However, Mize holed-out with a 50-yard chip shot and Norman, who needed to hole his putt to continue the play-off, missed. Seve Ballesteros had been eliminated the previous hole.

Fred Couples, champion in 1992, got a huge break when – somehow – his tee-shot on the 12th stuck on the bank, defied gravity and refused to fall back into the pond.

“The biggest break, probably, of my life . . . I’m not sure what would have happened if it would have went in the water like everybody’s else’s,” recalled Couples, who chipped-and-putted for par and went on to win the tournament by two shots.

The lure of the three-hole stretch appeals greatly to Mickelson. “If you don’t pay it the respect that it deserves, it will bite you with a double . . . . it’s the risk-rewards opportunities.

“I’ve made eagles there to move up. I’ve made mistakes there to move back. I just think the shot value that’s required there, the lie that is required, takes creativity.

“It’s hard to understand, especially on TV, but even in person, how much above your feet that ball is for a right-handed player and how much below it is for a left-handed player. It looks simple enough, big green just knock it on; (but) it’s a tough shot.”

Mickelson should know better than anyone. It was on the 13th in 2010 he played the defining shot en route to his third title win in the Masters.

His drive was pulled into the trees down the right, where it came to rest on pine needles. Faced with 207 yards to the flag, Mickelson fired his shot between two trees, avoided the creek, and two-putted for a birdie that set him up for victory.

Tiger Woods – with four Masters to this name – and Mickelson, with three, have been the most dominant players of modern times around Augusta National. An analysis of their play of the three holes that constitute Amen Corner emphasises the give-and-take nature of the stretch.

Mickelson has played 78 competitive rounds but has managed just five birdies on the 11th and incurred 21 bogeys. He has more than made up for it on the 13th, where he has registered nine eagles and 48 birdies.

Woods has played 70 rounds since his debut in 1995; he has made nine birdies on the 11th, and suffered 21 bogeys. The 13th, however, has yielded him three eagles and 41 birdies.