There are 93 players in the field this week at the Masters, but Geoff Ogilvy is not one of them. The Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, and who will serve as one of the assistant captains on the International team at the Presidents Cup in October, failed to qualify. But Ogilvy made the cut in each of his eight Masters appearances and is an aficionado of golf course design so Golfweek senior writer David Dusek could not resist chatting recently with Aussie about what it’s like to putt on the fabled Augusta National greens.
Dusek: In your mind, what makes the greens at Augusta so challenging?
Ogilvy: People always talk about the speed, but to me, it’s not the speed, it’s the slope. They’re all incredibly pitched. The whole course is on a hill, right? The greens, really, just sit on the hill that the course sits on. Basically, everything breaks towards Rae’s Creek, really, and most of them very severely. When it slopes that much, speed is important, but it narrows your line. On a slower green, you have more room to play with speed and still get the break right, but on fast greens, you have to get the break just right. It’s a narrower path to the hole, if that makes sense. It’s also the imagination. You just don’t regularly get putts from 15 feet that break 10 feet, and on the true starting line, that can happen on most greens at Augusta. The first green for sure, the second green definitely … you can have a putt that breaks 30 feet on the second hole. On the third, you can have a putt that breaks 20 feet. So it’s having that imagination and trust that it’s going to break that far because the most you are going to see at a regular tour event is 2 feet, maybe? On tour, 2 feet is quite a lot from 15 feet, and that would be rare. All of a sudden you’re at the Masters on the third hole, and it might be breaking 6 or 8 feet. You’re hitting the ball a long way from the hole. And mentally, that takes a lot of trust. I find that to be one of the hardest things, just how big the breaks are, it’s just incredible.
Dusek: When you say that nearly everything breaks toward the lowest point on the course, which is Rae’s Creek and Amen Corner, how would you explain to people who have never been to Augusta National how that works? Do you and your caddie have to be consciously aware of it as you play?
Ogilvy: It’s incredibly important. I don’t think most courses demand as much around the greens as Augusta does, so you can ‘detached golf’ on a lot of modern golf courses, quite honestly. The drive is all that matters; if you get on the fairway, that’s success. Get the ball on the green and close to the hole, that’s success and you’ll worry about your putt when you get there. Augusta is so great because off the tee you are already thinking about where the pin is. There are a lot of tour guys who will ask their caddies where the pin is when they stand on the tee of every hole all year, but at Augusta, everyone will ask where the pin is on every hole every time they play. It’s that important, to not be on the wrong side of the fairway. Even on a hole like the second hole, if the pin is in a certain spot, that might make you lay up on your second shot because some spots on the green make it better to miss the green in the right spot than hit the green in the wrong spot. In that case, maybe you take 3-wood off the tee to take the fairway bunkers on the right out of play because you knew you were going to lay up anyway based on where the pin was. That’s how important the pins are; (their influence) goes back at least one or two shots. You’re better off under the hole and off the green than on the green and above the hole a lot of the times.
Dusek: Like on four, when the hole is in the front-middle area, between the bunkers. You don’t want to hit the ball past the hole and into the big area of the green on top.
Ogilvy: Right, you don’t want that putt. That’s a very easy putt to roll off the green. A lot of the field, sensibly, will try to hit a club that will land the ball pin-high at best, but if you miss it, the ball will land a little bit short and dribble off the green. From there, it’s a relatively easy up and down.
And then there are a few trick holes. It appears that it’s low in the front and higher in the back, and there is a lower level in the front half where the pin is every time, that slopes away from you. So the hole, visually, makes you miss it short, but then you have a horrible putt up the tier and then it goes straight down off the back of the green. You’re better off to missing long, even though it looks like it’s better to miss short. Augusta does stuff like that to you.
Dusek: How long did it take you to figure out subtleties like that?
Ogilvy: The first lap around the course you work out about half of them because they are so obvious. Like the third green, it’s so obvious that you don’t want to be short, you’d rather be just over the back, and it’s very clear when you get there. But that’s one of the simpler greens at Augusta because it’s all on one plane, with one tilt and an obvious low side. But a lot of them are like the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, wherein if you move the pin to a different spot, all of a sudden the hole completely changes. Those ones take years to work out. The best way to learn is to play a hole with a certain pin, and then miss it in the wrong spot. Like, everyone tells you before your first practice round not to miss the first green long and you’re like yeah, okay, I won’t miss long. Then you miss it long, over the back, and it’s so hard that you’ll never do it again. It burns in, and they kind of fill in like that, really.
I’ve played 50 or 60 rounds around there, probably, and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. Every time I play with Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els or someone like that who has been there a lot, I learn something new.
Dusek: What’s the hardest green?
Ogilvy: 14. It’s not hard to understand, but it’s just really, really hard. There are a couple of really penal pins, especially the pins on the left. It’s always difficult to hit onto the green on the right-hand side, which is kind of the easy pin, but shallow. It’s not hard to figure out, but it drives people crazy.
The hardest one to figure out is 10. It has an obvious tilt from back-right to front-left, but there are also a lot of little waves in it. It’s always in the shade, almost never totally in the sun, so it has got those pine-tree shadows going across it. It’s also incredibly fast. Everything about it doesn’t work out to your eyes.
Dusek: How often when you are putting at Augusta National will you find yourself not trying to make it, but rather, trying to leave a stress-free second putt?
Ogilvy: All the time. You’re not actively trying to not hole it, but you may be trying to hit it in such a way that if it does not go in, it will very likely stop next to the hole. You have to make that assessment at Augusta on almost every putt over a certain distance. Every little bit closer you get to playing the correct line to hole it opens up a whole window of bad things that can happen. You can putt it off the green sometimes. Like that putt on nine on Sunday when the pin is front-left. That’s a putt that you lay up. You can put 3 feet of break on it and try to make it, but if it misses it’s going to go off the green. But if you horizontally putt straight toward the clubhouse, it can bounce off the fringe, dribble down and stop within 2 feet every time. That’s one of those putts that you never try to hole. It would be great if you did, but you’re just hoping that you don’t putt it off the green.
Dusek: The greens are so good, and roll so well, that if a player misses he knows that it is his fault. So in a way, does taking the variable of inconsistent green off the table put more pressure on you, the player?
Ogilvy: When we are at Pebble Beach or on the West Coast and the poa annua greens start to flower in the afternoon or there are footprints at the end of the day when they are soft, that creates a different sort of stress that’s out of your control. That creates anxiety. At Augusta, the greens are so perfect that you know if you read it right and hit it right, the ball is going in the hole. The green surface is not going to keep the ball from going in. I think that’s a reason why great putters thrive there, they know it’s all on them. They take on the challenge.