2002 Masters: Lengthening Augusta National was a mistake

Augusta, Ga. | This I know for sure: Charles Barkley, the former basketball star, is one of the dumbest human beings on earth.

It is now obvious to anyone with half a brain – and that may or may not include Barkley – that the lengthening of Augusta National Golf Club helped Tiger Woods more than it hurt him. It placed more emphasis on the strengths of his game and lessened the number of competitors who could stay with him.

It was absurd for Barkley to suggest that racial motivations were behind the renovated course. Now we see the truth: Woods, with a bit of luck, could collect enough Masters titles to reach double digits. He already has three, and the world’s best golfers are not exactly huffing and puffing and threatening to blow his house down.

If ever a course was made for one individual, that course is Augusta National and that individual is Tiger Woods. Augusta National is 7,270 yards of terror. Woods, for the moment, appears to be the only golfer who isn’t scared.

That said, I find myself agreeing with Barkley in one respect: The lengthening of Augusta National by 285 yards never should have happened. It is symbolic of a terrible trend, namely the proliferation of the “Super Course” that could not, would not and should not be played by average golfers.

Nick Price, one of golf’s most thoughtful players, was one of the dissenters at the Masters. He wasn’t altogether pleased with the extension.

“We’re saying to our teen-agers if you don’t learn to hit it 300 yards, you might as well not think about playing golf,” Price said. “I’m quite happy I’m 45. I don’t want to be playing 8,000-yard golf courses, which is what we’re going to be doing.”

Does anybody remember how to grow rough? If contemporary golf placed more emphasis on accuracy and finesse, we might not be in this predicament. Price talked about playing golf when he was a youngster. He said he learned to swing at 85 percent, whereas today’s players are swinging “at 98 percent.”

Furthermore, Price observed that it is difficult to miss a drive with today’s extremely forgiving drivers. This encourages junior players to swing full-bore, thus increasing the length of their tee shots.

The spiral clearly is moving upward. Woods weighed in on the subject, saying, “I’m not long compared to many of these kids.” He neglected to point out, of course, that many juniors are clueless when it comes to finding the fairway. Sadly, on courses without rough, straight drives may become an endangered species. Nobody needs them.

Woods likes to discount his long-driving prowess. When he turns it on, however, nobody on the PGA Tour is longer. Augusta National, the 2002 version, is a course that favors long bombers more than ever. Its so-called “second cut” of rough is merely a second-class deterrent.

I’m not talking about par 5s here. Long hitters always have an edge on those. The biggest benefit for Woods and other members of the 300-yard club is that they are closer to the greens on par 4s. Because of the Humpty Dumpty greens at Augusta National, shorter irons into these greens are a huge advantage.

In the third round, when Brad Faxon hit a 6-iron into the cup for an eagle-2 on the 490-yard 11th hole, Woods hit a “little 9-iron” to the same green. Faxon withstanding, not many 6-irons will end up as close as a 9-iron.

As courses grow longer from the back tees, the middle and front tees also tend to become longer. This slows down the pace of play for ordinary golfers, and forces many of them to play courses too lengthy for their ability.

There is also the widespread macho factor. The mantra: “If the touring pros can play from back there, then so can I.”

No you can’t and no you shouldn’t.

At Augusta National, many members refer to the new tees as the “Tiger tees,” although most are smart enough to stay away from them. Reed Mackenzie, U.S. Golf Association president, was the guest of one member who persuaded him to play from the tips on the back nine. “Too much for me,” said Mackenzie, who carries a 5 handicap. “It was brutal.”

Brutal is a word easily applied to this trend toward longer and longer courses. May it die a cruel death. And, while we’re at it, may the Masters grow dense, heavy, unforgiving rough.

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