Like playing naked: Why the most exclusive hole in world golf is also the most revealing

Cameron Smith is now part of the treacherous history of the shortest hole at Augusta National which is why we love watching the Masters at this time every year, writes Jim Tucker


Apr 12, 2024, updated Apr 12, 2024
Augusta National's par-three 12th - where Jordan Spieth came to grief.

Augusta National's par-three 12th - where Jordan Spieth came to grief.

The devilish 12th hole sums up everything that is magnetic about Augusta National with its postcard beauty yet a watery spirit hiding in the creek to woo your golf ball.
Every weekend golfer out there plays longer par threes. There are a multitude with longer water carries, more intrusive trees and greater elevation changes.
This masterpiece of design is just 142m, give or take, yet has broken would-be champions or been a birdie source at just the right moment for a player destined for the green jacket.
It’s Masters time. The highlights overflow but I challenge any golf nut to think of a better one than the challenge of this hole.
It’s that moment the best golfers on the planet grab a nine iron or maybe more club if the breeze is blowing. Their well-grooved swings launch a tee shot at the 12th.
A well-struck shot bites hard on the narrow green. Relief and onward.
There’s also a pregnant second when you think all is well until there’s a groan or sinking of the shoulders. Trouble.
Cameron Smith felt that anguish today in the opening round. His splashdown in Rae’s Creek resulted in a double bogey when he’d been tracking well at two-under.
With the distance debate raging, Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred Ridley put to rest any thoughts of tampering with the 12th in his pre-Masters address this week.
“That’s almost like asking can we touch up the Mona Lisa a little bit,” Ridley said.
Jordan Spieth didn’t think the hole was a masterpiece in 2016. Knotted anguish filled him in the final round when leading. He targeted a right-side pin too aggressively and his nine iron bounced off the bank into Rae’s Creek.
His wedge from the drop zone was hit so fat it would have looked ugly from a twice-a-year player at the public course at Minnippi rather than the Masters.
Plonk! More water. By the time, Spieth had signed for a tortured quadruple bogey seven, he was muttering to his caddie “Buddy, it seems like we’re collapsing.”
Sam Snead (8), Billy Casper (8), Ray Floyd (7) and Ben Crenshaw (7) were joined by Adam Scott (7) in 2015 as other former Masters champions to have stumbled with big numbers on the same hole.
It’s the Masters Club you don’t ever want to join.
There is a mesmerising feel to the 12th hole at Augusta for those lucky enough to have walked the grounds between the tall Georgia pines at this time of the year.
Firstly, you’ll never get a greenside view at this par three like at other tournaments. There’s no crush of bodies seven-deep ringing the green because Amen Corner is roped off.
This perfectly manicured corner of golf is just for players and their caddies. From the grandstand or behind the gallery rope at the rear of the 12th tee box, you can ogle at approach shots into the par four 11th, the glory-or-bust short irons into the 12th, the stroll over the Ben Hogan Bridge and drivers being ripped off the tee at the wonderful par five 13th.
The run of holes comprising Amen Corner has decided the momentum of Masters Sunday countless times.
You can catch a lucky break too. In 1992, Fred Couples’ ball somehow held on the bank above Rae’s Creek on the 12th hole when so many have bounced into a watery grave.
He has never been more grateful for a single stroke of fortune. He won the Masters by two shots that year, narrowly beating Australian Craig Parry.
In a USA Today Masters Special, golfers were asked what shot or hole most gave them the twitches in the final round.
“It’s always the 12th. The winds switches. You don’t have a lot to aim at and they trick it up pretty badly with the bunkers not having much sand,” England’s Justin Rose said.
No one was tormented by the hole more than four-time Masters runner-up Tom Weiskopf in 1980.
He splashed five balls into the creek for a jarring 13. He once explained to Sports Illustrated magazine that he felt trapped in the drama: “You’re in a fog. You’re standing in front of the world, and it’s like you’re playing the hole naked.”
There are reasons why the 12th has historically been the fourth hardest on course to play.
The right side of the green has a smaller, pinched putting area and that’s invariably where the pin sits on Sundays. With the angle of the green, it plays a little longer than in the earlier rounds.
Rae’s Creek is much wider than you appreciate watching the TV coverage. It’s close to a cricket pitch in width and you wonder how any ball can hang on the steep, grassy banks.
The setting at the 12th is even different. It literally sits at the bottom of the course some 50m lower than the 18th green. Some say the hole has a micro-climate of its own where it can be colder or warmer than elsewhere on the course.
All players pause and judge the wind in the tall trees there in the hope of getting a helpful clue because it can be different to what you feel on your face standing on the tee. The flag on the 11th green can be fluttering in a different direction to the flag on the 12th such are the fickle breezes.
We’ve all seen replays of holes-in-one on the 16th where balls ride the slope and track into the hole. More than 20 have been recorded there over Masters history.
The 12th hole has given up just three and none in 36 years since Curtis Strange holed a seven iron in 1988.
He didn’t keep the ball as a momento. He pitched it into the creek, perhaps paying it forward so the creek Gods on Augusta’s fabled 12th looked kindly on him in the future.

Jim Tucker has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media. He covered the 2012, 2015 and 2016 Masters tournaments at Augusta. He was transported way beyond his bucket list when pulled out of the media ballot to play Augusta National in 2012. He’ll always be even par on the 12th.


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