The Masters is a tradition unlike any other and this year the grand championship did not disappoint. So what can we learn from Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Phil Mickelson, and Lee Westwood and their performances at the Masters?
Augusta National is probably the most recognized golf course in the game and the Masters championship and Green Jacket are most certainly achievements that top the goal-lists of all professional golfers.
Augusta National, Bob Jones masterpiece and Georgia's gem, can be both Heaven and Hades to the competitors in the Masters tournament. A large majority of the shots on the course, most notably those that are closer to the greens, are fraught with danger and the players are walking the proverbial ‘knife-edge’ on each shot. The Masters demands everything from the competitors. It is a mental and emotional challenge from the moment the player drives down the famed Magnolia Lane.
On top of that the Masters makes a complete examination of a player’s game. It is the ultimate test of a man’s character, game and resolve. Suffice it to say that none of the great champions that have a locker named after them with a Green Jacket in it in the Champions’ Locker Room have stumbled upon that by accident.
• Chart the Greens:
If you really paid attention to the TV coverage you may have noticed the players referencing their yardage books on the greens as well as in the fairways. This is because there is a lot of local knowledge that is required to play Augusta National well. A large part of that knowledge is the fact that the grain on the greens runs towards the lowest spot on the premises, Rae’s Creek behind the eleventh green.
It is hard to believe but that part of the golf course has a real influence on all of the putts to a point where it may even hold the ball up against a slope. It is for this reason that the players will chart all of the potential hole locations by hitting putts from the four corners of the hole.
They do this a few times from each spot and then they list the break of the putt in their yardage book on a diagram of the green. When they are faced with a similar putt in competition they refer to the book and they go with the read they made in the practice round. So do it like the pros; chart each potential hole location’s break in your yardage book and then refer to it during tournament play.
The confirmation of the information logged will not only help you, it will enhance your confidence as well.
• Manage your Approach:
The setup of Augusta National demands accurate shot making and distance control to give the players the best opportunity to make birdies.
On the flip-side, if a competitor gets the ball on the incorrect side of the target they often times leave themselves with little or no chance to salvage a par. It is better to chip or putt uphill and into the grain from further away instead of putting downhill and down-grain from closer to the hole as the downhill option is sometimes too severe and difficult to get close.
So, learn from watching the world's best as they navigate their way around one of the game's greatest venues. Golf is a game played to positions and areas and not a game where one fires at targets with abandon. Pick your spots to attack and defend and be disciplined enough to stick to your plan.
Sometimes a good shot is one that is struck properly, with the correct spin, to 20 feet on the correct side of the target. Just as Bob Jones intended it.
• A finishing kick is better than a starting flurry:
Picture the scene; you’re Bubba Watson and you have just watched your playing partner hole his second shot on the par five second hole to go five shots ahead of you.
The good news is that you have an opportunity from about ten feet for birdie on the same hole and you convert that but you are still four behind. Further good news is that there are sixteen holes left. This is as good a time as any to remind yourself that it is normally the guy who has the finishing kick that ends up crossing the finish line first.
Once again this happened. Bubba Watson birdied four holes in a row (13-16) to tie Louis Oosthuizen and then he made two pars and won The Masters on the second playoff hole. So when you are competing, don’t get flustered when your opponent gets off to a flier.
Just stick to your game; play your shots on their merit and strive for that closing kick. It is a recipe for success.
• Tournament golf ebbs and flows:
In his press conference Phil Mickelson gave an account of how he knew he was likely to get a hot hand at some stage, and it was key for him to limit the damage as far as possible when things weren’t going well for him.
He got that hot hand on the back nine on Saturday, shot 30 and rocketed himself up to the top of the leaderboard. As Phil demonstrated, golf is a game that ebbs and flows and in order to be a top class player and a tournament-winner the game needs to be approached as such.
Wait patiently, grinding out the round as you wait for your change in momentum. When the momentum change hits, play a bit more aggressively and try to make a few birdies. Alternatively, when the momentum is not going your way, approach the targets with a bit more circumspection, play smartly and ensure that you avoid disaster.
• Keep grinding:
“I had to really fight on Thursday when I was letting the round slip away… Getting a couple of shots back on Thursday evening is what put me in a position to shoot a low round and move up the leaderboard.” Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson was 4-over par through 12 holes in the first round. From there he played the next 42 holes in twelve under par for a three round total of 8-under. By his own admission, he credits the way he grinded his way to a 2-over-par 74, in the first round as a major catalyst to his being in contention for the title.
Always remember this; no victory, no matter how easy it may appear, ever happens without a major grind at some stage during the tournament.
Adopt a professional attitude about it and know that at some stage you are going to have to gut out a poor run of form to keep your score alive and keep yourself in contention. It is all a mindset; take it from Phil Mickelson.
• Eliminate big numbers:
Louis Oosthuizen’s double-eagle on the second hole in the final round bust the tournament wide open and basically forced the other players’ hands. One such instance was on the par-three fourth hole; after a wayward tee-shot, Mickelson made a very risky play by turning his club around and playing a shot right-handed.
The play led to a triple bogey and changed the nature of the tournament. A key to winning tournaments is to eliminate big numbers. Take heed of Mickelson’s mistake and resist the desire to make plays that are too risky. If you are in trouble, try to hit the savviest shot available and escape with a bogey at worst. A bogey only requires one hole to get it back; a double or worse, requires a lot more.
• Champions are great putters:
I feel like I say this every week and I trust that by now it has resonated with you. If you want to be a great player you have to be a great putter.
Proof of this point is the performance of Lee Westwood in the 2012 Masters. Westwood is a fantastic golfer with a classy resume, which sadly has one glaring omission. This week again, he was sublime from tee to green hitting 81 percent of the greens in regulation in comparison with the field average of 60 percent.
He, however, missed a countless number of putts, including a one-footer on the ninth hole in the third round. In the end he sadly remains the best player in the world without a Major title to his name. Work on your putting, especially holing out from ten feet and closer. If you become proficient from that range you will notice a marked improvement in your scores and your results.
Play well and enjoy our great game.