By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National has a mystique as the only major championship played on the same golf course every year.
That doesn’t mean there are any mysteries to playing well.
Just ask six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus.
“It’s not going to blow you apart,” Nicklaus said. “Sure, you can hit a bad shot off in the trees. Most golf courses are that way. But the game of golf is played by making sure you don’t screw up the tough shots. Get by them and take advantage where you can take advantage. If you’re doing that, you’re not mentally torn up all day long.”
This advice is coming from the master.
Along with his six green jackets and four silver medals as the runner-up, Nicklaus still holds career marks with 508 birdies and 24 eagles. He can make it sound easy.
“Tell me where you’ve got a bad putt from the center of the green?” he said. “Maybe the second hole is the only one that’s awkward. Every single hole, middle of the green, you’ve got a pretty darn good chance for birdie.”
Is it really that simple?
Nicklaus believes there are six tough shots at Augusta that require a player’s full attention.
“If you can play those shots well, then the rest of the golf course is relatively easy,” he said. “There’s nothing magical about it.”
TEE SHOT ON NO. 2
The bunker on the right of the fairway frames the hole, but a big drive down makes this par 5 play a little shorter. Nicklaus says the tee shot must avoid going too far left, however, because it slopes toward a ditch that runs down the left side. David Duval knows this all too well. He did that in 2010 and made a 10.
“You really don’t want to visit the Delta ticket booth down on the left,” Nicklaus said, suggesting a shot down there would mean any early flight home. “I was not as aggressive on that tee shot as I would have liked to have been.”
SECOND SHOT ON NO. 11
A poor tee shot on this second-toughest hole at Augusta could be a blessing because players would at least try to get it back in play short of the green. It’s the approach that is scary, because of the pond to the left of the green.
“It looks so inviting, and you know that you really can’t be stupid and hit the ball at the hole,” he said. “The wind comes across there and all of a sudden it balloons up and gets in the water pretty easy. So you just can’t do it.” The safe shot? Put it out to the right.
TEE SHOT ON NO. 12
For 80 years, no one has figured out the wind. This ranks as the toughest par 3 on the course, but only because of the big numbers caused by Rae’s Creek in front of the green. Tom Weiskopf made a 13 in 1980. The sucker pin is to the right. Greg Norman was reminded of that during his 1996 meltdown.
For Nicklaus, there’s one shot.
“Put it over the center bunker and you’re not going to be bad,” he said.
TEE SHOT ON NO. 13
Nicklaus used to draw a 3-wood around the corner for the ideal drive on the shortest par 5. He also has seen players go too far left and clatter around the trees left — or in — the tributary of Rae’s Creek. Too far to the right and a player is on the pine straw and in the trees.
“You need to get the ball to a place where you feel comfortable hitting in on 13,” he said. “If you don’t get in a comfortable place, you shouldn’t be going for the green.”
SECOND SHOT ON NO. 13
While it could be a mid-iron for a second shot into the green, the fairway slopes severely to the left, meaning the ball will be well above the players’ feet. The tributary to Rae’s Creek winds in front of the green.
“You don’t try to put drama in your game, try to do things you aren’t really comfortable with and say, ‘Man, I got away with that.’ The next day you try to get away with it and that’s when you lose the golf tournament.”
SECOND SHOT ON NO. 15
Nicklaus still thinks about the 3-wood he hit into the water on the par-5 15th hole that cost him a chance to win in the 1971 Masters.
“One shot shouldn’t be a shot that puts you out of the tournament,” Nicklaus said. “I needed to make 4. I didn’t need to make 3. I should have laid the ball up. Why put yourself out of the tournament on one shot? That’s the thing I stress.”
As for the rest of the course?
“Outside of that, the rest of the golf course is not that difficult,” Nicklaus said. “But you’ve still got to watch out for it.”