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Marino's Masters Report: How to Watch the Tournament
[Editor's Note: Award-winning sportswriter Marino Parascenzo is at Augusta National Golf Club for this week's Masters. Marino, who's been covering the Masters since 1976, will provide daily reports for Cybergolf from the tournament, which begins Thursday. Here's his first installment.]
By now, you are all aware that Tiger Woods is back on his game and, as the more excitable writers might say, back on the prowl. Golf odds being the worst of the betting breed, I haven't bothered to check the charts, but I would expect that he's favored to conquer all. This was by way of introduction to the 2012 Masters.
And for those not here at Augusta National Golf Club, herewith are some tips for watching at home, both for the sheer viewing pleasure and for a fundamental understanding of what you're viewing.
First, the matter of beauty. The standard observation about television is that "It doesn't do it justice." (Whatever "it" might be, as with J-Lo, for example.)
This is especially true of Augusta National, a place some call "the cathedral under the pines." So, to get the full flavor of Augusta National, go stand somewhere near the first tee and look down across the sweep of the emerald acres. Think of someone taking the cloth off a huge pool table and laying it gently across the hills. Stick some of those Georgia pines here and there, and brush in splashes of pink and white for the azaleas, dogwood and whatever, and you've got a Monet that would blow the doors off Christie's. The scene makes the breath catch.
Second, the hills. It's said that TV flattens things (not so with J-Lo). So viewers have no real sense of Augusta National's hills. Here, golf is a good walk unspoiled. But for your morning waker-upper, try leaving the first tee, walking down to Amen Corner, to the 12th tee, then walking back up but without stopping to smell the flowers. They could train Navy SEALS on that stretch.
More on the hills: No. 9 is a great place for viewers to develop an appreciation of the thrills the golfers go through. On TV, or from an aerial view, you're looking at a par-4 that's pretty regular by today's standards, a robust 460 yards, a slight dogleg-left. Actually, it's a steep downhiller-uphiller. Those with enough power to get to the bottom will be blessed with a fairly level lie.
Those who don't will be hitting from a downhill lie and try to make a steep uphill carry. That's to a green that slopes sharply back-to-front. The green levels out for a few yards before turning down again. It's a kind of bench, a flat area, and it's heaven. Anything else is marginal. That bend is a preferred pin placement, but a pretty small target for a climbing, blind approach shot.
Watch the golfer after he hits that approach. If he looks like his stomach suddenly cramped, it means he'll be a tad short, which in turn means his ball will land on that false-front nose and might well roll back down into the fairway, to the chorus of groans from the gallery wrapped around the top of the green.
About those big, beautiful, "flat" greens . . .
To see how flat they are, watch, for one example, the putting at the par-3 16th. You will notice that the golfer is putting straight ahead, but there's nothing out there in front of him. The hole is way down there on his left. OK, think of a map of the U.S. The golfer is standing in Kansas. He's putting toward, say, San Francisco. But the pin is down at San Diego. He isn't daft. He can see the break. You can't.
Watch the 18th, next door. First, there's a long tee shot out of a narrow throat of trees. Then the golfer turns right at the bunkers to climb a steep hill. That's when you understand how great Sandy Lyle's bunker shot was back when he won in 1988. It was a 7-iron off the steep face of the bunker, pretty much blind, to within 12 feet of the pin.
The 18th green, like that at No. 9, also has a nice slope to it that isn't apparent on TV. The Augusta folk have slacked off a bit in their demands there. Remember, for example, the time Hale Irwin was putting from about 15 feet above the pin. He tapped the ball gently and watched it miss the hole and roll perhaps 60 feet off the green and down into the fairway. Perhaps they flattened the slope a bit. If so, not by much.
Here's how the settle that bar bet:
Just what is Amen Corner? Well, it's a "V" stretch of three holes - the 11th, 12th (at the point) and 13th. And that's it. The name came from the late Herbert Warren Wind, a noted golf writer who got it from some old jazz tune. But the "amen" part truly fits. Think of it as a good place to pray.
The 11th is a downhill par-4 now lengthened to 505 yards, a faint dogleg-right with the green offset to the right, pond at the left-front. "If I ever hit that green, I made a mistake," Ben Hogan used to say. He preferred a routine chip shot from the right and a routine par to a watered approach to the left, and its promise of damage. This is where Larry Mize chipped in from the right, from about 140 feet, in 1987, neatly skewering Greg Norman like a kebab, in a playoff.
Augusta's holes have names. No. 12 is "Golden Bell." "Golden Scorpion" might fit better. It's the most dramatic hole on the course. A real gagger. It's like the feeling you get when seeing a guy in a dark alley. It's a par-3, a mere 155 yards, but the tee shot has to cross narrow Rae's Creek to a shallow figure-8-shaped green that slants away from the golfer, left-to-right. Bunker in front and two bunkers behind, then a steep slope aflame in azaleas and towering trees just beyond.
Golfers watch the treetops on the 12th tee to read the wind. Golfers say the winds swirl. They don't know what "swirl" means. But the wind does switch directions playfully, as the mood strikes it. This leaves the golfer, at the top of his backswing, to guess which way it will be gusting after he hits.
Whichever club Tom Weiskopf hit in 1980 was definitely the wrong one. He made a 13 in the first round. And a 7 in the second. Freddie Couples made a par in the final round when he won in 1992. Hell of a par. His tee shot was rolling back down the bank toward the water and, for some reason, it stopped and hung there about a foot above while he moseyed along daydreaming the 155 yards, with the world screaming, till he finally got to the ball and popped it up onto the green. It's in the record book as a par with an asterisk: *Gravity suspended.
No. 13 is a shortish par-5, a mere 510 yards, a sweeping dogleg-left around the trees, then across the creek to a sneaky green. Guys can eat this hole alive, and also get eaten by it. Japan's Tommy Nakajima was devoured. He made a 13 in 1978. Seve Ballesteros once hit his tee shot deep into the trees on the left. He might have punched out safely and prudently back into the fairway. Ah, but the great Spaniard spotted a way through the trees. About like the eye of a needle. So he hit a full shot - way down into the 14th fairway. He wasn't Seve Ballesteros for nothing. It was the kind of thing that makes the Masters the Masters. Except for a timeout for World War II, the Masters has been played every year since 1934.
You would think they'd seen everything. Actually, you're just about to see the next thing.
Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.