Twelve months ago Xander Schauffele was desperately trying to slip one arm into the Green Jacket before Augusta National bit, and bit hard.
The then 27-year-old rifled what he said was a “good shot” into 16, the ball stalled slightly and bounced into the water. He signed for a triple bogey, his Masters chances over in an instant.
In practice this year, Schauffele walked onto 16 and took more club, this time a 7-iron, and it still didn’t work out. “The green was concrete,” he said. “My ball landed right near the hole and skipped all the way to the back of the green.”
Last year, he says he was playing a spinnier ball and the mix of wind didn’t work well. “Now I think I have better equipment,” he said.
But it’s not 16 that worries him for his fifth crack at a Green Jacket – it's the work the Green Jackets themselves have ordered to be done to a few of Augusta National’s already tricky holes.
The official rundown from Augusta National Golf Club says:
No. 11 “Masters tees moved back 15 yards and to the golfer’s left. Fairway recontoured and several trees removed on right side.”
No. 15 “Masters tees moved back 20 yards and fairway recontoured.”
No. 18 “Thirteen yards added to the back of the Masters tees without necessitating a change in length to the hole.”
Schauffele says 15 will have the biggest impact despite its descriptive ‘changes’ being the shortest.
If you “plug the wind” into how it affects the new holes, the Olympic champ says the tournament could be won and lost at 15.
“With the wind being in, even if they put the tee all the way up to the front, it’s just such a long hole,” he says. “It used to be a good 5 to 6 iron. If you catch a groove thin, you're looking into the water there. That could be your tournament.”
There has been discussion all week about players having to lay up on the holes that have been re-done. Rory McIlroy, one of the biggest hitters on tour, said he hit both 4-iron and 6-iron into 11 in practice. Schauffele says the same will likely happen at 15, and questioned whether players will be brave enough to take it on in the heat of the moment.
"I don’t think anyone will have enough guts, or only a few guys will have a short enough club to hit an iron in. With the wind you’ll have to hit a driver or 3-wood, and everyone knows if it firms up a little, that ball can go over the green quickly or you can’t stop it on the green. Looks like we’ll be laying up a lot on that hole.”
Schauffele is playing in his fifth Masters, his best finish being runner-up to Tiger Woods in 2019 and third last year. He’s confident this year, even if he will be scratching his head as to the conditions come Thursday. He said the course was as “firm as I’ve ever seen it” on Monday, before the rain came in.
The 28-year-old – who hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in 40 months – says players will have to “scramble to identify” just how the course is going to play.
For Chairman Fred Ridley, that’s job done.