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A second-shot golf course. It’s a phrase that you’re likely to hear about Augusta National, but what does it mean and most importantly, what kind of golfer does it favour?

The host venue for the Masters is like no other golf course on the planet, and for that reason, course form is particularly important when it comes to picking a winner here.

We all know of the Rookie Curse, where no first-timer has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, and there’s good reason for that.

But is there something more important than knowing your surroundings in Georgia? Is it, perhaps, the ability to play a so-called ‘second-shot golf course.’

Augusta National second shot golf course
You’ll probably hear Augusta National described as a second shot golf course. (Credit: Getty Images)

What is a second-shot golf course?

While there’s no dictionary definition to what that phrase actually means, we’re going to put it into simple terms.

A second-shot golf course is somewhere that rewards players who can hit great approach shots, regardless of whether that is a second shot or not. While hitting good drives is important, it can only go so far to relatively improving your score, as the rest of the field is likely to find the fairway. Instead, being accurate with iron shots to the green is the most important factor.

Before we even look at stats, we can see that this is an accurate portrayal of Augusta National. Its fairways are usually fairly inviting, with potential penalties being your ball in the trees, where a recovery shot is possible a lot of the time.

However, when it comes to approaching the green, pinpoint accuracy is crucial. Again, just by looking at the putting surfaces and their surrounding areas at Augusta National, we can see that a player who misses the green in the wrong place is going to struggle. In fact, even a miss by a matter of yards could be the difference between putting for birdie, or accepting a bogey.

Augusta National second shot golf course
Cameron Young reacts to a chip shot from the side of the 18th green. (Credit: Getty Images)

In bunkered’s 2023 Masters preview, Colin Montgomerie explained that if you’re a yard out on some holes, you’re going to struggle.

“If it’s dry and playing firm and the greens are firm and fast, you can hit a good shot, or what you feel is a good shot and you’re just not as close as you would like to be,” he explained.

“The ball will just roll and roll and roll. When Faldo won his second Masters there, he said it’s so exacting. Yes, you can say the ball is rolling and rolling but if you were a yard out, you hit the wrong shot.”

While short game is important, even the very best will struggle to get up and down from the wrong side of the greens at Augusta National.

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And that is why hitting your approach shots to the right spots is so important.

So, what does that tell us about the eventual winner of the Masters? History tells us that they are elite iron players, and the easiest way to measure this, particularly in this age of the best players in the world playing across several tours, is Greens in Regulation.

On the PGA Tour, unsurprisingly, the man leading that stat in 2024 is Scottie Scheffler.

Of those playing on the LIV Golf League who are eligible for this year’s Masters, Jon Rahm leads the greens in regulation percentage. (Paul Casey is the only man who is ahead of him.)

Jon Rahm backswing
Jon Rahm on the fourth tee at Augusta National. (Credit: Getty Images)

Notice a correlation there? While the past two Masters champions clearly excel in iron play, during their wins at Augusta National, that was only more apparent.

Thanks to Data Golf, we know that in Rahm’s final round 69 last year, he gained 2.5 strokes with his approach shots over the rest of the field. That translated to a gain of 1.4 strokes over the week on shots to Augusta National’s putting surfaces.

The numbers from Scottie Scheffler’s winning week paint a similar story. The strongest part of his game that week was his approach play, where he gained 1.7 strokes over his opponents over the week. In his third round, where he consolidated his lead over the field, he gained nearly four shots on the field alone purely with his approach play.

What does it take to win the Masters?

It’s no secret that course knowledge is a huge help at Augusta National, but to apply that knowledge, hitting strong shots into the greens is essential.

For that reason, again according to Data Golf, here’s a list of the players who have gained the most shots from 100-150 yards over the past two seasons.

Cameron Smith – +0.088  

Scottie Scheffler – +0.077 

Russell Henley – +0.073 

Justin Thomas – +0.067  

Ryan Moore – +0.066 

And here is that same statistic, but from 150-200 yards away.

Scottie Scheffler – +0.067 

Will Zalatoris – +0.064 

Collin Morikawa – +0.056 

Xander Schauffele – +0.050 

Jon Rahm – +0.044  

If you’re going to pick one facet of the game to be good at around Augusta National, then iron play, whether it’s a second shot to the green or not, is a wise option.

Expect the man pulling on the Green Jacket at Augusta National to be an exceptional iron player.

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Lewis Fraser As bunkered’s Performance Editor, Lewis oversees the content that’s designed to make you a better player. From the latest gear to tuition, nutrition, strategy and more, he’s the man. A graduate of the University of Stirling, Lewis joined bunkered in 2021. Formerly a caddie at Castle Stuart Golf Links, he is a member of Bathgate Golf Club where he plays off four.

Performance Editor

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