Pate's perspective: Sizing up Augusta National Golf Club

Jerry Pate knows golf. He's got eight wins on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 U.S. Open, and he's an accomplished course designer. Throughout the season, he'll be stopping by Devil Ball to offer an inside-the-ropes look at the week's upcoming course. Today: Augusta National. No further introduction necessary.

Typically, Augusta National has favored the long hitters and the greatest putters in the game, particularly if the conditions are wet and soft. The success of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods at the Masters is case in point. The lengthening of the golf course in recent years has increased the advantage for the long hitter.

However, there have been years when the golf course played firm and fast and the shorter shot-maker has had a better chance to compete. One such year was 1995, when Ben Crenshaw, with some likely spiritual help from his mentor the late Harvey Penick, won his second green jacket. That year, Ben was able to work his running hook off the tee to take advantage of the many right-to-left sloping holes. Using the firm conditions and the golf course design to maximize his distance off the tee, he put himself in a position to be aggressive with his approach shots and allow his legendary putting to finish his work.

This year, with the lack of rain over the last few weeks, the golf course should be firm and fast. This will make it more important where a player hits his tee shots. The rough cut, the firm greens and the lack of square grooves will place a premium on precision ball-striking. The firm fairways will allow the shorter hitters to use the course's slopes and features to gain some of the length lost to longer hitters.

As a result, all players who are at the top of their own game will have a chance to compete at this year's Masters. Should firm conditions prevail, we could have one of the most compelling Masters in recent memory ... perhaps since Ben's win in 1995.

Jerry Pate has been designing golf courses for more than 30 years. His portfolio of work includes Old Waverly Golf Club in Mississippi, site of the 1999 United States Women's Open; Trump National Colt's Neck (formerly known as Shadow Isle) in New Jersey; Kiva Dunes on the Alabama Gulf Coast; and Rancho La Quinta Country Club in California. See more of his work at www.jerrypategolfdesign.com.)

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