First-tee jitters take on a whole new meaning Thursday as Masters competitors tackle one of the most daunting tee shots at Augusta National Golf Club.
No. 1 plays 445 yards long from a tee box that has been pushed back several times in recent decades. Over the entire length of the hole, the elevation changes only about 10 feet from the tee up to the green.
But that only tells part of the story on this par 4 that historically ranks as the sixth-most difficult hole on Alister MacKenzie’s famed layout, which ranks No. 3 on Golfweek’s Best list of all Classic Courses in the U.S. Even though it’s one of the shorter par 4s at Augusta National, there’s no easing into the round on the hole named Tea Olive.
A valley drops some 35 feet from the front of the tee box before starting to climb again 165 yards off the tee. From there, the typical landing zone in the fairway climbs back to nearly level with the tee, and it’s difficult to appreciate the steepness of that hill on television. The tee shot demands a carry of more than 290 yards to reach the flattest section of fairway where players might expect much roll.
Tiger Woods, Ian Poulter and their caddies walk down the hill off the front of the first tee box during the 2019 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
And that’s where the normally wide Augusta National is pinched. A deep bunker waits 280 yards off the tee on the right side of the fairway, with only 30 yards of fairway width before a tee ball rolls into pine trees on the left side of the fairway. For a course historically described as wide to allow plenty of room for strategic play, it starts off demanding an accurate tee ball to set up an unobstructed approach to the green.
Miss right, and it’s bunker. A miss to the left often leaves a player with some kind of punch through the trees with a bunker fronting the green to block that line. And any tee shot that doesn’t carry all the way to the flatter section of fairway up top leaves a mid-iron or even long iron into a demanding green.
The longest of the long hitters can try to blast it over the right fairway bunker, a carry of some 320 yards – did we mention that Bryson DeChambeau tees off at 1:36 p.m. ET in the first round? That means 27 pairings go off ahead of the PGA Tour’s driving-distance leader, most of them loaded with players who can only dream of smacking their opening shot over that bunker.
As the hole curves to the right from there, things don’t get much easier. The elevated green features a false front, capable of repelling balls that climb 20 feet onto the putting surface before turning back and rolling off. Experienced caddies will tell players that a miss short or right offers a reasonable chance at par. Long or left are both a no-no, with runoffs that require a deft pitch back up the putting surface – it’s not uncommon to watch even the best players in the world chip all the way across the green from long or left, or to mis-hit a pitch only to watch the ball roll back to their feet.
When Dustin Johnson won the 2020 Masters in November, he parred No. 1 all four days. Same when Tiger Woods won in 2019. You have to go all the way back to Patrick Reed’s second round in 2018 that an eventual winner made birdie on No. 1.
The hole played to a 4.168 average in 2020 with 28 birdies, 204 pars, 64 bogeys, six double bogeys and one dreaded “other.” That made it the fifth-most difficult hole in last year’s tournament.
So while the cliché that you can’t win the Masters on the opening day is true, players can certainly dig themselves into a hole right from the start. Any player in the field should be happy to take a par and run past the pines to No. 2 tee.
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