13 takes on Augusta National’s new-look 13th hole

13 takes on Augusta National’s new-look 13th hole

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Kevin Kisner knows he has to lay up. On Monday, after playing the new-look par-5 13th hole, and watching Dustin Johnson project a drive that was long enough to put a mid-iron in his hand for the second shot into the azalea-framed green, Kisner admitted as much.

“You got to hit a perfect drive to have a chance now. I’m not ever going to hit it where D.J. did,” Kisner, one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour who is at Augusta National this week, said. “But if I can hit a perfect one, I still have a difficult 3 or 4-iron off the side-hill lie, whereas I used to be able to get 6 or 5. It just helped the bombers more.”

If there was ever any need for confirmation, Wednesday morning brought it. After taking what is now a small hike from the 12th green up to the 13th tee and retreating into the tree tunnel that now frames the 35-yard extension, Kisner hit “a perfect one” and had a decision to make.

His ball, as he predicted, was on a side-hill lie on the right side of the fairway. His playing partner, Gary Woodland, stood about 35 yards ahead as they both waited. Tony Finau and Jon Rahm in the group ahead took their time practicing different putts around the green. Both had hit long enough drives to have comfortable mid-to-long irons for their second shots. Kisner — the ball well above his feet — pulled a long iron and went for it, but the ball never covered Rae’s Creek, bouncing short of it before tumbling down into the water.

The lengthening of Augusta’s 13th hole this year has led to much chatter about not just the hole itself, but the ongoing distance discussion as the USGA proposes a ball bifurcation that could control how far professionals hit the ball. But beyond the nature of the game’s ever-growing distance explosion as players get stronger and faster, the decision to lengthen the 13th hole has a simple goal in mind: Put the best players in a position to have to make a decision.

“We believe this modification will put a driver in play more often and restore the element of risk and reward that was intended in the original design of the hole,” Augusta chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday. He added he recently played a round with Scottie Scheffler where Scheffler hit a 5-iron into the green. “The data may show more players will lay up, but I think for a still large number who will go for the green in two, I think it’s going to be a much more challenging and a much more exciting shot. And I certainly look forward on Sunday to having someone in competition with a 3- or 4-iron in their hand or even a hybrid hitting their shot into the 13th hole rather than an 8-iron. I think on balance it’s going to prove to be the right decision.”

“I think it’s a great change,” 64-year-old Larry Mize said. For Mize, the 13th is always a three-shot hole. “As far as these kids hit the ball, it’s something that needed to be done.”

Not everyone agrees, of course. And because the topic has elicited a wide range of responses this week, here are 13 different takes from players on hole 13 with a bit of context: each player’s average driving distance on tour this year.

Rory McIlroy — Average driving distance: 326.6 yards

“The second shot is much more challenging than it used to be. …There’s probably less thought that needs to go into the tee shot. You don’t need to do as much with it. You don’t need to turn it around the corner as much. But that second shot … I hit two tee shots there yesterday, and the second tee shot I took just a little further left, and had a 5-iron in, and, you know, that ball was a good, you know, 18 inches or two feet above you. It’s a big decision.

“I listened to some of the guys, I think D.J. said yesterday, if he had more than a 5-iron in, he was probably going to lay up. I think depending on where the hole location is, as well, you’re going to see guys lay up to some pins and maybe go for some others. But it certainly puts the choice back in your mind; that you’re never — since I’ve played here since 2009, there’s never really been a choice, if you hit a good tee shot, you go for the green. But now there’s a decision to be made.”

Jon Rahm — Average driving distance: 314.1 yards

“Well, you obviously don’t really have a chance to turn the corner as much as people did in the past and have a short iron, right. I’ve been able to hit an 8-iron there into the green and obviously that’s a huge advantage. It’s funny, mentioning this, obviously I’ve seen a lot of videos of people hitting a tee shot and then having a long iron into that hole, talking about 4-irons, 2-irons, possible woods.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more lay-ups, obviously. If you don’t quite hug the left side you’re going to have such a long iron that a lot of people choose to lay up. But there’s still going to be a risk, more so risk/reward aspect to it, because if you hit the green and give yourself an eagle chance, it’s going to matter a lot more than it did in the past.”

Jordan Spieth — Average driving distance: 302.7 yards

“There’s only a really minor adjustment on 13, and the rest of the holes I’ve got — and even then, it’s really just the one spot, the one pin I don’t love — you don’t love laying up on the front one just because you’re not able to push it up close to the green and have a real chance to get it close because you’re pitching off a downslope into almost no room. So you’d have 15 feet. So the front pin, if you have to lay it up, you have to lay it further back in order to get it close so you can get spin on it.

“The rest of the spins, it’s no different if I drove it through in the pine straw and you’re playing to lay up to a certain position. It’s really — it’s going to be kind of weighing on, hey, if I’m more than 210 front, let’s not even try. If I’m less than 210 front, let’s see if it’s a good number. I don’t know if that’s the number. But what I’m saying is, it is a change because if you hit a drive, you were looking before, you were looking at a 6-iron, and that’s a lot different than between 4 and 3 into that green.

“I disagree that it’s less exciting. Like, I think you’ve heard mixed reviews. Some people say more, some people say less. I mean, I think if you are stuck in between you get more mayhem because you’re going to get more water balls than guys hitting 7-iron to the middle of the green, how is that not more exciting? It’s not very exciting if someone hits 7-, 8-iron into the middle of the green and 2-putts. You want to see someone hit it from further away or a harder shot. I don’t know if it’s a better or worse hole; it’s a different hole. … If it’s warmer, it’s more exciting; but when it’s this cool, it may just be a lot of lay-ups. But we’ll see.”

Max Homa — Average driving distance: 301.7 yards

“It’s going to be interesting this year because of the weather. I almost feel like it’s not going to show as much risk/reward as it probably will if the weather was good. With it being in the 50s and raining and a bit of winds, I’m not sure what direction it’s going to be going on that hole. It’s not great for my game. I like to cut it with my driver and I can turn my 3-wood, and now there’s no 3-wood play. But it’s a much easier tee shot now. I think I’m going to look at it as a three-shot — yeah, a three-shot par 5, and if I happen to hit a good one down the left center, I’ll be able to go for it.

“But like I said, this year is probably going to be a little bit different. But with everything Augusta has done to their golf course, the changes they have made, they have such great standing in the professionals’ view, we know that it’s the right decision. It’s not like I’m sitting here dissecting the coulda, woulda, shouldas. But this year, I think there’s not going to be as many eagle fireworks. But it’s actually a fun hole the way we played it yesterday, walk off the tee and laid it up and you have a pretty fun 50-yard pitch, 40-yard pitch, however far you want to do it. If you want to chip it all the way up green-side, you can do that.

“It’s just going to be harder to take the shot on to the green now obviously with the creek there. So I think it will play a bit more benign in the chaos. Scoring average will probably be a little bit similar because part of the older tee is you’re bringing a lot of trouble into play for the guys who can hit it up over the corner, and so some of that is enticing. But you’re also going to make eagles up there. So I don’t think the scoring average will be too different but I think you’ll be seeing a lot more guys laying up this year simply because of the weather.”

Sahith Theegala — Average driving distance: 300.4 yards

“13, so I’m just aiming at — there’s one tree that’s tilted a little bit left. It’s a 308 run at that. I just aim at that and swing and let my little cut take it right. I still only have 225 middle. If I have a good lie and if I get it a little further left, I go for it. If I have to hit more than a 4-iron in, I’m going to lay up.

“Honestly, I never played the old tee, but I think the new tee for me personally is probably better because it doesn’t really give you that much of an advantage cutting the corner anymore. The guys who fly it 310 with a hydraulic, Rory and Cam Young and those guys, are definitely still going to be able to take it over the corner, but a majority of the guys aren’t going to be taking it over the corner. I think it plays better in my own hands because off the old tee you have to hit a draw. Now you don’t have to hit a draw.”

Xander Schauffele — Average driving distance: 300 yards

“It puts you in that no man’s land. The green is so small from left to right off a hook lie. It’s kind of a no brainer honestly. You just lay up. There’s not much to it. Not a lot of guys are going to be hitting comfortably — if you’re in the lead, you’re not hitting 3-wood or hybrid into that green unless you really need to.”

Will Zalatoris — Average driving distance: 307.2 yards

“So, 13 never really counted as much in terms of guys hitting drivers. And when guys hit drivers and they hit them offline, they hit a tree and go 260. Now, all of a sudden guys are hitting more drivers. If we didn’t have this weather coming in, this would be the longest year probably in the history of the Masters in terms of driving distance.

“I hit one about 290 the other day and I couldn’t get there. I was on the left side of the fairway, and I hit about a 30-yard hook. I’ve played that hole terrible in my career. I think I played it even par. I think probably it’s going to make it play easier for me. It kind of gets rid of the enticing — getting me to entice — looking at going for it.”

Scott Stallings — Average driving distance: 297.7 yards

“I just don’t think you’re going to see that many guys go for the green as in years past because where the ball ends up is in the middle of the slope. Like today we had 230 in the middle and I went for it today, but if I had that same lie on Thursday I would have laid up. A lot more of a decision making — a lot easier to hit from that slope in the middle of the fairway with an 8-iron compared to a 4-iron. The shot just plays a lot different.

“The tee shot is actually easier because the ball lands in the flat but then it feeds into the hill. Flat is relative. But the flatter part of the fairway, and then kind of feeds in, instead of where traditionally from the further up tee, it would land in the slope and kind of kick down towards the water. I hit it down there and it went to the right a little bit, and it was fine, but just like — it makes the decision a little bit easier. To, not to, whatever, you’re talking 6- or 7-iron, and then you’re going back in the difference of like 4- or 5-under, hybrid, 7-wood, something like that. It’s like, all right, I can pitch it out there to the right or play it short and have a lot more opportunity just to try not to make a mess.

“You’ll see way more drivers off that tee now. It used to be [3-wood] — especially when it got firm. It’ll be interesting to see what the weather does. Obviously the forecast for the weekend is not great, specifically Saturday, but I mean, the landing area for a driver from that back tee is way bigger than it’s ever been, and kind of you get to use the contour of the hole the way it’s originally designed rather than try to force a driver up into a narrow neck.”

Billy Horschel — Average driving distance: 295.7 yards

“It’s exactly what I thought it was for me. The pin was front today, so I think I had like 215 front pin, but I had the ball well above my feet with a 3-iron. I think the tee shot is a lot easier, which is what I expected, for a majority of the guys. As I’ve said in my quotes about it leading up to this, I probably am going to lay up all four days. I’ve said, if I don’t have 5-iron or less to that green, I’m not going to go for it. I had 3-iron today. So unless it firms up a little bit more or we get a little more helping wind off the tee shot, I’m happy just to lay up right in front of the creek and have a little pitch shot.”

Bryson DeChambeau — Average driving distance: 319.3 yards in 2021-22 (updated stats not available)

“Yeah, I like it. I can hit it out to the right. First day I had 8-iron in, and then the second day it was wet and into the wind and I hit 4-iron in. It plays much like when I was an amateur. A lot more people will lay up. I don’t think you’ll see as many eagles out there. It’ll probably neutralize it a bit. That was part of the fun, too; you hit it out there and you’re going for it no matter what, right? But look, it is what it is, we’ve all got to play it, and whoever has the lowest scoring average throughout the week should win.”

Bubba Watson — Average driving distance: 301.1 yards in 2021-22 (updated stats not available)

“It’s about hitting a good tee shot. You want to challenge the creek, but at the same time, you don’t want to challenge the creek. For me being left-handed, I can slice it off the tee. Today I had 4-iron in there. I hit a good one to the middle of the green. It all comes down to under pressure if you can pull that shot off. Then the second shot, I had a hanging lie with a 4-iron; I think it was 221 hole. So I hit a 4-iron, and I hit it well. Hit it to the center of the green. But you know, you take that on Thursday with the weather that’s supposed to be here, you’re probably going to lay up. So it just depends on how you’re feeling and where the ball is at that moment.”

Tiger Woods — Average driving distance: 306.3 yards

“I think it will be very similar to what happened in 2002 with the changes. They were so dramatic on some of the holes, the dramatic lengthening that we were all kind of astounded by just how far this golf course was now playing, but then as years passed, it became a moot point. Guys with more athleticism, technology, and the average number of carries has gone up dramatically. So from 2002 to present day, those changes, it seemed like a moot point. 13 is kind of what that dramatic change was in 2002.

“It seems dramatic to us right now, but if these guys keep getting longer, they keep getting taller and more athletic and keep hitting the ball further; that hole is going to play I think with a driver and a mid-iron. But again, I think similar to 2002, that changed there, and like the change at 11, pushing the hole back, or 18, I think there would be more — there would be less 3s and 7s on 13 and there will be more 4s and 5s. I think that’s probably the best way to describe the hole.

“Especially with the forecast coming up here, with the rain and the wind, and if it happens to blow north, it’s right in our faces. So I know they were trying to push the tee up maybe a little bit, but still we’re not going to be able to hit it around the corner and get it down there. The days of me hitting a 3-wood and an 8-iron there are long gone.”

Gordon Sargent — Average driving distance: N/A (amateur, no official stats)

“I hit driver today, like a pretty straight ball, just a little draw. I think once it firms up, it could be a 3-wood, but also driver obviously gives you the best chance to get it around the corner. I think I had — it was a front pin, kind of had 200 [hit a 6-iron] in today, but yeah, like it just depends on how you’re feeling.”

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