Augusta Chronicle sports editor John Boyette got club chairman Hootie Johnson to "answer questions" on the eve of the 70th Masters. Interruptions supplied by yours truly.
Question: Are you satisfied that the course changes reflect what the club set out to do, which you said was to maintain the integrity and shot values of the golf course?
Mr. Johnson: We are satisfied that the changes made this year, together with those made in recent years, are appropriate for today's game. I think we met our objective of maintaining the integrity and shot values of the golf course as envisioned by Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie. We also continued our goal of placing a premium on accuracy off the tee. I think one example is No. 4, where in 1959 Bobby Jones said that this shot is usually a strong iron or even a 4- or 3-wood. I do think we have returned the hole to the way it was meant to be played.
Q: Was there one shot or particular moment that prompted the latest changes (i.e., Phil Mickelson's drive on No. 11 a few years ago)?
Mr. Johnson: No, there really wasn't one specific shot. We evaluate the performance of every hole every year. I do think it's telling that in two of the last three Masters an amateur has led the field in driving. We strongly believe this is the future of the game.
Q: Player reaction has been critical of some of the changes, particularly Nos. 7 and 11. Are the players overreacting?
Mr. Johnson: These are the best players in the world, and I'm certain they will figure out a way to play the holes that have changed.
Like they have a choice? Ah, choices are bad, I forgot.
Q: No. 11 has been changed three times in the last five years, with numerous trees planted and the hole lengthened. Are you satisfied you have it right now?
Mr. Johnson: Originally, No. 11 was a drive followed by a relatively easy pitch shot. In the early 1950s, Bobby Jones added a pond and moved the tee adding 35 yards to the scorecard. Later, in Golf Is My Game (written in 1960), Bob described the second shot on 11 as one "... usually played with a 3-iron or a stronger club" when the pin is to the rear of the green. We think that the recent changes to the 11th have properly restored the hole to that which Jones intended - a demanding tee shot followed by a long-iron second, played to a well-guarded green.
Halftime intermission here. If you own The Making of The Masters by David Owen (and if you don't, check out the link on the left of this page...Amazon is selling it cheap), you know Jones originally placed a blind pot bunker in the middle of the fairway and it remained for a long time. You also know that there was always water next to the green, they simply changed it from an extension of the river to a pond.
And if you own Golf is My Game, you know that Jones wrote of No. 11:
The tee shot to this hole is blind in that the fairway upon which the ball is to land is not visible from the tee. Nevertheless, the limits of the fairway are sufficiently well defined by the trees on either side. A drive down the left side provides better visibility of the forward portions of the green, but slightly to the right of center is better should the pin be located on the promontory of the green extending into the water hazard on the left. The pin location on this projection of the green is often reserved for the final round of the tournament. The second shot is usually played with a three iron or a stronger club, and a player must be bold and confident indeed to go for the pin when it is in this location.
I can see the length helping on the properly restored part, but the narrowness aspect? Hmmm...
Q: If conditions are firm and dry this year, what range would you expect for the winning score?
Mr. Johnson: I wouldn't want to guess on a score, but it is important to remember that we have never been worried about scores. As Bobby Jones said, "...we are quite willing to have low scores made during the tournament. ... It is our feeling that there is something wrong with a golf course which will not yield a score in the sixties to a player who has played well enough to deserve it." Our greatest concern has always been that the course be kept current with the times.
Ah maybe this was done via email!
Q: Fourteen holes have changed under your watch as chairman. What can we expect for Nos. 3, 6, 12 and 16 in the future?
Mr. Johnson: The golf course is the way we want it to be this year. We will continue to study possible improvements.