AUGUSTA, Ga. — Before I tell you, brothers and sisters, about the nastiest little golf hole ever put on God’s good earth — “TELL US, BROTHER!”
— before I tell you about the famous par-three that looks as temptin’ as pumpkin pie on your grandma’s windowsill, but will jump up and bite you faster than a caffeinated alligator — “LIKE AN ALLIGATOR, YES, TELL US!” — before I tell you about this evil hole, this wicked hole, this mean, hard, devastating, infuriating, head-knocking, teeth-gnashing sinner of a hole —
“LORD, HAVE MERCY!” — before I tell you about the 12th hole at Augusta National . . . can I get an amen?
We are, after all, in Amen Corner, the far end of the Masters golf course, Holes 11, 12 and 13, where supposedly, when golfers finish, they sigh “Amen.” Thus, Amen Corner. Get it? And I am practicing my preaching. Because I cannot practice what I preach. Which, if I could golf, would be this: Get the hell out of here, fast. Before you embarrass yourself.
Especially on the 12th hole. You want no part of this. The 12th hole looks as if it belongs on a chip-and-putt course. But beware: It is Lizzie Borden dressed up as Liz Taylor; it will seduce you, then chop your head off. It is 155 manicured yards that plays like a construction site. A small green that you hit, and suddenly disappear from. Elements? Here’s a quick story: A guy named Bob Rosburg once stepped to the 12th tee with a four-iron in his hand. Never known as a big hitter, he whacked the ball just as the wind died. It flew — and flew and flew, over the water, over the green, over the sand traps, over the fence. It landed on an adjacent golf course. Really. Embarrassed, he set up another tee shot — but kept the same club. This time, the wind picked up just as he swung. His ball landed 15 feet shy of the pin. Same hole. Same club. Same shot. That should give you an idea what a fickle little creature we are dealing with. What a nasty, fickle, evil little creature. . . .
Can I get an amen?
Thank you. That’s one way to spell relief
Let me tell you how I suddenly know so much about this hole. I have been sitting on a wooden platform overlooking it for five hours now. And everyone who comes by has a story. I have heard about the time Toney Penna hit the flagstick and still double-bogeyed. I have heard about Tom Weiskopf, who once hit the water five times before reaching the green, making a 13, a course record to this day.
I have heard about all the years the 12th has cost someone the green jacket. I have heard about 1934, the first Masters, when Ed Dudley bogeyed it four straight times and lost the tournament by three strokes. I have heard about 1959, when Arnold Palmer was leading on the last day, until he landed in the water, chipped over the green, took a six and finished third. I have heard about 1981, when Jack Nicklaus double- bogeyed it and lost the Masters by two strokes, and 1982, when Seve Ballesteros bogeyed it and lost by one.
“The hardest tournament hole in golf,” Nicklaus has called it. You will get no argument from Ken Green. A colorful, outspoken golfer, Green was in the lead Thursday morning when he came to the 12th. He seemed confident. He swung. The wind blew.
Plop! In the water.
He took the penalty stroke, dropped the ball and chipped toward the green. Plop! In the sand trap. He blasted out, to the far end of the green, and needed two putts to sink it. A triple bogey. So much for the lead. Green could think of only one way to get even.
“I (snuck) into the woods,” he said, “and . . . uh, relieved myself.”
Remind me to stay out of there. It’s enough to make you sing
But Green was not alone. Paul Azinger had a nice round going, until he hit the 12th. Plop! In the water. Give him a bogey. Nick Faldo, the two-time defending Masters champion, saw his tee shot bounce off the green and disappear down the backside. Another bogey. Same for Ray Floyd. And Sandy Lyle. And Arnold Palmer. And this was a nice day.
The crazy thing is, the 12th looks so genteel. It is a postcard: a short velvet fairway and a rippling creek, with a green surrounded by gorgeous pine trees, shrubs and honeysuckle. OK. So the green is about the size of your kitchen table. OK. So it slants to the water like an Olympic ski jump. OK. So there is one bunker smack in front and two bunkers right behind. OK. So the wind dances in the semicircle of trees, making it impossible to gauge.
Hey. This is the Masters. It’s not supposed to be the American League East.
And in the end, the 12th always wins. So here I sit, watching it claim its victims. Having been here all day, in the warm Georgia sun, I find myself moved to compose a country song. I call it “12th Hole Love”:
There’s a bunker round your heart, and I fell in
will you hold me in your trap? there’s no tellin’
I’m in 12th Hole Love,
Is that Ken Green I’m smellin’?
Can I get an Amen?