Our golf ambassador Bill Elliott knows the Augusta National Golf Club like the back of his hand. While he's been to 35 Masters tournaments, the club, the course and the tournament still get him in a spin. Here we find out why, and who he thinks will stay calm and pull on the coveted Green Jacket in the year’s first major.

Arnold Palmer and Bill Elliott
29 Mar 2017
In - Golf

The United States Masters is not so much a golf tournament as a trumpet call, the first audible announcement that spring is here and, yippee, we've all survived another winter.

Even those who mistakenly assume golf to be a rather fuddy-duddy old game played by people too lazy to run anywhere and who probably don't like women much and prefer ties to T-shirts and a gin and tonic to a pin - even these people tend to pay some attention to the old rumble in America's deep south.

Augusta National Golf Club

There is a little to criticise about Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia but, frankly, too little to waste space here.

Instead let's focus on the positive stuff that ambles each year through this technicolour dreamscape.

Dreamt up nearly ninety years ago by Georgia's ultimate golfing hero Bobby Jones and then dressed by British doctor and course designer Alister Mackenzie – a rare combination of jobs admittedly – Augusta National is more than a beauty, it is the beauty in the world of big-time sport.

Originally a plants nursery, the old, meandering landscape retains much of its original splendour and colour. And where this has faded, the club has added its own contribution to this spectacular location.

While the clubhouse sits on top of a hill like some wonderful loft-over prop from Gone With The Wind, the course itself slides hectically down to its lowest point and the 12th green that is embraced by Rae's Creek.

Golf day

I've been to the Masters 35 times and I'm always keen to tell anyone heading for the first time that they'll be amazed at how much the land falls away from the clubhouse.

They listen, but they are still not prepared for this helter-skelter landscape.

Here's the fact... start building on that 12th green and by the time you get to the 18th in front of the clubhouse, you'll be standing on the 16th storey. Capiche?

It is this rolling ground that helps make the Masters such a test. The fairways are wide, there is no rough to speak of - so that even when I played there I was never in trouble.

On the other hand, I was also almost never in the right spot. You see, when the pros are hitting off the tee they are aiming at a fairway, they are aiming at a 12 yard wide strip of land on the fairway that offers the only flat place from which to hit the next shot. Otherwise you are either standing above or below the damn ball.

Srixon golf

The next big obstacle are the greens themselves. These, too, are undulating, and it is better to be 20ft below the hole than 4ft above it.

Speed? You've never encountered anything like it, I promise. Just touch the ball and it will travel three feet before a man has had time to swear in frustration.

A brain surgeon's touch and an astronaut's nerve are needed if a player is to escape with sanity intact.

More likely than anyone – at least in this writer's opinion – to walk away smiling this year is the man who scrambled his brains last year when he imploded in the centre of Amen Corner.

Jordan Spieth is not just a consummate competitor, he is the game's outstanding strategist right now, a player smart enough to be compared to the almost incomparable Jack Nicklaus.

Jordan Speith

There are others, of course. Rory McIlroy desperately wants a Masters to complete a career Grand Slam while World No.1 Dustin Johnson seems to have the perfect game for the challenge with his length off the tee and his languorous approach to stuff like stress.

Jason Day has yet to ignite this season while tyros such as Spain's Jon Rahm and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama encourage support, particularly Matsuyama who has finished 7th and 5th in the last two Masters.

As ever, you pays your money and takes your choice. My mortgage is on Spieth. At least it would be if I still had a mortgage. Enjoy it all.

 

Bill Elliott
Prostate Cancer UK golfing ambassador

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