Jeremy Ellwood takes a closer look at Augusta's par-3 12th - Golden Bell – and asks why this one-shotter has such a fierce reputation
It has changed shape a little over the years, most notably in 1951 when it was extended to the right by 18 feet, with its current guise – a kind of footprint that sits diagonally across the line of play and measures just 10 yards front to back at its shallowest point – one of the reasons why the hole protects itself well beyond its yardage.
It is the kind of shallow target tour pros rarely face, and one on which they see relatively little of the target from the tee because of the large front bunker and the bank that every player, other than Fred Couples in 1992, knows means a visit to Rae’s Creek and an instant reload or drop. But that green design and shape alone is insufficient to account for the sheer number of casualties, with other well-documented factors being the nerves, pressure and indecision players experience standing on the tee, and the meteorological and geographical anomalies that generate the swirling breezes leading to such confused mental states.
The problem with the 12th is that it is neither at the beginning nor the end of Amen Corner, but slap bang in the middle. You know it’s coming as you play down towards the 11th green, where Amen Corner technically begins rather than on the tee, and you deal with the consequences on the 13th tee, where at least you enjoy the luxury of being a couple of hundred yards away from the nearest patrons should you wish to have a little cry or let out a few words that might result in a fine elsewhere on the course. I’m pretty sure Rory would have been close to tears here in 2011 after striking a majestic iron to the heart of the 12th green to seemingly stop the rot, only to walk off a broken young man four putts later.
That one can’t really be blamed on the 12th, but more on the fragility of his putting stroke by that stage of a traumatic round. But many have fallen victim to the hole because of the pressure of the moment, indecision over club choice and the capricious nature of the breeze in this corner of the course.
One thing that’s often overlooked, but which really can’t help during a player’s moment of maximum indecision, is that the crowd is banked many rows deep but a few feet from where all the player-caddie ‘chat about club choice’ is played out, giving a real amphitheatre feel until the player finally readies himself over the ball, at which point a palpable and almost eerie hush descends as everyone waits to find out if he’s got it right and is able to execute.
Believe it or not, these guys are not immune to all that, especially when facing a shot with such a fearsome reputation. The 12th at Augusta is perhaps their equivalent of our first tee nerves when we often feel the eyes of others burning right through us. The players know that the patrons know that they know just how this tee-shot has panned out for so many top players over the years.
Gone with the Wind…
So what about the wind, which is blessed with unfathomable and often cruel qualities at this point of the course, for both geographical and meteorological reasons? Those who have had the good fortune to visit Augusta will know that the 10th hole slopes more steeply downhill than you can possibly imagine, with the approach to the 11th taking you further down.
By the time you reach the 12th green, you are 175ft below the clubhouse and at the lowest point of the course. Yet behind the green are trees and a significant hill that act as a buffer to the winds that funnel down the 10th and 11th. Factor in any wind blowing down the 13th too, and you are left with a meteorological melting pot that creates mass confusion, with the flags on the 11th and 12th often doing different things just 100 yards apart!