It could be called the ‘Boulevarde of Broken Dreams’. Instead, it’s known as Amen Corner – a (as of 2022) 1,185-yard stretch of golfing heaven that can be hell for the world’s best players.
And many a prayer has been left unanswered on Amen Corner.
This treacherous stretch of three holes across the lowest points of the famed Augusta National is where the dreams of aspiring Masters Champions are fulfilled or can quickly turn into a horrible nightmare.
Each year, the major championships showcase formidable, often brutal, holes that ultimately define its champion. But Amen Corner has to be played, and survived, annually. The challenge of Amen Corner as we know it today begins at the long par-4 11th and concludes only when you turn to walk onto the 14th tee.
The significance of this iconic golfing real estate was first recognised by legendary sportswriter and broadcaster Herbert Warren Wind after watching Arnold Palmer win the 1958 Masters. He coined the term ‘Amen Corner’, specifically covering the approach shot into the 11th, the 12th hole and the tee shot on the par-5 13th hole. In writing for Sports Illustrated, Wind noted these three holes were often, year-in-year-out, decisive in the final result.
In his article, called The Fateful Corner, Wind drew on an old jazz song in calling it Amen Corner … where “many Masters have been won and lost.”
In an interview nearly three decades later, Wind revealed the source of the term Amen Corner.
“With plenty of time to think out the article, I felt that I should try to come up with some appropriate name for that far corner of the course where the critical action had taken place,” Wind said. “... The only phrase with the word ‘corner’ I could think of was the title of a song on an old Bluebird record, “Shoutin’ In That Amen Corner.”
Today, some 64 years after that article was published, Amen Corner is as much a part of the Masters as the green jacket, Jack Nicklaus’ six titles, Magnolia Lane and pimento cheese sandwiches. And with each passing year, there is another chapter written into folklore of another of the world’s best players having their heart broken among the dogwoods and azaleas lining Amen Corner.
The curse of Amen Corner actually dates back to 1937 when Ralph Guldahl led Byron Nelson by four strokes into the final round. Nelson made his run round the corner, making birdie at the 12th and an eagle on the 13th, while Guidahl could only answer with double-bogey and bogey. Nelson had made up six shots in two holes and went onto win the Masters from Guldahl by two strokes.
A year rarely goes by where the result has not been influenced by some kind of drama on Amen Corner.
“When you go to Amen Corner, you take a big breath when you go in there, and when you leave you go (exhaling), if you can get through it in decent form,” six-time Masters Champion Nicklaus says. “Very rarely has there been anybody who has screwed up that area and done well.
“I think (Amen Corner) it’s an appropriate name and I don’t think there’s another stretch in ... in championship golf that would warrant anything like that.”
The 11th, which slopes down to a water-guarded green, has been the stage for plenty of drama, particularly in play-offs with four sudden-death finishes, including both of Nick Faldo’s wins. Remember watching Greg Norman look on in stunned disbelief when underdog local Larry Mize chipped in to claim the 1987 title? Oh, the heart break!
Interestingly, the highest score recorded on the long 11th is a quintuple 9, which has been inflicted on five players, with the most recent victim being Sandy Lyle in 2017. Yet, more players in Masters’ history have eagled the same hole.
Any player who might feel at ease with having survived the 11th, only has to glance over their left shoulder as they walk up the slight incline to the 12th tee to realise the job is not yet done.
The 12th green is certainly wide enough but from front to back it looks as narrow as a well-manicured green hall runner carpet – protected in front by a deep bunker and a sloping bank keen to feed balls into Rae’s Creek. Two more bunkers are wedged between the putting surface and the thick crops of azaleas on the slopes behind. What a beautiful beast it is.
“The 11th is always hard, no matter how it (the weather) is,” 1992 Masters Champion Fred Couples says. “But I know guys screw up on 12 especially into the wind, or even a slight breeze; it’s just a hard shot.
“If you don’t hit a perfect shot into the wind on 12, it’s going to come up short. If you’re a little right, you’re going to probably hit the bank and go in the water. Obviously, if you go left, you might get it in the bunker. But that’s kind of the toughest shot you’ll have for most of the day.”
Disaster can strike at 12, even when a player is seemingly cruising and striking the ball.
I was following Adam Scott during the opening round of his Masters defence in 2014 and he was looking very comfortable near the top of the leaderboard through 11 holes. The weather was perfect for golf and he was given a standing ovation as he walked onto the 12th tee and doffed his cap to the patrons squeezed into the heart of Amen Corner. I’m sure the moment didn’t unsettle him, but moments later he hit his tee shot into the water short of the 12th green for the first time in his then 44 previous rounds at the Masters. He made a double bogey and finished the day three-under, and one shot from the lead.
It didn’t define Scott’s tournament but it highlighted how even on a good ball-striking day, Amen Corner can beat the best players down.
“It was a weak shot,” Scott said. “It’s actually the first time I think I’ve ever hit it in that creek. You need to be so positive with your club selection and shot execution on 12 that even the slightest mistake can be very costly. So, going to move on and put it behind me.”
Those words rang true two years later for another defending champion, Jordan Spieth.
The young Texan was leading the Masters by five shots with nine holes to play after making four consecutive birdies. He bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes but was still in command of the tournament as he stood on the 12th tee. But the next five minutes will go down in Masters’ history as the most infamous ever seen on the treacherous hole named ‘Golden Bell’.
Spieth’s tee shot landed on the bank short of the green and bounced back into the creek. He then took a penalty drop and mis-hit his wedge, taking a massive divot of Augusta’s finest, undisturbed Bermuda grass about 40 yards short of the green. Grass flew but the ball didn’t, dropping into the water. His second Titleist in as many minutes sank to the bottom and his dream of back-to-back Masters’ titles settled in the mud at the bottom of Rae’s Creek. Three-time Masters Champion Sir Nick Faldo later described Spieth’s undoing as a “mixture between disaster and tragedy.”
Spieth’s quadruple-bogey 7 is arguably the most significant high score recorded on the 12th hole, but it still stands well short of the highest carded there. That unwanted record belongs to Tom Weiskopf.
Playing the first round of the 1980 Masters, Weiskopf selected to hit an 8-iron from the tee. His ball cleared Rae’s Creek, but spun back into the water. Like Spieth would 36 years later, Weiskopf chose to drop his next ball about 60 yards from the hole – where he proceeded to hit his next five balls into the water before eventually getting a ball onto the putting surface. He fared marginally better in the second round when, again, his tee shot found the water. This time, however, he chose to play his third from the tee and, again, he hit his ball into the creek. He teed up again and knocked his fifth shot, including penalties, onto the green and two putted for a quadruple-bogey 7.
Occasionally, though, the 12th and the Golfing Gods watching over it can be kind. In 1992, Fred Couples hit the bank in front – only a few feet from where Weiskopf’s ball had dribbled back into the water 12 years earlier. Couples’ ball, however, miraculously stayed high and dry, which helped him go on to win the tournament.
In contrast, the dogleg left par-5 13th is not visually intimidating and players are usually licking their lips in anticipation of making a birdie or an eagle. Therein lies the secret of this wonderful hole. Nearly every pro is capable of reaching the green in two blows, and it is this temptation, and fear of losing a shot to the field, that pulls their drives into the rocky creek left or leaves them looking through the trees at the green after blowing their drive into the pines right.
That’s what Tommy Nakajima did back in 1978.
Playing the second round, Nakajima managed to record arguably the weirdest disaster score in major championship history. It was, in essence, a golf adventure of the worst possible kind.
Japan’s No.1 player was still not over the creek and on the green after three shots. With a wedge in hand, his hit his fourth shot into Rae’s Creek and, when he found the ball in the hazard, he tried to play his fifth shot from where it lay. It proved to be a bad decision as the ball popped up and landed on his foot incurring a two-stroke penalty. He then tried to hand his club back to his caddie, who dropped the wedge and it landed in the creek, adding another two-stroke penalty to Nakajima’s score. Obviously rattled, Nakajima then chipped over the green, added another chip and two putts to claim a Masters record-breaking 13 on the last leg of Amen Corner.
Others have certainly had a calmer approach to miscues on the 13th hole. In 2010, Phil Mickelson failed to slice his tee shot around the corner and found the pine straw among the trees right of the fairway. Left with 187 yards to carry the creek, Mickelson – who was leading the tournament by two strokes and could easily have punched out to a position where he could hit a wedge onto the green – examined his ball on the straw. He’d need to clip the ball perfectly off the uneven pine straw, slot it between two trees in front of him, carry the water short of the putting surface and have it land soft enough to hold the green. No mean feat!
Mickelson hit his ball to three feet from the hole and went on to win his third green jacket.
Sergio Garcia nearly blew his chances of winning the green jacket in 2017 when he tried to blast his tee shot over the corner of the dogleg but his ball caught a high branch and dropped into the shrubs below. He had been guilty of pushing too hard on the hole to try and catch playing partner and tournament leader, Justin Rose, who was two shots in front. Forced to take an unplayable lie drop, Garcia laid up short of the creek in front of the green, pitched on and made his putt for par to keep his Masters’ dreams alive. Later, while sitting in the green jacket he noted his level-headed par on the 13th was a turning point in claiming the title.
Mickelson and Garcia did remarkably well to escape the clutches of the innocuous 13th hole on their way to winning the Masters. And while there are terrors remaining once you have rounded Amen Corner and start the climb back to the clubhouse, at least then your prayers have a chance of being answered.
HORROR SCORES ON AMEN CORNER
PAR-4 11TH HIGHEST SCORE
9 – William G. Moody (1980), Charles Howell (2006), Sandy Lyle (2017), Dow Finsterwald (1952), Bo Wininger (1958).
WORST TOURNAMENT SCORES
6 over – (4,4,5,9), Dow Finsterwald (1952)
(5,5,8,4), Ed Oliver, (1955)
(6,7,4,5), William Hyndman, (1956)
(4,6,5,7), Paul Harney, (1966)
(5,6,5,6), Peter Oosterhuis, (1976)
(4,5,7,6), Gay Brewer, (1983)
(4,6,6,6), Jerry Kelly, (2003)
(5,6,7,4), Sergio Garcia, (2006)
(5,5,5,7), Fuzzy Zoeller, (2007)
(7,5,6,4), Brooks Koepka, (2015)
PAR-3 12TH HIGHEST SCORE
13 – Tom Weiskopf (1980).
WORST TOURNAMENT SCORE
10 over – (3,11,4,4), Dow Finsterwald (1951)
PAR-5 13TH HIGHEST SCORE
13 – Tommy Nakajima (1978).
WORST TOURNAMENT SCORE
5 over – (7,6,7,5), Herman Barron (1942)
(7,5,7,6), Jerry Barber, (1955)
(4,6,10,5), Bob Shearer, (1983)
(4,10,4,7), John Huston (1997)
(6,6,4,9), John Daly (1998)
(5,6,5,9), Patrick Cantlay (2012)