Justin Parsons assisted 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel at The Masters. Here the Butch Harmon School of Golf Dubai director of instruction shares lessons from Augusta National that you can help your game
“Having seen first hand the challenges presented by Augusta National, I want to share what makes it such an incredible course and one that invariably brings the very best players to the top of the leaderboard. That is one of the true testaments to this fabled layout: Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson were all in the top 10 in April, illustrating again how the cream truly rises to the top. There are areas where these players excel over and above technical excellence or distance gains that you can incorporate into your own game.
Short game contact
The grass at Augusta is beautiful, lush, healthy and very, very green. It is quite easy to gain a good strike from it but I also noticed a lot of the players taking time to both measure and improve their contact around the green. Backspin is created from a combination of a centred faced contact, correct strike (gentle angle of attack and loft imparted at impact) as well as club head speed. The friction imparted by these impact conditions on the ball generates the desired backspin and also leads to the required trajectory. You need this control in different situations at Augusta to cope with the fast greens and slopes.
“You should always add consequences and a little pressure to your practice to be ready for your Masters moment.” – Justin Parsons.
Your Masters takeaway: When practicing your short game, make sure you have a damp towel or a tee peg in your pocket to clean the clubface after each shot. Look at where the ball contacted the face after each shot and work on attaining consistent centred face strikes.
Creativity and adaptability
The slopes, angles and hills at Augusta National are more pronounced than at other venues. This prompts players to adapt to situations and create shots that they will need to master the difficultly of the course. I watched Tony Finau play after the freak ankle accident in the Par 3 contest. What he did was a great example of how great players can adapt; he did so by hitting shots keeping his weight on his back foot throughout the tournament and ended up a highly credible T-10 on -7. Being able to have the creativity to see unusual shots and adapt your technique – Patrick Reeds’ helicopter fade follow through is another great example – is imperative for success at golf’s highest level.
Your Masters takeaway: In practice, even if you feel it is above your level, try to hit the ball low and high as well as left to right and right to left. Try to hit a high 4-iron or a low 9-iron and set about playing some short game shots from tricky lies with weird clubs. Creating and adapting to situations will make you learn fast and you never know when your new found skills will come in handy during an important round.
Distance control with irons
At Augusta, the targets are small and the areas within the targets even smaller. It is therefore imperative that players know how far they hit each club. When you couple this with the fact that many of the shots are hit from sloping lies and with the wind swirling in the trees, there is even more of a premium on distance control.
Your Masters takeaway: When you practice, take time to note down your distances with each club. Make further notes in the wind and if possible, get acquainted with your tendencies from sloping lies. This will lead to better control with your irons.
At Augusta National, each and every shot tests the mental reserve of a player. If you miss in the wrong spot off the tee, your angle might be cut off to the green. A missed iron shot or pitch will leave your in a place from where an up and down may be impossible while a putt just missed can lead to a nervy 10-footer coming back. The best players, through a combination of their skill and commitment accept, stand up to and overcome these challenges. The very best are not really playing for the outcome – they simply stay focused on the shot in front of them.
Your Masters takeaway: The main reason commentators talk about the average player not breaking 100 at Augusta is due to the fact every shot can lead to potential disaster, even straightforward ones. That’s why you should always add consequences and a little pressure to your practice. Use a tree line as a virtual out of bounds on the range or imagine that bunker in front of the target green is actually water that would cost you a shot in a competition round. On and around the putting green, set up a little friendly competition with a mate and ensure there’s something on the line like a post practice sun-downer. What you are trying to achieve in your practice time on a Wednesday evening is the same feelings you’ll encounter on Friday morning when you tee it up in the monthly medal. Accept the outcome and commit to the shot and things will be fine. – With Kent Gray
Justin Parsons is the Director of Instruction at The Butch Harmon School of Golf at The Els Club, Dubai. Among his pupils are PGA Tour player Peter Uihlein, former Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and celebrated Dubai-based, Indian amateur No.1 Rayhan Thomas.