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The mysterious Rae's Creek

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Rob Hodgetts | 17:19 UK time, Friday, 6 April 2012

If lightning quick putts and huge slopes were not enough of a problem on the greens, there is a hidden influence at work.

Trickling innocently in front of the 12th green and behind the 11th green, the shallow creek is the lowest point on the property, some 160ft below the first tee.

And those in the know, know it tugs silently at every putt on the course.

"If in doubt, every putt goes that way," Paul Casey told me.

"It's like putts going towards the ocean or away from mountains or towards the setting sun."

"If it looks flat, think about Rae's," added his caddie Craig Connelly.

Larry Mize won the 1987 Masters on a play-off after successfully negotiating the 11th hole. Photo: Getty

The creek, named after Irish landowner John Rae who settled in the area in 1734, originally ran for nearly 11 miles and flowed directly into the Savannah River but now disippates in downtown Augusta's drainage system.

But more than just a simple culvert, the creek has historical significance. To add to its aura, the banks contain artefacts from Native American settlements dating from 3,000 to more than 10,000 years ago.

"There is a pull," three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo told me. "You draw a line off every green towards the 12th and it does affect it.

"On the first green you're thinking, 'how can that be affecting me?' but it does.

"I've only learnt this in the last few years. Jack knew it and probably kept it a secret."
Jack knew all right.

On the way to his landmark 1986 Masters victory at the age of 46, Nicklaus tapped into the source when faced with a 12ft putt for birdie on the 17th to give him sole possession of the lead. The image of his raised putter is an Augusta icon.

"We looked at the putt and [son Jackie, his caddie] said, 'Dad, it's got to go right.' I said, 'I know it's going to go right, Jack, but I think it's going to come back left at the hole.

Rae's Creek is going to have an influence at the end of that putt.' And so I hit the putt. It went up and it just sort of straightened out at the end and goes in. I've putted that putt a thousand times since, and it never broke left again."

The younger generation, with their stats and gizmos and matter-of-factness, will tell you it's obvious. That the whole place slopes that way.

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These days the caddie house even has a chart on the wall showing the direction of Rae's on every hole.

Graeme McDowell's bagman Ken Comboy showed me his yardage book with red dots indicating the direction of the 12th from every green. "We use this all the time," he told me.

"Water tends to pull the grain of the grass down the slope so you when you're reading a putt you need to know that when it dies for pace it is going to fall towards Rae's," Ian Poulter told me.

But knowing about it is one thing. Applying it is something else.

"An example would be on 13," said Faldo. "There's a put on the back right corner if you're behind the hole - you'd swear it goes right to left but it actually goes left to right, even though it's only a six footer.

"I mentioned it once and Jack jumped in and I later read he'd said that was the pull of Rae's. Even though it's only 10-15 degrees off back down the fairway it has enough pull. It's there and it makes it really difficult to read.

"You get a right-to-left putt on a left-to-right green, which one is going to win? That's a calculated professional guess. But this is hidden, there is nothing there."

Another stumbling block is assuming that the brook in front of the 13th green is Rae's Creek. That stream is only a tributary, and joins the real Rae's by the 12th green.

The really smart ones know it then tumbles over a weir beyond the 11th green. So maybe the true low point is somewhere just off the course, skewing the pull by another degree or so.

Augusta native Larry Mize, who famously chipped in on the 11th in a play-off with Greg Norman to win the 1987 Masters, is another firm believer.

"It's very important," the 53-year-old told me. "You still have to pay attention to slopes but you have to have Rae's Creek in your head.

"Sometimes a putt breaking away from there will not break as much and sometimes a putt going towards Rae's Creek will break more than you think.

"The slopes still tell you what's going on but if you don't pay attention to it you'll get some breaks that will fool you. They still fool me now after 29 times. You still shake your head and think, 'man that affected it more than I thought it would'.

"On the seventh, going from right to left, Rae's Creek can hold up putts more than you think. I've missed putts on the high side there many times. Even though you know it, it's hard to play it."

Did he have the creek in his head when he canned that chip from the right of the green to break Norman's heart 25 years ago, I wondered?

"Good question," he said. "But it was way too long ago for me to remember. I don't know if I did or not. I knew what the shot was going to do as I had a putt there in regulation so I knew the break."

Winning the Masters requires skill, nerve and a bit of luck. You might also want to make a connection with the Creek. But that's easier said than done.

"On a good day you see it, on a bad day you can't fathom it," said Faldo.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting, not so much mysterious as a manifestation of lightning fast greens exagerating the subtle influence of natural drainage paths on the preferred orientation of individual grass leaves, which at low speeds, would influence the balls direction.

    The legendary fast greens are a factor here, the gcreeks influence will be much less when the greens are not fast.

    Not exactly mysterious, but as it is the Masters, I am happy to suspend disbelief in favour of the wonderful experience that is Augusta in springtime.

    That combination of scenic beauty, subtly and respectfully enhanced by the hand of man which we can enjoy simultaneously along with the drama of peaceful sporting combat and mutual respect.

    On that basis, Fred Couples should don the green jacket again, but alas, he usually fades toward the end of day three and day 4 as the rigours take their toll on his aging body.

    Failing that Michelson understands the place and its broader beauty.

    What joy it would be to see Michelson and couples strolling up the 18th level at the top of the leaderboard on a sun kissed sunday afternoon in Augusta.

    But that is the stuff that dreams are made of.

    Amen..... (corner)

  • Comment number 3.

    Phil Mickelson looking strong. Have a feeling McIlroy and Westwood will both come close but no cigar.

  • Comment number 4.

    yea the mystery is in the grain of the grass, although matter being attracted to matter may come into it, other than that idk, as for the golf, i am hoping Tiger catches his breath.

  • Comment number 5.

    Couples will fade away as the pressure mounts, his puttng will let hm down
    Mcilroy will shoot very low tomorrow and win by 5 come sunday nght... unfinished business..

  • Comment number 6.

    Why do the greens here remind me of playing crazy golf? I suppose it's putts like Lawrie's on the 16th where it seems to be pure luck whether the ball gets near (or in) the hole. The 18th is becoming just as bad and, as the greens bake, it's going to be like putting on glass. I suspect it's not going to be the best player who "wins" this major but the luckiest.

  • Comment number 7.

    I think the same as post 5. Rory McIlroy to win by a decent margin - even if he's no Rae's Creek expert.


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