A lone palm and a lot of trouble on the 4th hole at Augusta
In the 79 years the Masters has been played, only one player has made a hole-in-one on the long and deceptively difficult par-3 fourth hole.
The golf ball remains in a special place.
"I gave the ball to my mother," Jeff Sluman said. "She still has it in her grave."
The first par 3 at Augusta National doesn't get nearly as much attention as the last two par 3s, mainly because it is so early in the round and because it has neither water (Nos. 12 and 16) or steep elevation (No. 6). It is simply as stern a test as there is on the golf course.
Sluman was surprised that no one had ever made a hole-in-one until he came through in the first round of 1992. He birdied the opening two holes, made a par on No. 3, and then faced what was then a 212-yard shot to a back left pin on wide green with a deep bunker in front, another bunker to the left and trouble over the back.
"Sometimes you can make a hole-in-one on a crappy shot," Sluman said. "This was the prettiest shot you'd ever want to see. I hit a soft, cut 4-iron that hit the bottom of the slope and looked like a 1-footer going in."
That no one has made a hole-in-one since then? Not so surprising.
"I think that might be as difficult a hole as Augusta has," Sluman said.
The fourth hole is called "Flowering Crab Apple," even though it is the only hole on the course that has a palm tree. No. 4 has gone through only one significant change since the Masters began in 1934. That was in 2006, when the championship tee was moved back 35 yards to make it play at 240 yards. This was to restore Bobby Jones' belief that a long iron or even a fairway metal should be used off the tee.
The fourth hole has given Adam Scott fits to the point he has contemplated whether he should purposely play short of the green and take his chances getting up-and-down.
"It's not the worst idea," he said. "It's a bit out there. But that's how difficult it is. If you go over the back, things get tricky."
So why hasn't he tried it before?
"The fact I've played with a lot of confidence the last few years, and I'm a good long iron player," Scott said. "And I haven't had any real disasters. In the big scheme of 72 holes, if you took two 3s and two 4s, that's not going to lose you the tournament. But a couple of 5s could."
Maybe he was thinking about Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson was in the final group on Sunday in 2012 when his tee shot on the fourth caromed off the grandstands and into the woods. Instead of taking a penalty shot and playing his third from the tee, Lefty tried two right-handed shots to punch it out, eventually got into a bunker and made a triple-bogey 6. He finished two shots out of a playoff.
"You'd have to put it as the hardest par 3," Scott said.
Over the years, it ranks as the fourth-hardest hole at Augusta, and it probably would be the hardest par 3 except that No. 12 (ranked third in difficulty) has Rae's Creek in front of the green and wind that no one has been able to figure out.
Even so, No. 4 has ranked the second most difficult at the last two Masters, and in 2013 it played as the hardest hole on the course.
"A bear of a par 3," two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North said. "Everybody talks about the wind swirling back at the 12th hole. It does the same thing at 4, and a player can look really silly hitting what they think is a pretty good tee shot. The wind will affect the tee shots 15 or 20 yards."
Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus said he used to hit anything from a 5-iron to a 1-iron, which speaks how deceptive the wind can be on that far corner of the golf course. Even so, he was perplexed by Scott contemplating whether to lay up on a par 3.
"Tell me where you lay up," Nicklaus said. "You put it right over the left corner of the bunker in the middle of the green. I don't care where the pin is. If you've got the pin that sits front and left, don't flirt with it. Put it over the hole. For the other pins, somewhere in the middle of the green and you'll have an uphill putt.
"The problem," he said with a smile, "is to get it in the middle of the green."
Sluman can attest to that. When asked about his ace in 1992, he said, "The last time I hit that green in regulation."
He didn't say if he was joking.
"It's pretty telling that No. 12 and No. 4 are the hardest," Sluman said. "You'll see a lot more bogeys on 4, and potential disasters on 12."
One day in April, it was nothing but bliss for Sluman, the only player with a 1.
"I've got a one-of-a-kind trophy that nobody has," Sluman said. "My mother was there and saw it, and she got all excited. She passed away in '94. The ball went in her casket."
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