April 09, 2014
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- A lone tree now guards the left side of the 17th hole at Augusta National. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
The 17th tee at Augusta National feels just a little less restricting this year without its most famous obstruction. Just how long it remains that way is anyone’s guess, though.
This is the first Masters to be played without the Eisenhower Tree, so named because former President Dwight D. Eisenhower considered it his personal adversary for decades. As did a handful of pros waylaid in pursuit of a Green Jacket.
"I’ve hit it a few times," said Steve Stricker, "And I know it’s a thorn in most players’ side. I don’t know if any of the players are sad to see it leave. I'm surprised that there isn't a bigger one in place there already, to tell you the truth."
Give it time, perhaps. Augusta National officials are said to still be considering their next move. For now, though, swing away.
Jason Day played a practice round Monday with 2003 champion Mike Weir, who explained how he always was forced to take aim down the right side of the fairway because he couldn’t clear the 65-foot loblolly pine.
"And now he can just hit it down the middle and doesn't have to worry about it anymore," Day said. "It definitely makes it a little easier for the guys that are shorter."
Ike’s Tree pinched in some 10 yards from the left edge of the 17th fairway, creating a slight dogleg left about halfway down the 440-yard hole. For those who couldn’t clear the tree, the ideal tee shot was a draw.
"If the tree was there, I would have hit it [during Sunday’s practice round]," said Patrick Reed, a Masters rookie who played the course three times while attending Augusta State. "I probably would have caught the top half of that tree and would have been underneath it."
He would have joined an A-list of victims there, including Tiger Woods. It was three years ago that Woods lost footing while playing a shot from pine straw beneath the tree, suffering a strained Achilles that cost him nearly the entire summer.
The Eisenhower Tree sometimes handed out lucky breaks, too.
Arnold Palmer received one of the biggest on the way to his first Masters title in 1958, when his tee shot at No.17 caromed off the trunk and into the middle of the fairway. Palmer reached the green with a 4-iron and two-putted for par, maintaining the one-shot lead that prevailed over Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins.
"I could tell you a lot of stories about the tree at 17," said Palmer, who became close friends with Eisenhower after his White House days were over.
"He’d say, ‘Arnie, they tell me you have some influence around here. Can you get that (expletive) tree out of here?’ He didn’t swear much, but you knew how he felt about that tree."
Now it’s gone, felled by a February ice storm in perhaps the most unusual winter to hit the South.
"I still think it’s a very demanding hole," said defending champion Adam Scott, "And I think it's a challenging hole to finish out a golf tournament."