Augusta National’s Legendary 12th Hole

Augusta National’s Legendary 12th Hole
Photo by Roger Neve

Fred Couples is no one-shot wonder. In 43 years as a pro, the Hall of Famer has won 59 tournaments, played in four Presidents Cups and five Ryder Cups, captained three victorious Presidents Cup teams, and earned over $50 million on the course and many millions off it. But for all that Boom Boom has done, there's one shot that everyone remembers.

Fred Couples water shot

Date: Sunday, April 12, 1992, late in the afternoon.

Location: 155-yard par 3 12th hole, aka Golden Bell, at Augusta National Golf Club.

Setting: Final round of the 56th Masters.

Situation: On the tee, Couples had a three-shot lead. At 32, he had recently become the first American to reach No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, and he was trying to win his first major championship.

What happened: Here's how Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly described Couple's tee shot. 

“One less drop of rain. One more run of the mower. A cup less of fertilizer last fall. One more breath from a nearby butterfly. A blade of grass with weak knees. An eyelash less luck. Any of these things could have cost Fred Couples the Masters. But somehow, some way, Couples's golf ball hugged the steep slope at Augusta National's 12th hole, clung to it the way a sock clings to a towel fresh out of a hot dryer. The ball steadfastly refused to fall into the water. Does Maxfli use Velcro?

Lookee here now, there are laws at the Augusta National Golf Club, and they will not be trifled with. No tipping. No women upstairs in the clubhouse locker room. The green jackets never leave the property, except the one belonging to the reigning Masters champ. The azaleas are even told when to blush. And the No. 1 law of the par-3 12th hole, the edict that never gets broken, is that any spheroid that hits the bank in front of the green rolls back into Rae's Creek, and you're wearing at least a 5, bucko. No exceptions. It was that way for Gene Sarazen. It was that way for Ben Hogan. It was that way for Tom Weiskopf, who spun five balls into that creek, two of them bank jobs, in the first round in 1980.

A ball has about as much chance of stopping on that bank as a marble docs of stopping halfway down a drainpipe. Does not happen. This is where Henry Longhurst often used the term a watery grave. Said Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who has been coming to Augusta since 1950, 'In all my years of coming here, I can't remember one staying on that bank.' 

Fred Couples green jacketBut on Masters Sunday 1992, on the biggest day of Couples's 32½ years, with Ray Floyd and Corey Pavin breathing hot down his neck and with a brilliant career waiting to bloom, one finally did. "The biggest break, probably, in my life," said Couples.

Indeed, Couples's ball somehow stuck on the steep bank between the pond and the front of the 12th green. From that slope, Couples deftly pitched to three feet and made a par, and he won the green jacket by two shots over Ray Floyd.

Winning the Masters and being the No. 1 player in the world was just part of the package that catapulted Couples into becoming as popular as any golfer on earth. Couples also had dashing good looks; he had a long and syrupy swing that produced prodigious power (hence the nickname “Boom Boom”); and he was a down-to-earth nice guy who was everybody's buddy. “Only a few players move the needle. We owe him a debt of gratitude,” Tim Finchem, the former PGA Tour commissioner, said at Couples' 2013 Hall of Fame induction.

Nowadays, one of Couples' biggest annual goals is to make the cut at the Masters. He did that 23 times in a row, from his debut in 1983 through 2007, and he and Gary Player hold the record for consecutive cuts made at the tournament. The last time Couples played the weekend at Augusta was in 2018, but for Boom Boom hope springs eternal. 


Written by Richard Lipsky. Photography by Getty Images.