SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Davis once again proved that a shorter hole can still be a difficult one. He did it this time with Olympic’s 16th, which tortured players at crucial times in spite of playing 101 yards shorter than its record yardage.
The 16th earned attention before the Open for being the longest hole in tournament history. At 670 yards, it was designed to be a true three-shotter. Davis, the U.S. Open’s setup man, said the hole would only play its maximum length for two rounds, but no one imagined it would shrink to its Sunday size of 569 yards. Players were unprepared for Sunday’s shorter length, and it cost several of them.
Jim Furyk was tied for the U.S. Open lead when he reached Olympic’s 16th. A snap-hooked drive led to bogey. He also bogeyed the 18th to lose to Webb Simpson by two shots. “I know the USGA gives us a memo saying that they play from multiple tees, but there’s no way to prepare for a hundred yards,” Furyk said. “I was unprepared and didn’t know exactly where to hit the ball off the tee.
“The rest of the field had that same shot to hit today and I’m pretty sure no one hit as (bad) a shot as I did. I did the worst job of handling it and I have no one to blame but myself. I should have hit a different shot off the tee.”
In hindsight, Furyk said he preferred Graeme McDowell’s strategy for No. 16: 2-iron, 2-iron, wedge.
The 16th played to a 5.25 stroke average Sunday. That was below its week-long average of 5.38, but 16’s final-round role can’t be diminished. Even Sunday’s smaller stroke average would’ve made it the second-hardest par 5 on Tour this year, trailing only Pebble Beach’s devilish 14th.
Olympic’s final three holes – two par 5s and a 335-yard par 4 – seemed likely to allow late-Sunday birdies. That wasn’t the case. Yes, the 510-yard, par-5 17th was an easy birdie. The other components of that closing trio were not. Michael Thompson, who finished one shot behind Simpson, was the only player among the U.S. Open’s top 14 finishers to birdie Olympic’s 16th. None of those players birdied the 18th; it was difficult for players to get their uphill approach shots to stop close to the final hole’s front hole location.
On Sunday, the 16th required players to lay back off the tee or hit a hard right-to-left shot to keep the ball in the dogleg-left fairway. This was another example of Davis testing players’ decision-making. From the back tee, players only needed to execute a straight tee shot; length was the sole challenge. The forward tee required players to chose the correct combination of length and shape for their tee shot.
A poor tee shot cost John Peterson, the first-year pro trying to pull off the surprise victory. He was 2-over par, 1 off the eventual winning score, when he came to 16. “I was trying to rope it around the corner off the tee, hit it a little thin, kind of stayed out to the right and it kicked right from the intermediate cut into the thick stuff,” he said. “I just hit a terrible second shot. And it stayed in the rough.”
Peterson had just 86 yards remaining for his fourth shot, but refused to play toward the “sucker pin” on the green’s left side. The hole was cut near a shaved slope that deflected balls away from the green. He played safely to 30 feet, but three-putted to end his chances at victory. A birdie at the next hole helped him salvage a T-4 finish.
Ernie Els, seeking his third U.S. Open title, was victim to the same slope Peterson was trying to avoid.
Like Peterson, he started that hole at 2-over par. Els pulled 9-iron approach. His first attempt didn’t make the green, rolling back toward him. He made bogey “I got what I deserved,” Els said.
He wasn’t the only one.