CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Justin Thomas, asked to describe Cherry Hills Country Club’s two disparate closing holes, joked, “I hope I don’t have to see them the rest of this week.”
Thomas, like any of the 64 players remaining at the U.S. Amateur, very well could walk away with the Havemeyer Trophy without playing Nos. 17 and 18 in any of his six matches, should he make it to the final. Doing so would save him lots of stress, for it would signify a series of fairly easy match-play victories.
Whoever wins this week’s U.S. Amateur likely will have to play the 553-yard, par-5 and 487-yard, par-4 that return players to Cherry Hills’ brick clubhouse. Those two holes already have been the site of some history, and they could produce more this week. “They’re fun,” Derek Ernst said. “They make you think a bit.”
Both holes have been the scene of shots that were memorable for all the wrong reasons. Ben Hogan’s third shot to the 17th landed in the lake fronting the island green, ending his chances of winning the 1960 U.S. Open. Lorena Ochoa’s chunk-hooked tee shot on No. 18 in the final round of the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open resulted in a quadruple bogey that left her four shots back of winner Birdie Kim.
Cherry Hills’ 17th is a 553-yard, par-5 to an island green. It’s 330 yards from the tee to reach the hole’s first set of cross bunkers, and 340 yards to carry them. Getting past those traps leaves players with a second shot of 200 yards or less. In this altitude, that’s a 7-iron or less.
Several players said they will try to one-hop the bunkers with their tee shot. Success means they could have a short-iron second shot to a par-5. Cal’s Brandon Hagy, one of the field’s longest players, said he reached the green with a 9-iron in a practice round. A tee shot into the bunker simply forces a short lay-up shot. “It’s worth it,” Hagy’s teammate, Max Homa, said about taking on risk off the tee.
The next hole is a 487-yard, par-4. Of course, that length is lessened by Colorado’s altitude, but the tee shot is about as tough as they come. “Right is dead, and left is done-zo,” Thomas said. Unlike as in bygone eras, though, players are hitting fairway woods and hybrids off the tee to avoid running through the fairway.
Water lines the entire left side of the 18th hole, while trees in the right rough make it all but impossible to reach the green in regulation. The right side of the fairway slopes severely right-to-left, so many players are faced with a sidehill lie to an uphill green that already is struggling to hold approach shots.
“There’s a really good chance you’ll win that hole with par,” Thomas said. The 18th requires players to be defensive. No. 17 allows them to be daring, but not without risk.
Chris Williams, the world’s No. 1 amateur, said he has no plans to go for No. 17 in two shots. “I can’t spin it enough to hold that green in two,” he said. He talked to a volunteer Tuesday who’d watched 10 players go for the 17th in two shots. All 10 hit it into the water. That green already is so firm that Homa said his putter slid out from under him when he leaned against it during Tuesday’s round. He described the 18th green as “crusty.”
“They’re twice as firm as the rest of the course,” Homa said. Several players described the greens as “dead.”
Players often are approaching the uphill 18th green – it’s some 50 feet above the tee – with anywhere from a 6- to an 8-iron. Ernst was an interested spectator at No. 18 after completing his round. “I watched shots landing on the front of the green and rolling to the back, maybe over,” he said.
Cherry Hills’ closing holes are anything but easy. They should be fun to watch, though.