ERIN, Wis. – As Stewart Cink talked about why he thinks the green on the ninth hole is the toughest at Erin Hills, a ball hit by the next pairing trickled down the false front and ran more than 10 yards off.
“See?” Cink said Tuesday from the fescue in front of the grandstands that sit behind the green. He then smirked.
“I think this is a really dangerous little hole.”
The par-3 ninth is listed at 135 yards and is the shortest hole on this week’s U.S. Open golf course. It wasn’t part of Erin Hills’ original 18-hole design when the course first opened back in 2006. It was an extra hole until 2009.
Earlier this week on Golf Channel, Erin Hills co-designer Dana Fry voiced his love of the front-nine finisher.
“I just like the fact that it’s a pitching wedge shot and it literally strikes terror into great players,” Fry said.
The first time Ryan Palmer saw the hole from the elevated tee box that sits above the wispy fescue grass, it didn’t look like much, he said. He then walked to the green and realized how precise he’d need to be.
Matt Kuchar voiced a similar need during practice rounds Tuesday, as did David Lingmerth a group earlier.
“Not only do you have to play smart,” Lingmerth said, “but if you do miss a shot, you kind of have to get lucky, too.”
Specifically, Lingmerth said golfers will have to get lucky if they hit one of the oddly-shaped, incredibly thin bunkers that surround the green. Of the seven traps, three border the right side of the putting surface and four border the left and back.
Each player that came through the ninth practiced shots from the traps. William McGirt even tossed a ball from the edges of the bunkers and marveled at its run through the sand, which made for difficult lies against the bunkers’ thick lips.
“The bunkers are almost a stroke penalty if you end up in the wrong spot,” Palmer said, and then pointed to the wind that sweeps in from right to left as another challenging element of the hole.
Cink said he thinks the wind will make balls stay up on the ridge in the front of the green, which helps. He also thinks it makes shot from the tee box more difficult because it will affect strategy, which hurts.
“A small miss — if it’s windy — can easily add up to something pretty bad,” Lingmerth said, “and you might make a number if you’re not careful.”
Come Thursday, each player — from Fry to Lingmerth to Kuchar to Palmer to Cink — thinks the ninth will be an exciting, action-packed arena with fans lining the grandstands and surrounding the tee box.
To describe the hole in a word, Lingmerth called it tricky. Kuchar said fun. Palmer said demanding.
“You’ve got to really be decisive and execute well, but that’s golf,” Cink said, “and that’s what the U.S. Open calls for.”