ERIN, Wis. — You never know how a course is going to play until the bell rings (so to speak) and the players head off.
All the speculation during practice rounds was on the nastiness of the short par-3 ninth hole, only 135 yards on the official card, or the challenge posed by the proliferation of tall fescue and nasty cross bunkers along the 637 yards on the par-5 18th. But who would have thought that halfway through Thursday’s opening round, the hardest hole on the course would be the par-3 sixth hole, 208 yards in the program.
To start with, it’s been stretched for Round 1 to 252 yards, though it’s also playing straight downwind – a 10-mph breeze from the prevailing west. The pin is cut back right, 38 yards from the front edge but only five paces from the right. And that’s the start of the problem. Balls that make it that far back aren’t stopping. Balls that are intended to make their way to the hole are veering off right or left. It’s almost impossible to land the ball precisely enough to get the proper kick point for the ball to roll close to the hole. All morning, only two birdies were recorded here, neither from them very close. Talor Gooch ran in a 53-foot putt. Brooks Koepka sank it from 49 feet. And at an average score of 3.37 it’s the hardest hole in relation to par at Erin Hills.
It doesn’t have the terror of the ninth hole’s bunkering. What it does have is a landing zone that’s not visible from the tee because it’s hidden by a bunker short right of the green that intruded across the line of play. The ideal landing area is no bigger than three feet by three feet. Anything else comes up short, long, right or left of the hole.
Welcome to the hole that snuck up out of nowhere to bite the players in the field more than any other.