Course set-up: USGA nails it with Nos. 15, 16

Graeme McDowell plays the par-3 15th at The Olympic Club during Round 3 of the U.S. Open.

SAN FRANCISCO – And to warm up for one of the longest holes in U.S. Open history – the par-5 16th at The Olympic Club, which starts in Sausalito and comes to an end in San Mateo – how about one of the shortest.

The thing is, first players had to find the tees at the 107-yard 15th.

“I didn’t know until I walked on (the tee box), that they were on the very front,” Adam Scott said with a laugh. “They were almost next to the 16th tee.”

A bit of an exaggeration, though not by much, because certainly USGA executive director Mike Davis surprised players with such a short set-up at the par-3 15th. It had been set up at 150 yards Thursday, 143 Friday and there wasn’t any reason to suspect it would be much different for Round 3.

Ah, but it was, and those who played it early concede they had to do a double-take and re-check the yardage book. Then they checked it again.

“They’ve done some interesting tee positions this week,” Scott said. “They’re mixing it up.”

Bo Van Pelt was alongside Kevin Streelman in the first pairing. Van Pelt and his caddie, Mark Chaney, considered their options and figured you needed a 100-yard shot, given the firmness of the greens. Somehow Streelman managed to squeeze something in there to about 10 feet, while Van Pelt hit his past the hole to 25 feet.

That, however, only started the fun, because with a hole location front left and atop a little bit of a knob, there would be no easy putts on this green. Rickie Fowler insisted “it’s the most burned-out, brownish and fastest part of any green,” and that was his assessment for early in Round 3.

For later in the day?

“You’ll see players putt it off the green,” Joe Ogilvie said.

Now overall, Ogilvie had a rough morning, shooting 76, but he managed to make his only birdie there at the 15th. When asked how the 15th on this day compared to another well-known short par 3 in the U.S. Open rota nearby (that would be Pebble Beach’s priceless seventh), Ogilvie shook his head.

“It’s exactly the opposite of seven at Pebble Beach,” he said. “This played slightly uphill, Pebble plays downhill and often downwind.”

The other difference is this: Players know the seventh at Pebble; it’s always at 100-110 yards. But at 15 here at The Olympic Club, their shot changed by 35-40 yards. Quirky? Challenging? Different? It was all of that, but it wasn’t something about which they were critical.

“I thought it was fun, a good little hole,” Fowler said.

Certainly, players appeared up to the challenge, because of the first 21 pairings, there were seven birdies, 29 pars and six bogeys. It translated into a field average of 2.9762, but early finishers warned that it might be a bit testier later in the day. Why? With Mother Nature providing a cloudless sky and warm temperature, the sun figured to bake out the already firm putting surface; thus, with the proper wedge shot coming in high and bounding 25 to 40 feet past the hole, players were going to have to roll their putts down a slight hill, let it then ride up the small knob and hope it didn’t slide too far beyond the hole or even off the putting surface, as Ogilvie predicted you’d see.

Heck, even if you got your 40-footer to stay fairly close to the hole, as Scott did, it wasn’t something you could relax over.

“My 3-footer was along pretty brown ground,” he said.

Intriguing that this cozy little hole came at the 15th, just steps before players took on the challenge of a 671-yarder that was very much a beast. The diversity wasn’t lost on Scott, who gave a thumbs up to Davis’ creativity and sense of adventure.

“It’s a very fair set-up,” Scott said. “I think they’ve done a great job here.”

It never got quite as dicey as Ogilvie predicted, though one of the top names on the leaderboard, Nicolas Colsaerts, did three-putt for bogey. It was the lone hiccup of the top players, however, for the rest of them ran off a string of pars.

When all was done, the 15th played to a field average of 3.0556 (eight birdies, 12 bogeys) and while that placed it in the middle of the pack for difficulty, what should be noted is this: Two of the other par 3s (the eighth, which yielded 15 birdies, and 13th, an ace and 11 birdies) played easier.

So, yeah, great things do come in small yardages. Very small yardages.

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