Pinehurst's impossible 16th hole: a primer

The 16th green at Pinehurst No. 2.

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U.S. Open

Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort (No. 2)

6/12/2014 - 6/15/2014

Pos Name Thru Today Overall
1 Martin Kaymer $1,620,000 600 -9
2 Erik Compton $789,330 270 -1
2 Rickie Fowler $789,330 270 -1
4 Henrik Stenson $326,310 115 +1
4 Jason Day $326,310 115 +1
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PINEHURST, N.C. – The simple reason this hole is so hard is that it’s really a par 5, just wearing a different label for the U.S. Open. Small wonder Pinehurst No. 2’s 16th hole is averaging 4.35 for the first three rounds, which makes it the second hardest hole in relation to par.

Today the hole measures 527 yards, to a center-right hole location. The modest wind, circa 4-8 mph, is favoring from the right and out of the east.

There is water in play – for us mortals, but not for anyone today. It would take a wicked duck-hook of under 200 yards to wind up wet, since the pond protects the start of the fairway, but is in no way a factor for the ball flight of these guys.

Here’s what to look for in Sunday’s final round, when a par here will gain a half shot in the field and birdie is nearly akin to an eagle.

1. Small green. Go figure. The longest hole on the course in relation to par also has the smallest green, only 5,547 square feet, making it about 7 percent smaller than the course-wide average of 5,941 square feet per green. Turns out the surface was designed as appropriate for a par 5. Except this one is actually flatter, or at least less contoured, than any other on the course. The trick is climbing up onto it and staying there. The putting surface also has that Pinehurst trademark turtleback effect, though in this case it’s on the margins of the green rather than in a raised crown. So shots landing about one-third on and hit to the middle will stay.

2. Awkward drive. From the tee, set way back as to form something of a chute through trees,, the big, inviting area of fairway you see is actually the right side of the landing area that these players will want to avoid. There’s bit of reverse camber here – the hole turns left while the grounds tilts to the right. The ideal tee shot comes close to a line of trees on the left and carries over a yawning bunker on that side that’s 250 yards from the tee to cover. The bigger threat on the drive is a trio of bunkers on the outside of the dogleg, to the right, that start at 300 yards. And it’s also easy to simply blow it through the fairway right, into the wiregrass, pine straw and uneven sandscape lining every hole. A carefully flighted drive down the left center reaches a turbo-boost downslope and runs the ball out an extra 20 -30 yards, bringing a well-hit tee shot within 200 yards of the green.

3. Tough second shot. For every player who will go at this greens with a mid-iron, there will be players who have to run the ball in or have a go with a fairway metal or long-iron. It's also a very hard hole for running the ball in, given the narrow opening, protected by a green that tilts left and whose right side is densely covered from 5 o'clock on the veritable clock face all the way back to 12 o'clock.

4. Awkward recovery. The tendency on the approach is to hit a high draw that brings the right side trenches of sand into play. And from there, it's a dicey downhill recovery shot to a green that readily feeds the ball away. With the hole cut middle right, only 6 steps from the side, the flag will look from the fairway as if it’s set in the bunker. That means either balls finding the bunker, leaving a short-sided recovery; or played away from the hole, in which case they’ll race out to the left.

5. Theatrical setting. The green occupies something of a theatrical stage, or at least as much of one as to be found anywhere at Pinehurst No. 2. There’s great viewing here for spectators gathered around the natural bowl formed by the green complex. The setting amplifies the effect of fans and noise, making it one of the real great dramatic moments during a round when the crowd can go from hushed to stunned. The sensibility is not lost on approaching players. Expect something decisive to happen here down the closing moments of the championship.

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