National's par-3 4th beguiles Walker Cup field
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. The afternoon singles matches at the National Golf Links of America provided an invaluable lesson Saturday: Technology can be overrated when faced with historic architecture.
In the modern game, the par 5 is beloved mainly because it allows for birdies and eagles at usually a generous pace, providing players with a way to make up for misdeeds in other places in their round.
The par 3 on the other hand, no matter what length, can be beguiling and in many case diabolical. Just ask Phil Mickelson, who lost the U.S. Open at Merion because he couldn’t successfully navigate the par-3 13th hole that measured just 113 yards.
The par-3 fourth at National, better known as the Redan hole, comes right out of golf history. A copy of the famous 15th at North Berwick in Scotland, the Redan is named after a type of fortification with a green sloping away from the point of entrance.
Measuring 206 yards Saturday, the Redan was not close to playing its yardage with an elevated tee and a steady 15-20 mph wind at the players' backs out of the southwest.
Max Homa hit an 8-iron and missed the green right, a popular spot in the afternoon, and made a bogey.
“It was impossible.” Homa said of how difficult it was to pull a club on the fourth hole. “It was 190-something yards, but I though I might even hit a nine; but I couldn’t be short.”
In fact, short was the way the hole should be played – with a hole location that was about as far back as possible on a green that was impossible to hold.
“It was extremely difficult,” Bobby Wyatt said of the fourth hole, where he made a double-bogey 5. “Pin's way back left, downwind, firm green sloping away from you, probably the most difficult hole out here; that’s for sure.”
Of the 16 players in the singles matches, only four hit the green – with only Justin Thomas of the U.S. making par. But even Thomas might not have made par if not for a concession of his 8-footer by GB&I’s Nathan Kimsey, who had just made one of the four double-bogeys during the afternoon.
In total there were five pars, seven bogeys and four double-bogeys for a scoring average of 3.94.
Clearly C.B. Macdonald’s copy of the North Berwick masterpiece has something to do with the carnage Saturday, but it seems the players and captains have some culpability as well.
Many of the players made the mistake of hitting too much club, landing the ball on the green instead of landing shots short and letting the ball release onto the green as both designed by Macdonald and as many of the members play the hole.
“The shortest holes are probably the hardest holes in the course,” GB&I’s Jordan Smith said after making one of the few pars on the fourth. “Because down there you've got the wind down, green going back to front so you got to hit it high and land it softly, but that’s just not possible on these greens.”
And where were the captains? Only Jim Holtgrieve made the trip to the Redan hole and that was just to the green with the seventh match of the afternoon. Neither captain made it to the tee to help their players out.
“I wanted to see everybody tee off just as Jim Holtgrieve did,” GB&I Captain Nigel Edwards said of why he didn’t get to the fourth tee. “I can't be in 10 places at once. Pretty difficult.”
Edwards admitted that the fourth was a tough hole, but went on to say that his players know the yardages, have yardage books and know how far they hit the ball.
“Me being on the tee . . . may have helped some of them, it may not have, “ Edwards said. “But I feel that the first tee, when you've got eight players going off, is the important place to be.”
U.S. captain Holtgrieve agreed with Edwards that the first tee was important, but also knew how difficult National was playing and admitted he communicated with his players more today on shot selection and course conditions than two years ago at Royal Aberdeen.
“I was able to tell everybody on the first tee, since the second group played that hole, about what was going on with that particular hole location, and the way I instructed – or not instructed, but the way I told them that they need to be playing that hole,” Holtgrieve said of how he assisted his players. “And even after we had told a number of people, they still were not able to just play it the way that we were telling them, just hit it in the very, very front part of that green. Maybe not even hit the green. Hit it short of that green. And it just – the hole was just a very difficult hole and caused a lot of problems.”
In the end Wyatt maybe understands the hole the best.
“Bobby told me he felt it was the hardest hole in America right now," Cory Whitsett said of a conversation he had with Wyatt on the 18th hole after his match. “Where that pin was today, it was really difficult.”