2018 PGA Championship: Bellerive’s 10th proves subtle features can still baffle golf's best

ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 09: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his tee shot on the 10th hole during the first round of the 100th PGA Championship at the Bellerive Country Club on August 9, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

2018 PGA Championship: Bellerive’s 10th proves subtle features can still baffle golf's best

PGA Tour

2018 PGA Championship: Bellerive’s 10th proves subtle features can still baffle golf's best

ST. LOUIS — The fans lining Bellerive’s 10th hole could be confused for main street parade watchers. They set up canvas folding chairs at first light to relax in all-day shade and take in a classy par-4 away from the clubhouse chaos. But casual fans they are not.

Asked why the 508-yard par 4 was giving 2018 PGA Championship contestants fits, the friendly folks of Missouri gave way more astute observations than the usual.

“Slope of the fairway is right to left, but you really need to hit a nice cut into today’s pin,” said a fellow named Mike when asked why there had not been a birdie in the first four hours of play. “Just an awkward combination.”

On a course becoming known for way too many Rees Jones-flattened landing areas on what should be beautiful, rolling grounds for golf, the 10th indeed is a nice natural right-to-left tilt that makes hitting a straight or left-to-right fade into the green tricky. The one caveat? Players can cozy up a drive next to the left-hand fairway bunker.

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A few more fans pointed to the healthiest fescue rough on property, thanks to the shade the cool-season grass gets most of the day. Sure enough, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy opened with bogeys courtesy of the thick stuff topped off on Monday morning and already growing back.

Another fan noted the subtle intimidation factor of hitting a slightly uphill approach into a huge, elevated green that is not particularly deep.

“That left side hazard is sneaky too,” said an older man pointing to a sliver of hazard that could gobble up a 290-yard pull off the tee. “That’s an instant double-bogey start.”

While you may never see the hazard of shrubs on television all week, it’s just prominent enough for all players and caddies to have noted how it could gobble up an overcooked drive.

The twin morals of this story: St. Louis fans know their stuff.

The other?

Bellerive’s 10th will again be one of the toughest holes players see in all of 2018 even though it’s pleasing to the right-hander’s eye. A 508-yarder means nothing in today’s game and this dogleg left features a generous enough fairway to a holding green due.

“You have to just step up and hit an awesome tee shot, you don’t really have a choice, said Ollie Schniederjans, who opened with par en route to a 67. “I think it helps if you can hit it farther because you can kind of take the left hazard out of play and just smoke one, kind of cut it off the bunker. That’s what I did today. So I had just a little 8-iron in. The tee shot’s really everything.”

For the record that was an 182-yard 8-iron that came up just short after a 324-yard drive.

“That’s an eye opener starting on 10 in the early morning,” said Jason Day. “It’s a big, strong hole to start on.”

As difficult as Bellerive’s 10th looks and plays, Round 1 stats stood out for their lack of volatility: No player birdied the hole until Andy Sullivan showed up just before 11 a.m. CT. No player made double bogey or worse until about 12:40 p.m., when Johan Kok opened his day with a six. Yet the 4.350 average is not far off from 1992’s four-round average of 4.454 when 17 birdies were made during the week.

The lack of a big numbers padding the scoring average speaks to the beautiful simplicity of the 10th hole design, where the land and not the architect is causing most of the troublemaking. Thursday’s tough far-right hole location accentuated the simplicity just enough, but given how soft the greens are at Bellerive, there is no hole inaccessible by today’s players.

Not enough holes at Bellerive enjoy the character No. 10 exudes, perhaps due to one too many renovations. When the big circus leaves town, memories of the 10th’s challenge on the back of subtle slopes should be a model for the club in regaining what appears to be unnecessarily lost charm.

Because as with the astute Missourians lining the 10th fairway, charm so often comes in quietly sophisticated ways.

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