With with tee moved back some 40 yards, the drive on the famed Road Hole at St. Andrews has become even more daunting. (Getty Images)
Mixed reaction to the new, longer Road Hole
Some are wondering why mess with perfection? Others think the new changes are "spot on." Regardless of what players think, there's no doubt that the longer and arguably tougher Road Hole at St. Andrews is likely to play a big role in who captures the Claret Jug.
By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.com Contributor
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- It's tucked behind the old railroad shed and behind the white out-of-bounds stakes that border the right side of the 16th green.
You can't see much of the fairway, let alone the green, from it. You cross a service road to get to it. And when you do, you realize it's carved out of a practice area. Seriously. Then you hear it just might be going away after this week. That's right. Poof. One-shot wonder.
We're talking the new 17th tee, of course. The one that's adding 40 yards to an already quirky hole which you either love or find a wee bit obsolete. The one that's the subject of a few screaming headlines and more than a little headshaking.
The source of wonder and a venture into the unknown -- will they have to hit it over the hotel? -- for every player in this 150th Anniversary Open Championship. Until, of course, they see it.
At that point, they take a deep breath and realize the line really is the same as it always has been. Then they take dead aim -- at one of the Os on the Old Course Hotel sign, mostly. Dustin Johnson takes the O in hotel. Others go for the O in Course, or the one in Old. Or they just wait to see what the wind does and adjust.
Then there's Bo Van Pelt, who is keeping it seriously simple.
"I aim between the dragon and the L," he said. "If I do that, I'm okay. Just try to kick a field goal between the two."
Makes perfect sense. And, about the dragon? It's really a medieval-looking lion on the Old Course logo. But, all too often, dragon has seemed more fitting.
Think David Duval in 2000. He's chasing Tiger Woods and takes four to get out of the six-foot deep, sod-sided bunker that guards the green. Or Tommy Nakajima in 1978 when his birdie putt wound up in the bunker. Took him four to get out.
Or Arnold Palmer, who hit a 6-iron into the green the first three days in 1960 and three-putted for par. On the final day, he hit 5-iron over the green and got it up and down for birdie. He lost to Kel Nagle, who played the hole 6-under that week, by one shot.
Jack Nicklaus used to say it was a par 4 1/2. Ben Crenshaw called it the hardest par 4 because it's really a par 5. And he was, of course, historically right. It was a par 5 in 1900 and stayed that way until 1964.
With the change to par 4 came the warp-speed evolution of technology and suddenly the old hole was a bit dodgy. Too many seriously short irons into the green. Not enough balls diving in the bunker or bouncing along the macadam road.
The problem was fewer players were hitting driver off the tee -- think fun and games -- and too many were hitting serious short irons into the green, thus taking the bunker and the road out of play.
Peter Thomson used to say if he played it with two 4s and two 5s, you weren't losing ground. This week? It depends on how -- both speed and direction -- the wind blows.
"Well, it's a tough hole to begin with, no matter how you look at it," Woods said. "I know that they wanted us to hit more club into the greens, into that particular green. They did this whole study in '95, and the average player was hitting a 5 iron. Come 2000, 2005, I think it was like an 8 iron, so they wanted to get it back to a 5 iron in there.
"It's the same angle, obviously a little bit longer. When we played it on Sunday, it was almost impossible to try to hit. You actually had to hit the ball into the hotel because the wind was blowing off the right. Granted, it was blowing 40, but today it was in off the left, and it was a lot easier to hit that fairway. It caters to a left-to-right wind. Today was much easier."
Woods, who calls himself neutral on the changes, said it's still a hole where you have to get the ball in the fairway. Miss it left and you hit the worst rough on the course -- wispy stuff above fluffy deep grass.
"(Find the fairway) and then your real work begins, just trying to figure out how should I play my second shot," he said. "Should I play it up on top, should I play it short, should I play it left, so many different options. But it's a hard hole no matter how you look at it, whether it's played short or long. "
Former Open champ Tom Lehman doesn't think they'll use the tee if the wind comes from the East. Paul Casey figures -- depending on the weather, which is lining up in typical Scottish bad-to-worse scenario -- the Royal and Ancient might choose to play two rounds on the new back tee, two forward. Just, he reiterated, get the ball in the fairway.
Reactions to the hole? Yin and yang. Colin Montgomerie, who was runner up here in 2005 to Woods, just happened to mention that if you designed a hole like 17 today, "you would be shot."
"If you said now, 'I'm going to put a tee over an old railway on a practice ground and get you to hit over a disused course and over a hotel,' people would think you were off your head," Montgomerie said.
Recent U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell weighed in, too. "It's long, it's tough," he said. "I don't dislike it but it's ridiculously difficult. I don't think it was needed. It's a great hole."
And from the other side? Lee Westwood and Ernie Els both like the change.
"It's still a pretty similar line, it's just because of the angle, the wall goes away on the right inside, and it comes into play more," Westwood said. "It's a little bit more demanding."
Added Els, "I think they've absolutely got it spot on. I think you've got to hit a driver off the tee now, off the back. You've got to slide it left to right like we used to before the equipment changes, and your second shot, the Road Hole, the Road comes into play now, so it's all good.
"I remember when Tom Watson was going for his, I think his sixth win in '84, and he went for his shot, and I think he hit a 2 iron and hit it onto the road and Seve made his putt. And I think they want to bring that back."
That day, Watson watched his 2-iron shot fly the green and scoot across the road and stop against the wall. He had to chip and bogeyed, leaving Watson with five Opens, but without an Open at St. Andrews.
And this week? It might be a wee bit of fun to see a few golf balls scurry down the road. Or to watch someone try and hit from up against the wall. It won't be fun if someone gets in that wispy stuff left. Or if someone has to drop from the 16th green out-of-bounds, then tee off from the same area a few minutes later.
What will be fun? Watching the wind -- not if, but when -- start playing with the drives. Then, and only then, will we really know what to think. Then again, maybe we already do.
"You always want to make sure that the guy who wins the Open Championship is tested at some stage down the stretch," Harrington said. "There's nobody going to get through 17 without thinking about it, that's for sure."
Just aim for an O or keep it simple like Van Pelt -- between the dragon, er, lion and the L.