Friday, June 15, 2012

16th hole at Olympic’s Lake Course will be “Lake Merced Monster” for 2012 Open

The USGA has made a number of the usual “U.S. Open setup” course changes to the Olympic Club’s Lake Course in preparation for the 112th United States Open Golf Tournament – lengthening holes, narrowing and re-routing fairways, growing out the rough, and shaving runoff areas around some greens. Of all those changes, however, there is one which has excited the imaginations of spectators, and raised the ire of players, more than any other: the stretching of the par-5 16th hole to 670 yards by the addition of a new tee box.
Players evaluate their second shots on the long par-5 16th hole at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course during a practice round for the 2012 U.S. Open photo credit: Gary K. McCormick (2012)
A lot of golf fans I have talked to are fed up with the pros automatically assuming that a par-5 is pretty much an automatic birdie – or even an eagle opportunity given a really great second shot – and obviously, the USGA feels the same way. USGA Director Mike Davis and his course-setup gurus wanted a true three-shot par-5 at the Olympic Club for the 2012 Open, and unable to dial back the ball or club design, they found the opportunity they were looking for in the Lake Course’s 16th hole.
A long, left-curving par-5 at the bottom of the course, near the shore of Lake Merced, the 16th is the first of two consecutive par-5s on Olympic’s Lake Course – the only par-5s on the course. At 609 yards from the blacks it was already a pretty testing hole before the changes, and then the USGA cranked up the difficulty by adding another tee box, 60 yards farther back, between the 10th and 15th greens and the 11th tee. For the volunteer course marshals, and spectators trying to follow playing groups through this part of the course, this area will be a traffic nightmare; for the players it could be a bad dream of a different sort.
Reaction to the changes from the players has been mixed, ranging from Tiger Woods: “If you hit two good shots into 16 you're going to have a wedge in there, [and] you should make birdie.” to a somewhat testy Bubba Watson: “I don't know why it needs to be 670 with the deepest rough of the golf course.”
Steve Stricker, when asked how he felt about having to wait until 16 for the first par 5 on the course, and then having two par-5s in a row, said,“Is that a par-5? (Laughter) [Q. Par six?] Yeah, it’s a par six.” Phil Mickelson had this reaction to 16: “… you play 15 holes of really tough, tough golf. And you finally get your first par-5 and it’s the toughest hole on the course.”
In Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice rounds, most players were trying various combinations of driver and 3-wood, back tee and front tee, and taking a long hard look at where each shot ended up. With the fairway narrowed toward the left in the landing area, a shot to the rough on the outside of the curve meant a hard choice between a 7-iron or a hybrid; players were seen trying both. The position of the green, and especially the placement of the opening to the green, a narrow sward between a pair of deep-ish bunkers, dictates an approach from the right, but the curve and width of the fairway makes that position difficult to achieve.
With the back tee slated to be used in at least two rounds, players will be faced with a hard choice: take 3-wood for better assurance of a position in the fairway and a clean lie – but farther back, behind the curve and with a poor angle to the green; or, take driver and try for a great angle for the approach, but with the possibility of ending up in a sticky, ankle-deep lie in the rye and bluegrass combo that comprises the rough at Olympic.
Olympic’s 18th hole, with its amphitheater setting and Spanish-style club house backdrop (reminiscent of the finishing hole at another classic California course, Riviera Country Club) may be the glamour hole, and the long par-3 13th, with its shaved and severely sloping runoff areas, may be the little monster this week, but the big, bad 16th hole will be the real “Monster of Lake Merced” at the 2012 Open.
[UPDATE: After the first round of regulation play, the 16th hole was rated #2, playing to a stroke average of 5.536.]

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