KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Off in the distance some 230 yards is a sliver of emerald safety that gives slight comfort to those who will be staring down potential tragedy during the 103rd playing of the PGA Championship.
It’s the putting surface at the end of the par-3 17th hole on The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Pete Dye’s masterpiece hard by the Atlantic that, while eye-popping, is a wind-swept, treacherous walk on a tightrope, or as Lee Westwood said of the layout, it’s a thrills-and-spills kind of place.
This week, the course could play out to 7,876 yards, making it the longest in major championship history by more than 100 yards, and the 230 yards on the penultimate hole protected by water on the right and two deep waste areas that look like bunkers on the left could prove the most pivotal of all.
“Seventeen is the ultimate test of nerve,” 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott said. “It doesn’t matter when you’re playing it. If it’s three weeks ago or this Sunday coming down the stretch, it’s a long par 3 over water.
“I don’t know how holes get more difficult than that.”
If blame is to be assigned for the cruel outcomes over the years on the 17th, it would be directed toward Alice Dye, an accomplished architect herself and a top golfer who always had her husband’s ear. It was her idea as the course was nearing completion for the 1991 Ryder Cup to add the watery graveyard.
“There wasn’t going to be a lake on the 17th but Alice felt we needed a dramatic element at this point,” Dye wrote in his autobiography. “Since players of Ryder Cup caliber can handle bunker shots with ease, to make a realistic challenge, we dug an eight-acre lake that stretches from the tee to the offset green, which runs away from the player diagonally to the right.”
The hole exploded in the minds of golf fans when The Ocean Course made its tournament debut in the 1991 Ryder Cup dubbed the “War by the Shore.” It played out like a dark alley in a horror flick as players fell victim to the confrontation time and time again.
Johnny Miller said on the telecast that year the hole was so intimidating that a player could choke while playing a practice round alone. David Feherty, who closed out Payne Stewart in Ryder Cup singles play on the 17th, said he’d never seen anything like it.
“The hardest hole in the history of the universe,” Feherty said of the 1991 version of the 17th. “It was 270 yards and nowhere to go. Water to the right and these mine shafts on the left they called bunkers.”
Mark Calcavecchia had one of golf’s infamous meltdowns in his crucial singles match against Colin Montgomerie. Calcavecchia was 4 up with four holes to play but lost the 15th and 16th. He looked safe to win after Montgomerie hit his tee shot on 17 into the water.
Calcavecchia, however, hit a shank into the lake and then missed a 3-footer for bogey to lose the hole. He also lost the 18th and only earned a halve. Thinking he cost the U.S. victory, he went to the beach and broke down in tears, then started hyperventilating and needed medical attention. His health improved as the U.S. won the match.
Twenty-one years later, The Ocean Course held its first major with the 2012 PGA Championship and the par-3 17th wasn’t much easier. The field averaged 3.303 strokes on the hole that week, making nearly as many double bogeys or worse (28) than birdies (31). It ranked in the top-10 of most difficult par-3s that year on the PGA Tour.
And now it’s making another start turn this week.
Expect more carnage.
Well, maybe not from Wyndham Clark. The first alternate who got into the field Monday when 1998 and 2004 PGA champion Vijay Singh withdrew, had never seen the course before playing a Tuesday practice round. At the 17th, he took out his 4-iron and sent the ball skyward and made a hole in one.
As for most all others, the 17th was not kind.
Using a 2-iron on Tuesday, world No. 4 Xander Schauffele hit a tee shot that found the water. Using the same 2-iron, he hit his next tee shot to 2 feet.
“I think that kind of sums up the hole in all honesty,” he said. “When you’re hitting a long iron into wind and it’s struck properly, it should hold its line and its flight. If you don’t, it’s going to go way offline and not hold its flight.
“You’ve really got to muster up some courage coming down the stretch and depending on where they put that tee box, it’s going to be really tricky.”
World No. 2 Justin Thomas took to Twitter and Instagram to show his go at 17.
“220 hole, 198 cover, into a 15ish mph wind … what y’all hitting? I flighted hold cut 4 iron … into the water. It looked pretty though!” he wrote with the accompanying video documenting the shot.
World No. 3 Jon Rahm muscled up when he got to the 17th.
“I smoked a 2-iron to just carry it over the middle of the green over the water,” he said. “Extremely difficult. That’s all I can say. Any time you have 230 yards into the wind over water into a narrow target, it’s just not easy.
“I’m hoping we don’t play it back there every day.”
So does Kevin Kisner.
“Lord hope that we’re going to play a tee up,” Kevin Kisner said. “(Tuesday) we played it at 202 from the front edge of the back box, so we were trying to hit a 235-yard shot over water to an area about 13 yards wide.
“I tried to hit a 7-wood; was unsuccessful. That’s not a very easy shot into the wind. Depending on where they play it and where the flag is, I think you have a range (of club selection) from 5-iron to 3-wood.
“Sounds fun, doesn’t it?”
The 17th is part of a closing stretch that’s just downright mean – the 466-yard, par-4 15th; the 608-yard, par-5 16th; the 17th; and the 505-yard, par-4 18th. It’s an unsympathetic finish which demands the winner to call on all his talents.
Which is the way it should be, said European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, who won the 1997 World Cup here with Paul McGinley.
“If you want to hit the green on 17, you’ve got to be brave,” said Harrington, who hit 5-wood into the wind on Tuesday at the 17th. “There are a lot of great holes here. I do agree if I was designing the golf course, a championship golf course, I would have a real stern test at the end because you want a true winner, and a true winner is going to have to hit the shots at the end and really take them on.
“You can’t have a soft finish in any shape or form. Nobody would have won this tournament until they’re through the 71st hole, that’s for sure.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/19/pga-championship-kiawah-island-17th-hole-scorecards/