Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Baltursol's par-10 finish is anything but boring


SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — As one player said this week, Baltusrol will “par 4 you to death.”

And if you’re not dead by the time you get through 16 holes of long par 3s and many par 4s hovering around 500 yards, then you finally get to the Lower Course’s par 5s.

The first is a rarity these days in major championship golf: a true three-shot hole. At 649 yards on the card, with crossbunkers dividing the hole at 350 yards, not even U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson can find his way on board in two shots.

“Yesterday I hit a pretty good drive,” said the U.S. Open champion on Wednesday. “It was a little downwind and I still had 295 front or something. So it’s not really doable, unless it firms up.”

The hole demands a good tee shot out of a partial chute into the fairway, otherwise risking finding deep, gnarly rough just yards off the short stuff. The lay up is a little uncomfortable, too, requiring a long iron to get over the cross bunkers and around a tree that somewhat hides the modest landing area for a straight-forward third shot. The green is fairly large, but it’s protected by a slew of deep bunkers. In other words, if you mess up that 100-yard shot you should hit for your third, you’ll pay dearly.

You could say the 17th really is just a par 3 with 500 yards of wasted time, but that would be missing the point. The PGA of America wants to see these guys play strategic golf when it’s all on the line. It’s relatively easy to blast away, without threat of reprisal. With a major hanging in the balance, what is typically a stock wedge shot may not be so simple into a tucked pin threatening doom if the player goes long, comes up short or spins the ball too much.

By Johnson’s account, the next hole should be simple by comparison.

“Everybody is going to reach 18,” he said.

Not so fast.

The finishing hole at Baltusrol is nearly 100 yards shorter than the first of the back-to-back par 5s to end a round. At 550 yards, it sounds downright easy. However, in the 11 years since Phil Mickelson won his only Wanamaker trophy to date in a Monday finish here, the club has brought in Rees Jones to restore some of the original shot value of the course. That included making a pond on the left side of the landing area more prominent. Now, it’s not a simple matter of distance.

“If you choose to hit a hybrid or a 3-wood off the tee, you can now aim 20 yards to water’s edge,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “So what it’s done is it’s just taken driver out of your hands and driver is not a very good play, unless it’s obviously into the wind and you have to hit driver to get there.”

This tournament is likely to boil down to how the players perform on these two holes. Mickelson, 11 years ago, played them in 4 under par for the week. The winning total score? It was 4-under 276.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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