U.S. Open 2022: The short par 3 that has a chance to stand tall
BROOKLINE, Mass. — Daniel Berger took five cuts with a wedge in hand, made a step to his ball only to back off, laughing as he did. “It looks so short!” Berger remarked, presumably to his caddie but maybe just to himself. He wondered if he should switch to lob wedge, realized the weapon in his hand was the smart choice and took an abbreviated swing that sent his ball sailing into the New England sky. The ball landed just past the flag and backed up to four feet. The gallery clapped, Berger raised his hand and sauntered back to his bag, shaking his head. Berger was right; the 11th hole at this U.S. Open does look short. That’s because it is. And to that we give thanks.
“Short” is not synonyms with the U.S. Open, especially as of late, with holes getting longer as the golf ball continues to do the same. And the 11th—which technically plays as the 12th for members of the Country Club—has been on the sidelines well before the distance debate began, the USGA not using the hole in its 1988 or 1963 Open routings at Brookline. But this course is a Golden Age masterpiece, and rather than bow to modern advancements the USGA has decided to allow this hole from the past into the present.
The aesthetics alone warrant the 11th’s inclusion. An elevated tee box gives vista to the delightfully-cruel 10th, the quirky 13th and most importantly its own green, which sits some 30 feet below the hitting area and is guarded by four bunkers. There are woods to the left, marsh to the right, fescue in the front and a pond in the distance. If Norman Rockwell attempted to paint this New England landscape it would be ridiculed for being a bit too on the nose. However, whatever tranquility the views convey is quickly shaken by the green. In restoring The Country Club to its original design Gil Hanse stretched the 3,000 square foot dance floor to nearly 4,500 feet. The putting surface’s curvature and slope don’t allow a straight putt, and the edges are pulled so tight that anything less than good is sent packing.
Yet what gives the 11th its oomph, its charm, its interest is its length, or lack thereof.
From the back of the back box it stands at 140 yards. It has the capability to be just over the size of a football field. On Thursday it weighed in at 131. The local caddies say, in spite of the drop, to play the number. On Thursday most of the pro jocks told their guys—thanks to an up-front pin and some wind from behind—to play it 105. If that sounds tiny, you’re right. At last month’s PGA Championship three of the one-shotters were 215 yards or longer, with the shortest hole at Southern Hills still a stout 175. Such holes are not to be played as to be survived.
Which, in our opinion, is redundant. Uncreative. And boring, yes? Short holes like the 11th make us feel alive.
They call artistry and allow for attacks while simultaneously punishing those who mistake their yardage for weakness. They facilitate highlights and lowlights. It can produce heroes and make others question their faith. They are golf’s version of a femme fatale, something that can be so seductive one minute and break your heart the next. It’s no surprise that some of the shortest par 3s on the world’s best courses double as the most exciting: Golden Bell at Augusta National, the Postage Stamp at Troon, the 7th at Pebble Beach, the 13th at Merion. They have a spirit their longer counterparts can not grasp.
“There are a lot of great holes here,” a volunteer charged with manning the water near the 11th box said. “This might be my favorite. So many things could happen.”
Alas, that dynamism wasn’t on full display Thursday, at least through the morning wave. The pin was in a spot that will be as accessible as it will likely get this week, and the greens are slightly softer than expected. That allowed the morning group to give their approaches a run, and for the most part they were not punished for their opportunistic mindsets. It played easy, the third-easiest hole in the morning and one of the few birdie opportunities.
The players knew it too, especially those who didn’t take advantage of what was before them. On his miss, a flare to the right, Adam Scott let out a “Gosh Adam!” which for me or you qualifies as a string of profanities. The 11th didn’t have much bite, either: Among the first 84 players to pass through there were just 11 bogeys. By the green, there was a collective exhale when leaving to the 12th, the field knowing they had, for at least one day, stolen one from the course.
“This isn’t how I thought this would play,” the volunteer on the tee box sighed after Scott, Jordan Spieth and Max Homa played the hole without incident. “It feels like a pitch-n-putt.”
Which is fine; even the U.S. Open allows for respites. We hope our volunteer friend finds solace that the 11th will likely not be such a singular experience this weekend.
The flag won’t be as welcoming and the wind won’t be coming strictly from behind, which should usher in more options than the stock wedges. Once the greens dry out the yo-you backspin won’t be guaranteed, and those bunkers that weren’t a part of the story Thursday morning could have a very big role in how this U.S. Open plays out. It should still be able to be tamed, but it will be able to bark back.
In short, expect the 11th to stand tall.
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