‘I don’t want to play it again’: Players react to the Old Course’s 17th hole
The Old Course at St. Andrews has been there for the taking all week.
Well, most of it.
Everything leading up to the Open Championship played into the players’ favor. It was a dry summer in St. Andrews, which let the course get firm and fast. Then, during tournament week, the wind dropped. It stopped short of being easy, but it was far from difficult, either. If you hit the shots, you could shoot low. And players did.
And then there was the 17th hole. It’s difficult at the best of times, but over the weekend at the 2022 Open Championship, the Road Hole was virtually impossible. It’s not just the hardest hole on the course, but perhaps in all of golf. Just four players on Saturday hit the green in two, and the average score during the third round was more than 4.6, with it trending towards 4.5 for the tournament.
“I’ll be happy I’m not playing 17,” said Paul Casey when asked how he’d feel if he’s not in the field for the next Open Championship when it returns to St. Andrews.
There’s a few things that made it particularly difficult. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the tee shot.
It’s long — 456 yards — so players have to hit driver. The fairway is wickedly tight, but somehow that’s not the most difficult part of the hole. The hole doglegs right around a hotel, making the tee shot blind. To make matters worse, the wind has been blowing northwest on hole all week, which, if you’re keeping score, means it’s blowing towards the out of bounds.
The strategy most players have been using has been aiming as far left as they reasonably can, into the fescue, and trying to hit a fade back into the bottlenecking fairway. The fairways are firm, as you’ve probably heard by now, so if you pull it off you can have your ball run right through the bottleneck, into wedge range. It’s how Xander Schauffle managed to hit his ball 405 yards on the hole during his first round.
The problem is flirting with a cut around out of bounds is a scary shot to hit. Most players end up bailing out, and hitting into the fescue to the left. Even those who don’t still may end up there. The fairways are so firm (did we mention that already?) that a good cut shot that doesn’t cut enough will end up rolling through the fairway, like What happened to Rory McIlroy on Saturday.
“I’ve just tried to make par all week,” Fitzpatrick says. “Just bang it into the long rough, wedge it up on the green, and get out with a par.”
And that’s all before we got to the second shot. The out of bounds doesn’t disappear on the tee shot, it extends all the way around the hole, and is very much in play on the second shot. Getting too close to it led to Xander Schauffle, after his 405 yard drive on Friday, makind bogey.
“I got a little greedy on 17 there, thinking I could fly it up top,” he said. “Trouble lurks.”
Over the weekend, the R&A placed the pin back left — the most inaccessible spot on the entire green.
With the course as firm as it is, it meant the only way players have any chance of getting to the pin — or heck, even hitting the green — is approaching the green from the far right side of the hole (where the out of bounds is), and then hitting their ball directly alongside it again on their next shot. Back-to-back shots flirting closely with out-of-bounds, with the wind blowing towards it.
It all equates to a really difficult hole, and lots of bogeys. Nobody has figured about how to master it so far, and it’s almost certain nobody will. Not even the locals, like Robert Macintyre, who has played the hole in one over all week.
“It’s just a tough hole,” he said. “There’s not going to be much cheering going around there.”