‘Hardest hole I’ve ever played’: Wicked PGA Championship setup has pros mystified

Cam Davis hits a chip shot to the sixth green at Oak Hill during the second round of the PGA Championship.

Oak Hill's 6th was a torture chamber Friday.

Jack Hirsh/GOLF

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Hideki Matusyama’s tee shot didn’t even make the fairway. Neither did Sungjae Im’s, Matt Wallace’s or Russell Henley’s.

What do Dustin Johnson, Max Homa, Phil Mickelson, Cam Davis and Matt Kuchar all have in common? They all bailed right and into the marsh. None of them made par.

Mickelson even went into the marsh to look for his ball. He knew he crucial every stroke was on 6.

Scottie Scheffler summed up his thoughts on Oak Hill‘s 6th hole quite simply.

“Six is probably the hardest hole I’ve ever played,” he said. “I don’t know what everybody else is saying or the scoring average, but it’s pretty stinking hard.”

It wasn’t just the hardest hole he’s ever played.

At three-quarters of a stroke over par, it was the hardest hole for a single round in the last 30 years at a PGA Championship, per Elias Sports Bureau. That was as far back as hole-by-hole data goes.

There were just as many pars (63) as bogeys, 24 double bogeys and three “others” — equal to the number of birdies. Two of those three birdies came later in the day, when rain softened the course and the wind died down. The wind change was the most important; the 503-yard par-4 played into the 15-20 mph breeze all morning.

Why the high scores? It begins with the tee shot, which has to be played through a narrow gap between the trees to a landing area with marsh and creek to the right and two bunkers to the left, strategically placed some 300 yards off the tee. Then the hole bends slightly right, crosses a creek and approaches a green guarded on the right by bunkers, while the creek wraps around the back left.

On Friday, the pin was tucked in the back right corner, on a plateau. Several chips and pitches rolled up to that tier only to catch the slope and come back down.

But it was the tee shot that might give players nightmares.

Matsuyama’s clipped a tree and stopped only 229 yards from the tee. With 284 yards left, he didn’t even try to carry the creek. He was lucky to escape with 5.

Hideki Matusyama had to play from short of the 6th fairway Friday. Jack Hirsh/GOLF

Less fortunate was Mickelson, who dropped out of the marsh but then had to navigate a third shot which required either going above or around a tree short of the green — with a fairway wood. He pulled the shot instead and it just barely stayed on the bank, above the creek left of the green.

Johnson, Homa and Davis all did the exact same thing. Davis got up and down for 5, but the rest made double. All told, 15 tee shots met a watery grave, while 13 more found Allen’s Creek closer to the green.

The real issue for the players was the hole’s length. Even though the tee was actually moved forward on the box, the back pin made it play every bit of its scorecard yardage at 503.

“It’s crazy difficult,” Mito Pereira said. “It’s 500 yards, into the wind, water right. If you hit it in the rough, you are chipping out. Water around the green. I mean, it’s really, really tough. I hit a good driver, hit 4-iron, made a really good par.”

Is it a fair hole?

Pereira paused.

“Today, I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, it’s playing pretty long.”

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That was actually the closest anyone got to calling the hole outright unfair. Rory McIlroy made bogey but actually thought the hole was playing easier than it had on Thursday. It was still the toughest on the course in Round 1 but played a mere .404 strokes over par.

“Whenever we got there, the wind was sort of straight off the right. The wind is pushing your ball away from the trouble,” said McIlroy, who played in the afternoon wave, when the hole played about .14 strokes easier than the morning. “It’s still a really tough golf hole. You have to stand up and hit two really good shots… The green is quite slopey, so you still have a bit of work to do after that.

“For sure the most difficult hole on the course over the last couple of days.”

Of the nine players under par for the week, just Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Rose made bogey or worse on No. 6 during the second round.

Viktor Hovland made par on 6, 7, 8 and 9, gaining more than a shot and a half on the field in the process.

He said he simply stuck to his game plan in an effort to take the marsh out of play off the tee. He was more successful Friday than Thursday, when he put his drive in the creek and made 5.

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“I was just going to try to hit it left and hit that nice little cut,” he said. “If you hit the fairway off of that tee, 70 percent of the work is kind of done. I had a nice little 6-iron on the second shot, and I wasn’t even thinking about that pin. I was just trying to hit it middle of the green and made an easy par there.

“6, 7, 8, 9, is a very tough stretch. You can’t win it there, but you can certainly lose the tournament there.”

Despite the difficulty of the hole, Hovland actually said he liked it. But would make one change.

“I think for as narrow as it is and how long it is, I think the second bunker on the left is maybe a little bit too severe because that is kind of the bail-out,” he said. “That’s fine. There should be some bunkers there to protect the bail-out, but I think the lip is a little bit too high for shots.”

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.