Controversial Open Championship hole claims first victim: the leader
Much was made of the potential difficulty — and fairness — of Royal Liverpool’s mighty mite, the 136-yard par-3 17th, in the pre-Open Championship run-up.
It didn’t take long for the controversial new hole to claim its first victim, Lucas Herbert.
And unfortunately for Herbert, he happened to be tied for the lead at the time.
“I could have told you there would be carnage,” Herbert said after his round. “I could have predicted it for you.”
Let’s set the scene first. The old 15th in the Open routing at Liverpool — now the new 17th — has been reversed since the 2014 Open, creating a shorter par-3 that plays back toward Dee Estuary. Mackenzie & Ebert design built an elevated infinity green with run-offs all around and guarded by a brutal pot bunker on either side. A miss long or short could find thick rough or natural sandy areas.
The new 17th, named “Little Eye,” had everyone talking.
“It’s fair, because if it’s unfair, it’s unfair to everybody,” world No. 3 Jon Rahm said Tuesday.
Matthew Fitzpatrick called the hole “interesting” but wouldn’t elaborate any further. His caddie, Billy Foster, did it for him.
“There was nothing wrong with the little par-3 they had before, and they’ve created a monstrosity, in my opinion,” Foster told Golf Monthly. “The green is very small. If you land it a foot short, it rolls back into a coffin that’s underground, so deep. This is challenging the best golfers in the world that will be making 6s, 7s and 8s.”
With that, we rejoin Herbert. Just two holes earlier, the Aussie had hit the green in two on the par-5 15th. When he made the 28-footer for eagle to get to three under for his opening round, he had a share of the early lead with amateur Christo Lamprecht.
At “Little Eye,” though, his fortune changed.
The hole is playing just 126 yards Thursday into the breeze, but can still wreak havoc. When Herbert pulled his approach well left of the target, he got a break, his ball somehow skirting the edge of the left pot bunker and stopping before dropping into the sand below the putting surface.
All things considered on a green that many considered borderline unplayable if you miss it, Herbert had a seemingly benign second that didn’t have to go over the pot bunker and was nearly level with the hole location.
“I probably hit in the best spot to miss it and it was still quite a tricky chip,” he said.
The fans, Herbert said, weren’t particularly sympathetic to his plight. “Felt like there was about 5,000 professional golfers sitting around us in the stands watching it,” he said. “But it’s just not easy.”
His chip avoided the first bunker no problem, but the bunker on the other side became the issue as his ball had too much speed and went over the green, finding the front left corner of the bunker.
“Oh no, Lucas will be done,” said a broadcaster on the Open’s world feed. “Oh my goodness, look at that for a stance coming our way.”
From there, Herbert had absolutely no shot. From an awkward stance with his back leg out of the bunker, Herbert got his first attempt out of the sand, but not for long as it rolled back down and into the bunker once again.
“I had sort of one foot in the bunker, one foot out,” Herbert said. “Look, in hindsight it’s very easy to look at it, and maybe even from the stands look at it and go, just get it out on to the green, but it just wasn’t as easy as that. I felt like if I had have hit it just a fraction harder I could have been back in the bunker on the other side. It was just a really tough shot. Had to get pretty steep at it because I didn’t have a stance in the shorter side of the bunker, so just didn’t come out the way I wanted it to and it rolled back in. Fortunately it rolled where I could get a stance for the second time around.”
His second attempt, now his fourth shot, went better as the 27-year-old could get both feet in the bunker and blasted out to 18 feet.
From there, he two-putted for a disastrous triple-bogey, sending him back to even par, where he finished his day after a 71. The triple dropped him 19 places on the leaderboard.
It was the first double-or-worse during the first round at 17th, which was playing as the 10th hardest hole in the early going of Round 1, yielding just three birdies as of this writing.
When asked about the difficulty of Thursday’s pin position, Herbert said: “To be honest, the pin position doesn’t matter. Literally I’m aiming at the same spot every day no matter where the pin is.”