Why the shortest tee shot at the Ryder Cup was an absolute terror

The knee-knocking pin position on the 12th hole in Saturday's fourball sessions gave the players fits.

Alan Bastable

HAVEN, Wis. — If you want to make Bryson DeChambeau look like a mere mortal, take driver out of his hand, replace it with a wedge and have him hit a shot to where the pin was set on the par-3 12th hole at the Straits course on Saturday afternoon.

The 12th plays only 150 yards, give or take, over a gnarly, sandy chasm that sits hard against Lake Michigan, where cocktail-sipping boaters can take in the action. The green is big and sprawling and when the hole is cut in the front or middle even weekend hackers can take dead aim.

But in the Saturday fourball session in this 43rd Ryder Cup, the hole was in neither of those places. Instead, it was set on a maniacal section of the green that Pete Dye surely designed in a fever dream: a back-right finger that is no wider than a two-car driveway. If there’s a more daunting pin position in tournament golf, this reporter hasn’t seen it.

Good luck hitting that target. Alan Bastable

Further complicating matters Saturday was the wind, a steady 15 mph left-to-right breeze blowing back out toward the lake. Further complicating those matters were the several thousand frenzied fans lining the left side of the hole and jammed in the grandstand just behind the green. Attempting this shot in solitude is one thing, attempting it in the cauldron of the most pressure-packed event in golf is quite another.    

So, DeChambeau. When he arrived on the 12th tee, the stakes were high: he and Scottie Scheffler were knotted in their fourball match against Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland. DeChambeau studied his notes, paced off the yardage and conferred with his caddie, Brian Ziegler. Then he swung, sending his ball on a high, soaring trajectory toward the green. The distance was right, the ball flight was not. Too high for this wind. DeChambeau’s ball drifted right, descended, then disappeared down the cliff.

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DeChambeau found his ball but perhaps it’d be better if he hadn’t. From an awkward, tangled hillside lie, he lofted his orb back over the green and into a bunker on the opposing side. After another swing, he still wasn’t on the green. Ball in pocket. Twelfth hole, 1, Bryson, 0.

DeChambeau wasn’t the only player to fall prey to the wicked pin position. Of the 16 players who came through the 12th hole in the Saturday fourball matches, half of them missed the green and none made birdie. (Jordan Spieth nearly did, but his putt from six feet refused to cooperate, horseshoeing out.) Rory McIlroy was left shaking his head after his chip shot from the junk short and right of the green didn’t reach the putting surface. Partners Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, who have been unflappable over the last two days, both missed the green right.    

Jordan Spieth in disbelief after his putt on 12 didn’t drop. Alan Bastable

All this treacherous fun made the 12th one of the best spectator experiences on a sun-splashed Saturday at Whistling Straits.

In the grandstand next to the green, two fans in George Washington costumes led the U-S-A cheers and, when Tony Finau and Harris English arrived on the tee, they were greeted by a spirited rendition of “God Bless America.” European balls that trundled into bunkers — Garcia’s, Rahm’s, Poulter’s — drew cheers, and even the view-obstructing Juniper bush left of the green landed in the gallery’s crosshairs. “Trim that bush!” they boomed in unison. “Trim that bush!” Fifteen motorboats bopped happily out on the lake. A drone buzzed overhead. It was all happening.

Behind the green, two twentysomethings with 24-ounce Mich Ultras in hand had an over-under debate about how many balls they’d need to get a tee shot within a 10-foot circle of the hole.

“At least a couple of sleeves,” one of them said.  

“You mean a couple of buckets?” the other one said, laughing.

Take the over.  

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.