How I got humiliated by a very short, very famous par-3
Among the corniest, most overused jokes in the golf world has to do with a very specific golf hole: the short, tricky par-3.
Surely you’ve heard it before; this cliche knows no boundary. Public course, private course, American, Scotland, Australian. “Here it is,” a local will tell you with a wink. “The shortest par-5 in the world!”
Golf is no stranger to cliches, and this one lives everywhere. Courses everywhere promising their tricky little par-3 is way harder than you think. Erin Hills will say it about their 9th. Shinnecock about its 11th. Same for Sebonack’s 12th. Royal St. George’s’ 16th. St. Andrews locals might even say it about the No. 11 on the Old Course. They’re all pretty short and damn tricky, surrounded by bunkers, with landing spots as big as a queen-size bed.
The corniness of the line feels worse every new place you hear it, and rings hollow after you’ve made par, birdie or bogey. What’s the big deal? Only once you actually make a five does it feel like the moniker fits. And then, when you make an eight, well, you no longer mock the cliche at all. Such was my experience at Royal Troon’s devious delight.
Troon’s 8th stretches just 123 yards for you, 123 yards for me and 123 yards for Rory McIlroy, too, during an Open Championship. It’s officially named “Ailsa” for the island you can see (with good weather) off the coast. The nickname “Postage Stamp” arrived via Golf Illustrated decades ago, describing the size of the green.
What makes it tricky? For one thing, you’ve been making full swings for seven holes, going at it 100%, battling (in our case) for yardage into a stiff breeze. And now, with just a gap wedge between you and the green, you don’t want to go 100% at this shot at all.
You’ve also been playing the same direction all day. Troon’s first seven holes all run south along the beach. But now, on perhaps the highest point of the property, you’re rotated about 100 degrees to the right and asked to judge a new wind for the first time. The question is suddenly different: Can you flip a cute little wedge at a skinny target with the wind whipping across the hole?
This leads to questions of your own. How long will this ball be in the air? Do I really have to play it out over that bunker? What if I overcook the draw and find the other bunker? Is this a 75% wedge or a 90% wedge? All reasonable! And if you’re curious what it looks like when someone is asking themselves too many questions during a swing, you’ve come to the right place. Troon was the third and final stop on our Open Championship trip through the United Kingdom. We made a video about it below.
With a stiff breeze blowing left to right, I convinced myself I needed to start the ball at the left greenside bunker. A straight shot there would guide the ball back to the front-middle pin location and we’d have a look at birdie. But what makes these par-5s posing as par-3s so tough is not the first shot but rather the second. From the green, it’s a piece of cake. From around it, more questions abound.
With that left bunker as my target, I forced my hands left, turning the ball even further left of the bunker, into fescue
A half-bladed wedge from a scrubby lie found me 20 yards right of the hole.
A deceleration through my third stroke found me in what I’d like to call Rory’s Grave. Mr. McIlroy left his approach in this bunker six years ago during a practice round at the 2016 Open, and it took him six shots to get out. As you can watch here, Henni Koyack confirmed that Graeme McDowell called that bunker “virtually unplayable” that week. McIlroy understood, and so did I.
One shot into the face of the bunker, ball back to my feet.
A second shot into the face of the bunker, ball mostly back to my feet.
Finally a decent splash onto the putting surface and two putts for an eight.
Eight shots in about five minutes will humble you real quick, par 3, 4 or 5. I had been stamped by the Postage Stamp, a big ugly ‘8’ written on the scorecard. To make matters worse, the heavens soon opened up and poured down on us for about three holes, testing every bit of our waterproof FootJoy gear.
The only thing healing my pain on this day was the fact that I’ll have a story to tell when the Open revisits Troon in 2024. “Here it is,” I’ll say confidently, “the shortest par-5 in the world.” But I’ll brag about the fact that I made eight, since McIlroy had a 6-footer left for the same score, but he scooped it up and moved on.
Watch and weep below.