Rory McIlroy was in trouble. Deep trouble. One of the game’s longest hitters reached the par-five 12th on Day 1 at Oakmont expecting to pick up a shot, a reasonable expectation for McIlroy on any par-5.
After a wayward drive into Oakmont’s ligament-snapping rough, however, followed by a gouge back into the fairway, McIlroy faced a daunting third shot, a whopping 287 yards into the green. When was the last time you can recall a premier power player looking at a shot of nearly 300 yards for his third shot into a par-5?
Not in our lifetimes, anyway. Welcome to Oakmont’s brutal 12th hole.
At 684 yards, as it was set up from its back tee on Thursday, it was the longest hole ever in U.S. Open competition. If it were any longer, they’d test it for steroids. And it played every bit as tough as its listed yardage.
While Round 1’s statistics were incomplete following Thursday’s play, it was clear that the colossal 12th was extracting a ruinous toll. Of the 69 golfers that came through, only five of them made birdie -- again, this is a par-5.
Even with an average driving distance on the 12th of 311.5 yards, more than 15 yards longer than any other hole at Oakmont, only 58% of the players hit the green in regulation, in three shots. The result was a scoring average of 5.217, making it rank as the 11th most difficult hole.
USGA setup men Mike Davis and Jeff Hall framed the 12th hole’s challenges in their daily notes before the first round, speaking to “a very demanding tee shot because of the bunkering and left-to- right severely sloping nature of the fairway, although the softer conditions should help the players in this regard. The second shot is very strategic as the players must contend with a cross bunker that is located approximately 170 yards from the middle of the putting green.”
The softer conditions didn’t help McIlroy. From a lie with the ball below his feet, he flared his third from 287 yards well to the right, into Oakmont’s brutal rough, becoming one of the 42% who did not hit the green in regulation.
From there, the 12 th gets really tough. As the USGA’s Davis and Hall explain, “This is one of Oakmont’s most challenging putting greens. It is fairly narrow and runs from front-left to back-right.” Adds longtime
Oakmont head pro Bob Ford said, “Everything funnels off the back-right of that green. The toughest hole location would be middle-back, in the middle of the back of that green. You’ve got to be long on thi green to have a chance at holing something, even if you go over the green and chip back up at it.”
McIlroy hit a splendid recovery shot from the rough, but he did what Ford said not to do: He left it above the hole. Predictably, he missed the speedy downhill putt for par.
Prior to Round 1 of the 2016 U.S. Open, the longest hole in tournament history was the 16th at the Olympic Club’s Lake course, which stretched 670 yards, amid lush turf and damp, heavy air. Before that?
This very hole at Oakmont, which checked in at 667 yards for the 2007 U.S. Open. Just to keep things fair, the USGA will set up the 12th to play at 632 yards for two days in 2016, so that they can use the back tee at the 10th hole, which shares teeing ground with the 12th on the other two days.
Using the same two days on, two days off system in 2007, the hole still played to almost a half-stroke over par for the entire event. One thing is clear. If players were thinking they’d get one back when they arrived at the 12th, perish that thought.
This endlessly long hole is relentlessly hard.