Risk-reward 15th hole arrives as signature hole of this Ryder Cup
MEDINAH, Ill. -- Hello, world. Medinah Country Club finally has a signature hole.
The new 15th, a risk-reward, reachable par 4, has officially arrived. It staked its claim by playing a key role in Friday morning's foursome matches at the Ryder Cup. It figures to be a pivotal hole for the rest of the Ryder Cup, and to infinity and beyond.
Medinah has always lacked a little bit of identity. It was long and doglegged and choked with trees. But no single hole ever truly stood on its own.
Not the 18th, a nondescript par 4 even after it was redone the first time. It's not an easy 4, but it's just not inspiring. Not the 17th, a long par 3 over water that looks a lot like the 13th, a long par 3 over water, and the second, a long par 3 over water.
The closest thing to a signature hole was probably the 16th, a sharply doglegged uphill par 4 that gained fame when Hale Irwin hit a beautiful 2-iron shot there in the 1990 U.S. Open, and even more when Sergio Garcia played his famous eyes-closed shot from the base of a tree onto the green during the 1999 PGA Championship. But you can't see the green from the tee, not even from the fairway, really, and its sharp turn and many trees make it photo-resistant.
Which brings us back to the 15th, where the creation of golf lore was immediate. Famed course architect Rees Jones turned the oh-so-ordinary 15th into a risk-reward hole when he tweaked the Medinah course for these matches. He used the concept from the 10th hole at The Belfry, a legendary Ryder Cup hole in its own right, to make Medinah's 15th a short, drivable par 4. This revised hole curls slightly to the left and is bordered by a lake down the entire right side. Yes, you can drive the green from the forward tees -- it played about 330 yards Friday -- but you do so at your own risk.
The strategic value that Jones built into the hole became apparent as soon as the first match arrived. Americans Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker had just birdied the 14th hole to remain 2 down against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Furyk, a straight-but-not-big hitter, hit an aggressive tee shot on 15 with his driver to just below the front fringe of the green, practically ensuring birdie. That forced McDowell to match him rather than lay up, and G-Mac put a tad too much fade on his drive and splashed it into the lake.
"I felt like at 2 down, we really had no real choice," Furyk said. "I like to hit that low cut, that's kind of my bread and butter, especially with a right-to-left wind. And we applied a little pressure there."
This was a potentially key Mongolian Reversal moment as the Americans won the 15th and the 16th to square the match. Europe won the 18th hole and the point, but the 15th hole had already showed its merit.
The situation was just the opposite when the next match arrived. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley had just won three holes in a row to sprint to a 3-up lead. Mickelson, long an outspoken Rees Jones critic, had called the 15th "reachable but not really drivable" in pre-tournament talk and said the smart play all week would be to lay up. Considering the source, no one was sure if Mickelson was serious, or if it was some kind of smokescreen to fool the Euros.
With a 3-up lead, Mickelson's partner, Bradley, did indeed lay up with an iron off the tee. At 3 down, the Europeans had to go for it. Luke Donald pulled his tee shot badly to the left, leaving Sergio Garcia a pitch shot that he misplayed and dumped into the greenside bunker. After Donald splashed out, Bradley poured in a long birdie putt to close out the match. The legacy of No. 15 was cemented.
There was more. The Americans had a 1-up lead in the third match at the 15th, and they too laid up. Lee Westwood went for the green for the European duo and blocked it way right, splashing it far out in the lake. Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson won the hole to go 2 up, then clinched the match at 16.
The last match had its own mini-drama. Tiger Woods was going for the green but pulled his tee shot left. It caromed off a tree back toward the green and stopped in the short cut of grass on the upslope in front of the putting surface. The Americans got up and down for birdie to get to 2 down, but they still lost the match.
Before the tournament, Jones explained the changes and their effect on the 15th this way: "It's now an important part of the round and extends one of the great finishing tests in golf."
Jones nailed it. The 15th is just what Medinah needed -- a glamorous, exciting, memorable hole late in the round.
Thanks to this brilliant update, it might be time to reconsider bringing the U.S. Open back to Medinah. Are you listening, USGA?