Tour and News

Triple Threat

Photo: Taku Miyamoto

PGA dreams may well drown in the greenside creek at No. 12.

Two things to know about Southern Hills: (1) Contrary to its name, it's not all that hilly, and (2) Come summer, it can be hotter than a habanero in a deep fryer.

When Tommy Bolt went wire-to-wire to win the 1958 U.S. Open in temps that exceeded 100 degrees each day, writers dubbed the championship the "Blast Furnace Open." It was hotter still for Dave Stockton's PGA win in 1970.

No matter what the thermometer reads at this year's championship, however, nothing will put more heat on the field than Southern Hills' ruthless par 4s.

The starting trio, especially the newly lengthened 486-yard second, is one of the nastiest how-do-you-dos in golf. Then there's the back nine, anchored by three of the most demanding par 4s in America: the 12th, 16th and 18th. Here's a look at each.

Par 4: 458 yards
How it played at the 2001 U.S. Open
Stroke average: 4.29 Rank: 5th hardest hole
Birdies: 46 Bogeys or worse: 151

The Deal: Ben Hogan called the 12th "the greatest par 4 in the United States." Most players will hit 3-wood off the tee on this dogleg-left because "it's hard to fit a driver into the small — and blind — landing area," says Dave Bryan, Southern Hills' head pro.

Long hitters might cut the corner, but it'll take a 265-yard carry into a left-to-right wind to fly the single perfectly placed bunker. Watch for some fun off the right side of the green this year — they've shaved the bank, which will bring a creek into play.

Memory Lane: Trying to win the only major that eluded him, Arnold Palmer took a two-shot lead after the 11th hole of the 1970 PGA's second round, only to give it back on 12. After his approach from the rough landed on a clump of weeds in a creek bed, Arnie refused a penalty drop and instead took a violent lash at the ball. He ended up with a double bogey.

Pro-spective: "I hit a driver fade off the left side in 2001 because the wind was down off the left, and between a 5- and 9-iron for the second shot. It's a tight drive and the fairway is at an angle. Guys missed it left, if anything. The last round I hit a perfect drive and a 9- iron. There's a fairway bunker on the left that I try to aim at and just slide it off that. It's a fairly flat green. The tee shot is the hardest thing about the hole." — Retief Goosen, 2001 U.S. Open champion at Southern Hills

Par4: 507 yards
How it played at the 2001 U.S. Open
Stroke average: 4.34 Rank: 3rd hardest hole
Birdies: 27 Bogeys or worse: 169

The Deal: A straightaway design, the hole plays to one of the more benign greens on the course. Further, Bryan adds, "the water short-right and short-left of the green won't bother these guys." So what makes it so difficult? Its extreme length, coupled with a small green guarded by four bunkers. Bryan says the one place to avoid is the lone bunker 300 yards out on the left side of the landing area.

Memory Lane: In the final round of the 1977 U.S. Open, Hubert Green stuck his third shot here to within inches, setting up birdie and an Open victory. That's when the hole was a par 5. No. 16 was first converted to a par 4 at the 1994 PGA, and has been much stingier since.

In 2001, it played as the then-longest par 4 in U.S. Open history — at 491 yards — and yielded the fewest birdies of any of the par 4s. Eventual champion Retief Goosen's first-round gaffe was typical. "I was just trying to hit a little fade down the fairway and I over-cut it," he said. "The ball ended way right in the trees. From there, if four comes, it comes. I was pretty happy walking away with five."

Pro-spective: "It's downwind, so it plays a heck of a lot shorter than the number. Now, if the wind switches and it comes back in our face, it's going to be quite a challenge. But you need to hit the ball in the fairway and I think that's far more important than how far you hit it." — Tiger Woods, who finished T12 at the 2001 U.S. Open

Par4: 455 yards
How it played at the 2001 U.S. Open
Stroke average: 4.44 Rank: 1st hardest hole
Birdies: 28 Bogeys or worse: 204

The Deal: From the awkward downhill drive, to the monstrous uphill approach, to the terror-filled green, this dogleg-right breathes fire. Pros have heaped praise and scorn upon it in equal measure. "Even though it's into the wind, most guys will not hit driver," Bryan says. "Position A is a plateau on the left side of the fairway, 200 yards from the green. It gives you a more level lie and an equal elevation to the putting surface." Drive it any farther and the downhill lie becomes increasingly problematic, especially given the severely elevated green. The hardest pin placement is front-left, because balls landing short will reverse course back down the fairway.

Memory Lane: Perhaps the most shocking and farcical finish in major championship history unfolded here in 2001, when in the space of a few minutes, Stewart Cink carelessly missed a 18-inch putt that, as it turned out, would have gained him a playoff. Retief Goosen followed him a group later, missing a two-foot comebacker that would have won him the U.S. Open in regulation.

Pro-spective: "The difficulty on 18 is threefold: You're hitting your second shot with a long iron, you're hitting your second shot on a downslope and you're hitting your second shot out of a tight lie. So to get the ball up high enough to get to the green level is very difficult to do. It almost plays like a tough par 5. It's certainly the hardest hole out there." — Phil Mickelson, who finished T7 at the 2001 U.S. Open

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