PGA Championship 2019: Is Bethpage Black’s 10th hole the toughest start to a major ever?

May 16, 2019

FARMINGDALE, NY — While Brooks Koepka’s rousing 63 finished with a 34-foot birdie to tie a course record, the “defining shot” of his round, he said, came on his very first hole. Koepka made a 40-foot putt from just off the 10th green for birdie on his circles-only scorecard.

“It’s not really,” Koepka started. “Well, not ‘really.’ It’s not a birdie hole.”

Koepka made one of just seven birdies on the 10th Thursday, which perhaps explains why it stood out to him. It also may have stood out because the 10th is shaping up to be the toughest starting hole at a major in at least a decade. On a relatively calm, sunny day on Long Island, the 10th played .506 strokes over par at the PGA Championship, the toughest starting hole at a major since Oakmont’s Nos. 1 and 10 both played .5 strokes over par in 2007.

Now, before you get all riled up with the 10th being considered a “starting” hole, consider Rickie Fowler’s thoughts from Thursday afternoon: “Probably one of the hardest starts in golf almost when you have to start on 10 here at Bethpage…It’s one you just have to accept and go try and figure it out.”

Fowler might be on to something; The 10th does seem slightly unfair as your opener. Because of its position on the property — the Black course goes OUT and back IN with its nines — players are shuttled out to the 10th in Cadillac Escalades. The drive is more than a mile long, and a very abnormal stipulation from their typically charted movements on course.

Jordan Spieth made a mess of his round with a double bogey on the 10th hole.
Getty Images

From there, a demanding tee shot requires driver for sheer length (it played 502 yards Thursday), and accuracy to one of Bethpage’s typically narrow fairways. When 18 holes were complete, the 10th forced four more double bogeys than any other hole on the course, 14 in total, and one “other” thanks to Thomas Pieters’ seven. Fowler was one of those doubles, finding a bunker right of the fairway off the tee. He punched it forward best he could, just 44 yards, into the rough. He punched again, this time just to reach the fairway. Up to the green; two-putt double. Tiger Woods started his PGA Championship with a double of his own just two groups later.

“10 is a lot easier as the 10th hole,” Fowler said. “You know where your game stands. You know where your misses are at and how you’re driving the ball.”

Fowler placed himself back on the fence, admitting it might be just as difficult to arrive at the 10th after struggling through the first nine holes at this state park. “Regardless, [with] 10, you kind of just want to make 4 and walk away,” he said. It’s a very true statement at Bethpage. Don’t like starting on 10? The 15th hole is coming up soon, and that one is playing even more difficult.

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