Triple Threat

Triple Threat

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

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.

12th
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

16th
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

18th
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