There are harsh endings--think Hamlet or Thelma and Louise or
Bill Buckner, if you must--and then there is the 18th hole at
Oakland Hills. Normally a tough but shortish par-5, the USGA
decided to spice things up for the Open by turning it into a
bastardized par-4 of 465 yards, and the 18th spent most of last
week giving players the back of the hairbrush. The four-day
spanking left the field with a stroke average more than half a
shot above par (4.536, to be exact), making the 18th not only
the most difficult finishing hole in the history of the U.S.
Open but also, according to available records, the hardest
closer of any major championship.
"It's the toughest par-4 finishing hole I've played," says Lee
Janzen, who took a triple bogey on 18 during the second round.
Others were not so diplomatic. "The last hole is the biggest
joke in major championship history," says Neil Lancaster, who
bogeyed 18 three times. Adds Jeff Maggert, who made a 7 of his
own on Friday, "I don't think even Mickey Mouse knows how to
play that hole. It stinks. Everyone makes it out to be such a
great finishing hole because it's so hard, but it's trash."
The Open, of course, has always been about punishment. Oakland
Hills just dispensed more than the usual. Torched by the sun,
demoralized after hacking through the rough and frazzled by the
greens, Open competitors staggered down the stretch like the '64
Phillies. Holes 14 through 18--the Flub Five--played a combined
1,119 strokes over par.
Eighteen was the final punch to the gut. The trouble starts on
the tee, from which the players hit toward a dogleg that sweeps
to the right but slopes to the left, with a landing area at the
corner so narrow, John Daly and Tim Herron wouldn't be able to
walk down it side by side. Were it a par-5, it would be possible
to lay up off the tee into the fat part of the fairway, then
shear the dogleg with a second shot. As a par-4, it forced
players last week to try to thread a needle with a driver. On
Sunday, Tom Lehman drove it through the fairway into one of the
two bunkers on the left (three traps guard the inside of the
dogleg), and the ensuing bogey kept him from forcing a playoff.
"I made a really good swing and hit a really good shot," he
said, before adding wistfully, "I was surprised where the ball
Even if a drive stays in the short grass, the approach is
murder, often 200 yards or more, uphill and all carry. The green
was designed to receive wedge shots, not low irons or fairway
woods, so it's fronted by four hungry bunkers and some of the
thickest weeds on the property. Deadpans Corey Pavin, who was
two over for the week on 18, "A two-iron uphill to a shallow
green.... That's a tough shot for me." For anyone. "Playing for
the front bunkers isn't a bad shot," says Janzen. "That is, if
you can hit it far enough to get there."
And then there's the green, which has a buried Packard in the
middle and falls severely from back to front. "If you designed a
green like this now, they'd say you're an idiot," says Jay Haas,
whose aggregate of one over on the hole looked smart. Even the
shaggy carpet of yesteryear would have been tough putting, but
slicked up for the Open, the green was, shall we say,
challenging. "It's not overstating things to say it's like
minigolf," says Herron, who missed the cut despite an impressive
pair of pars at the 18th.
If you're wondering how Steve Jones won this Open, consider that
he parred the 18th in the first two rounds, birdied it on
Saturday and then on Sunday hit a gutsy seven-iron shot from 170
yards that set up his winning par. Costantino Rocca was the only
other player in the red on 18. Speaking for everybody else was
Lancaster. "I was just happy to get the hell out of there," he
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN On Friday, Jack Nicklaus pulled his tee shot on 18 into a bunker (arrow, opposite) and, after laying up near the crosswalk, failed to get up and down. [Jack Nicklaus golfing out of bunker]
COLOR PHOTO: JACK GRUBER [See caption above--aerial view of 18th hole of Oakland Hills Country Club with arrow pointing to bunker]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Payne Stewart had no shot from rough near the bunker. [Payne Stewart in bunker talking to caddie]
PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Nicklaus's first putt Friday had to start left to end up right. [Jack Nicklaus putting]
"I don't think even Mickey Mouse knows how to play that hole.
"Playing for the front bunkers isn't a bad shot. That is, if you
can hit it far enough to get there."
"If you designed a green like this now, they'd say you're an