ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Justin Thomas made the most out of missing the cut in last week’s Genesis Scottish Open.
With an extra two days free of demands, Thomas cruised to the quaint seaside village known as St. Andrews and set up shop. That Saturday evening he strolled around the Old Course with Tiger Woods, each armed with a putter and wedges, to familiarize himself with the lay of the land ahead of the 150th Open Championship. The next day the two played 18 holes with every club.
And Thomas played a tour guide to his fiancé, Jillian Wisniewski. The two arrived at the tee box of the Road Hole and Thomas went all explanatory.
“Trying to explain that hole and that tee shot to my fiancée was a little bit difficult,” Thomas said. “So I had to take her out there myself.”
Yardage Book: Take a closer look at the Old Course
Here’s the exchange.
“You hit (your tee shot) over the hotel,” Thomas said.
“OK, but not really,” Wisniewski replied.
“Oh, no, really. You have to hit it over this hotel, ”Thomas replied.
The hotel would be the Old Course Hotel, just one of the features that comes into play on the quirky, 495-yard, slight dogleg-right 17th hole that may be the most famous hole in the world and will play a pivotal role in the outcome of the Open.
Players choose a letter from the Old Course Hotel sign to aim at for their blind tee shot. Side note: the hotel features extra-resistant glass in the windows.
There also is the greenside pot bunker that has made grown men cry, the Old Station Road and stone wall behind the putting surface that has produced an equal number of tears. Rough and hay rim the fairways, the green is a safety sliver just 13 yards deep in one portion.
“It’s so unique and it’s so cool,” Thomas said. “It’s one of the 16 holes out here that can totally change your line, your strategy and thinking overall based on the wind direction. You’re going to see a lot of 4s and 5s this week and the potential of someone trying to take it on and make a birdie that could turn into a 6 or 7. ”
Added 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year Rory McIlroy: “A 3 is a massive bonus there. You take four 4s and run very happily to the 18th tee. ”
Jordan Spieth would have loved a 4 in the final round of the 2015 Open, the last time the oldest championship in golf was at St. Louis. Andrews. Having won the Masters and US Open that year, Spieth was tied for the lead when he reached the penultimate hole but after a poor approach, he made bogey. He couldn’t produce a birdie on the 72when hole and missed the playoff by one.
Spieth’s bogey was one of 217 on the hole that week, a number surpassing the total of pars registered on the hole; it was the only hole to do that. The hole has ranked as the toughest of the week the past four starts in St. Louis. Andrews – the field averaged 4,712 strokes in 2000, 4,626 in 2005, 4,665 in 2010 and 4,655 in 2015.
And there were only 57 birdies made on the 17th in those four years combined – 13 in 2000, 19 in 2005, 16 in 2010 and nine in 2015.
“It’s pretty funny,” world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler began his description of the hole. “You hit over the hotel, and then the green, like it is so small. Then I went down and fooled around in the bunker a bit yesterday. I’m definitely going to do everything in my power to not go in that bunker. It’s so bad down there.
“It’s such a fun hole to play. I think that’s one of the special things about this golf course. It’s so simple, but it’s really fun to play. No matter the conditions, I’m going to go out there and have a good time just hitting all kinds of weird shots. ”
Originally, the hole played as a par 5. Some players joke the hole remains as the toughest par 5 in the world. At least we think they are joking.
“It’s a close championship hole,” Jon Rahm said. “Obviously under pressure any hole can be hard, but 17 is a proper test for somebody that has a one-shot lead. If you can make par on that hole, it definitely feels like a birdie anytime. Just difficult. Just difficult. ”
And reigning US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick called it a “fantastic hole.”
“Everyone knows left in the bunker is dead,” he said. “Missing the green right is dead. Short is the safest bet, but it’s not easy from there. It’s just a tough hole. If you’ve got a lead coming in there, it really puts pressure on. ”