Regardless of the outcome of the event in Paris, the 2018 Ryder Cup was somewhat disappointing, if only because the last row of holes at Golf National, dotted with water obstacles, had minimal impact on the games.
Prior to the event, these holes were brought up for their inherent drama and the excitement they would inject into most – if not all – matches. In fact, nearly a third of the event’s 28 games were decided by the 15th hole or earlier, and only four of them made it to the the 18th by 471 yards.
Whistling Straits promises a different outcome when the US and European teams face off again for the Cup this week. Water rarely comes into play over the 7,790 meters that the course of the strait consumes. Instead, native areas covered in thick, gnarled fescue, along with treacherous and sometimes cavernous bunkers are what swallow stray shots. In the process, these dangers sometimes produce lies so penalizing that golfers are more likely to wish they had never found their balls.
As proof, Mike O’Reilly, Golf Director of Destination Kohler, points to the pot bunker on the green of the 6th hole. “According to the lie,” he said, “even the best players in the world will have a hard time doing this.”
Before a single competitive shot is fired at this year’s Ryder Cup, it’s safe to say the event will deliver on the broken promise of risk-reward drama that the 2018 Ryder Cup failed to deliver. . This time around, however, the dichotomy between conservative strategies and aggressive shots will play out on many holes on the course, not just the last ones.
“There’s a lot of risk-reward out there,” said Mike Aschenbach, the chief golf professional at Whistling Straits. “Even if you hit the ball straight down the fairway on all of those holes, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a flat lie on your approach shot. The way the golf course plays, it is designed for someone who is creative and enjoys annoying lies.
While there are many holes on The Straits course that have the potential to create compelling match-play scenarios, three stand out as being the most crucial.
Prime Pressures: Hole 1
With thousands of exuberant fans surrounding the tee on the first hole, chanting and cheering in a way only the Ryder Cup can produce, it’s safe to say that the first tee will be a remarkable development in every game. Aschenbach, however, considers the entire opening par 4 hole – a progressive left dogleg that won’t play more than 370 yards during the event – as one that could have a central role in the games ahead.
“If the players catch the right direction of the wind, I think we’ll see some of the bigger hitters trying to give it a shot,” he said. “If a right handed golfer can hit in a huge, high draw, it is possible to get it close to the front edge of the green. I think we’ll see a lot of them trying to take that risk, especially in the four-ball format.
The payoff for making this shot is obvious: it’s the opportunity to hit or hit a short pitch to a relatively welcoming green where a short birdie putt is likely to await.
“Anything can happen, especially if they miss the left,” Aschenbach said. “It’s all the fescue and pot bunkers on the left, and the green is going to be raised from where they’re going to have to try to hit a pitch shot or a flop. Their lie is going to dictate all they can do.
It may seem counterintuitive to view the first hole as a crucial point in a game, especially since it is essentially an entire round of golf. But Aschenbach believes a lot can be won (or lost) depending on how the first hole unfolds. “To get a quick start there,” he said, “it’s a perfect formula for gaining momentum in a game.”
Driving for more than a show: hole 13
According to O’Reilly, when the Ryder Cup matches turn, this is when players will start to encounter decisive holes. “The Ryder Cup drama really unfolds over the last nine,” he said.
In particular, the 13th hole is one that O’Reilly points out as being able to have an influence in games. The par 4 isn’t long, at least not by PGA Tour standards – he only plays 402 yards from the spikes – but O’Reilly thinks he could play as short as 350 yards if the captain of the l American team Steve Stricker wanted to push the tees forward. This would make the hole passable, as the last 100 yards of the fairway descend to the putting surface, and it could potentially give the longer hitters on the US team an advantage. “He didn’t tell me anything like that,” O’Reilly said in July, “but it could be something he could tinker with.
Aschenbach agrees that the 13 will likely be a pivot hole for the same reason. “If you catch a southerly wind,” he said, “the hole is laid out so that they can go over that upper hill and the ball will go to the green. But it’s a risk-reward, so if they miss the tee they’ll have a blind shot to the green, and on the right side they’re at the mercy of the fescue and bunkers.
Even if the players choose to lie down, Aschenbach believes the low scores on the 13th hole are within reach. “You give these guys a 100 yards chance on a perched fairway, chances are they’ll hit corners really close to the hole and birdies.”
Accelerated wins: hole 14
Much like the hole before it, the 14th gives Stricker the flexibility to move the tees up to create a passable par 4, at least if the day’s wind is blowing from the north. (If Stricker were to implement such a strategy, only one of the two holes could be configured as drivable each day. The 13th and 14th holes run in opposite directions, so one would inevitably play into the wind).
At its longest, the 14th hole plays 396 yards, but its layout – a late, pointed dogleg to the left – and the potential for it to play much shorter if the tees are moved upwards means the large bunker and the berm guarding the left side of the hole is mostly out of play. “These guys are long enough that if they catch the right direction of the wind, they can carry it and place their tee ball very close to the green,” Aschenbach said.
O’Reilly is quick to point out that not all Ryder Cup matches are intended to reach the 18th or even the 17th hole, so the location of these two par 4 courts is critical in game progression, given that some may cling to. the balance at or near this junction.
Either way, the holes that O’Reilly and Aschenbach say will make the difference this Ryder Cup are the ones that could encourage aggressive play and are likely to produce low scores. “These are the three holes where players can try to lower the gas to birdie,” Aschenbach said. “On the first hole they gain momentum, and on holes 13 and 14 they might be thinking about trying to close their game.”