St Andrews’ Road Hole 17th proves the trickiest of the Old Course

Joy Chakravarty 10:11 22/07/2015
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The 17th hole at St Andrews saw many players come unstuck.

There will always be a debate whether the Road Hole of the Old Course is one of the greatest golf holes in the world, but the 144th Open Championship conclusively proved it is surely one of the most dangerous.

When as many as 73 players finished under-par for the four days, you’d think the conditions were easy and the course was there for the taking.

The red would have been deeper, but for the closing stretch – especially the 13th, 16th and 17th – with the penultimate hole standing out as the wrecker-in-chief.

This was also the hole where Jordan Spieth’s attempt to make history by winning the first three majors of the season, finally died. The 21-year-old American followed a massive birdie on the 16th hole in the final round with a bogey on 17, and that was enough to make all his earlier efforts obsolete. 

It was also where the play-off swung in the favour of Zach Johnson. The eventual champion made four bogeys in the five times he played the hole, including in the play-off, but scraped through when 2010 champion Louis Oosthuizen fluffed a three-foot par putt, which would have tied him with Johnson in the playoff.

On the opening day of the tournament it was the hardest hole on the course with an average score 4.83, the worst single-day average in the history of Opens at St Andrews. The previous worst was 4.80 in the first round in 2000.

Thursday’s play saw 84 bogeys, 12 double bogeys and six worse than double bogey – but not even one birdie. The carnage continued over the next three rounds, and the final average for four days was a fearsome 4.665.

There were only nine birdies made in all four rounds, while 203 pars were outnumbered by 217 bogeys, 32 doubles and 11 scores of seven or more.

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They really should put up a warning on the 17th tee: ‘Cross the Road carefully’. It is fraught with danger from the word go.

The drive, and most time it does require a driver off the tee because the prevailing wind is into the player, has to be most accurate. This is hard given the presence of the Old Course Hotel means you cannot see the fairway in front of you.

The correct shot is with a slight fade (left-to-right movement) in the tee shot, because anything left, which is safer, means the approach shot gets longer and longer. And anything right is even more dangerous because the hotel is out of play.

That’s something Phil Mickelson discovered when his tee shot on the final day landed in one of the balconies. The American was six-under par and doing great until his Road mishap. And of course, then there is the presence of the infamous Road Bunker guarding the front of the green, which itself is as slender as Kate Moss’ waistline, and the road and stone dyke guarding the rear.

Shane Lowry was among those who got caught in a trap now famously known as the Sands of Nakajima (named after Japanese Tsuneyuki Nakajima who was leading the 1978 Open, but took four shots to get out of the Road Bunker). The Irishman was so upset to see his three-under par round turn into a one-over par, he dismissed requests from media to speak, offering only: “I would regret immediately anything I might say.”

Miss the green, and it will completely test your short game to make an up-and-down. On most golf holes, you have one key shot to give yourself a birdie opportunity – like a great tee shot, or an accurate approach shot, or perhaps a superb putt – but on the 17th of the Old Course, you have to do all these things together just to ensure you have made a par.

Johnson summed up the hole best after his opening round. Having battled hard against the conditions in the second half of the day, the only blot on his card was a bogey on the par-4 17th.

When a journalist informed him that there have been no birdies all day on that particular hole, the American quipped: “That can’t be right. I saw all three players ahead of me making fours there!”

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