ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Justin Thomas made the most of his defeat at last week’s Genesis Scottish Open.
With two more days without requests, Thomas drove to the quaint seaside village known as St. Andrews and settled in. This Saturday evening, he walked around the Old Course with Tiger Woods, each armed with a putter and wedges, to familiarize himself with the layout of the course before the 150th Open Championship. The next day the two played 18 holes with each club.
And Thomas played a tour guide for his fiancée, Jillian Wisniewski. The two arrived at the Road Hole tee box and Thomas explained everything.
“Trying to explain that hole and that tee shot to my fiancée was a bit difficult,” Thomas said. “So I had to take her myself.”
distance book: Take a closer look at the Old Course
Here is 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 this hotel,” Thomas replied.
The hotel would be the Old Course Hotel, one of the features that come into play on the quirky, 495-yard, slight dogleg-right 17e hole which is perhaps the most famous hole in the world and which will play a pivotal role in the outcome of the Open.
Players choose a letter from the Old Course Hotel sign to aim for their blind tee shot. Please note: the hotel has extra-resistant glass in the windows.
There’s also the green side bunker that brought the adults to tears, Old Station Road and the stone wall behind the putting surface that produced an equal number of tears. Rough and hay lining the fairways, the green is a safety ribbon only 13 meters deep in one portion.
“It’s so unique and it’s so cool,” Thomas said. “It’s one of the 16 holes here that can totally change your line, your strategy and your overall thinking depending on the direction of the wind. You’re going to see a lot of 4s and 5s this week and the potential for someone who tries to do that and make a birdie that could turn into a 6 or 7.”
Rory McIlroy, 2014 Golf Champion of the Year, added: “A 3 is a huge bonus there. You take four 4s and run very happily to the 18th tee.
Jordan Spieth would have liked a 4 in the final round of the 2015 Open, the last time golf’s oldest championship was at St. Andrews. Having won the Masters and the US Open that year, Spieth was tied for the lead when he reached the penultimate hole but after a poor approach bogeyed. He couldn’t produce a birdie on the 72n/a hole and missed the playoffs by one.
Spieth’s bogey was one of 217 on the hole that week, a number exceeding the total pars recorded on the hole; it was the only hole to do that. The hole has been rated the toughest of the week in the last four starts at St. 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 17the in those four years combined – 13 in 2000, 19 in 2005, 16 in 2010 and nine in 2015.
“That’s pretty funny,” world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler began in his description of the hole. “You hit the hotel, then the green, like it’s so small. Then I went down and had a little fun in the bunker yesterday. I’m definitely going to do everything in my power not to get in in that bunker. It’s so bad 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 really fun to play. No matter the conditions, I’m going to go out there and have a good time hitting all kinds of weird shots.
Originally the hole was a par 5. Some players say the hole remains the most difficult par 5 in the world. At least we think they’re kidding.
“It’s a real championship hole,” Jon Rahm said. “”Obviously, under pressure, any hole can be tough, but 17 is a good test for someone with a one-stroke lead. If you can par on this hole, it definitely looks like a birdie at all times. Just difficult. Just difficult.
And reigning US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick called it a “fantastic hole”.
“Everyone knows what’s 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 have a lead coming, it really puts the pressure on.