‘I’ve Never Played 20 Yards Away From A Green’ - The Unique Nature Of The Road Hole

The Road Hole continues to confound the world's greatest players but you won't hear a single moan from any of them

The Road Hole
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What the Old Course gives with its iconic closing hole, it takes away with what’s just gone before. In the 2015 Open the 17th hole played as the hardest hole by some distance, to an average of 4.65 which was also good to top the PGA Tour hardest hole rankings. Chambers Bay, home to that year’s US Open, could boast three new entries but the Road Hole knocked all of them into a cocked hat.

The pin today was 41 yards on and six from the left, which tells us next to nothing about the extreme difficulty of the hole. In front of the pin sits one of the most famous bunkers on the planet, maybe not as fearsome as it once was, but plenty hard enough to play away from given that the players are coming in from around 200 yards.

The beauty of this pin is that there’s no value in putting the usual short and right strategy into play before then chipping or putting up the slope as you can’t get the ball anywhere near the hole. Kevin Kisner came to the 17th hole with nine birdies already in the satchel, what he would have given to just add a par to that number.

“If you hit a perfect shot at pin high right, you can't putt it within 20 feet of the hole because of the slope at the back of the bunker. If you go out to the right and it goes over, you're dead,” explained the American. “I was worried that if it went left and you hit it too firmly, it might run into the burn. So there's a lot going on back there. Then the fairway's pretty difficult to hit too, so good luck.”

To spark your interest from the off the hole measures 495 yards, you’re aiming blindly over the corner of the Old Course Hotel and the tee isn’t even located on the same course.

Trey Mullinax, Kisner’s countryman and playing partner, also arrived at the Road Hole with bundles of birdies in the bag – moments later he would walk off it with his only bogey of the day.

“That back-left pin on 17, I've never had to aim 20 yards left of the green, hope it stays out of the water, and run it up. It was like, OK, just trust it. Just hit it over there and hope for the best. That was kind of a cool shot.”

There was one birdie and that came courtesy of one of the greatest shots of the week, from Justin Thomas, as he landed the ball on the proverbial sixpence and watched as the contours gave him a big helping hand around the back of the bunker.

There was almost a second when Billy Horschel played the most unlikely chip-and-run which struck the pin full on and stayed above ground.

These were just glimmers on a fairly bleak landscape of scoring as it continued to cause havoc throughout the day. Dylan Frittelli, who would eagle the last, was another tick in the bogey box and he spoke for most of the field after his round.

“Seventeen was an almost impossible hole so five is worth almost par with the field.”

Mark Townsend
Mark Townsend

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.