It doesn’t fit.
The 18th hole on Bethpage Black, when lumped in with the other 17 magnificent holes on the muscular golf course, stands out like a Chevy Vega in a car lot of Porsches. It’s like opening a dozen Pro V1 golf balls and finding a sleeve of scuffed-up Pinnacles inside the box.
The closing hole on the Black Course, where the PGA Championship is being played this week, unfortunately is best known for 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover securing the most important victory of his life by hitting a 6-iron off the tee and a 9-iron into the green.
That’s pitch-and-putt stuff for the world’s best players.
Bethpage Black leaves you in tears for 17 holes and then, on the 18th, it hands you a tissue.
“You’ve done all your work, the meat of the golf course is in the middle and then 18 is like, ‘Thanks for coming, hope you had fun,’ ’’ Rickie Fowler said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a bad hole. You have so much going on through the rest of the golf course and then you kind of just cruise in. Bethpage is just a big golf course, [and] with the 18th hole there it’s like, ‘All right, we’ve put you through enough trouble today.’ ’’
Make no mistake: No. 18 on the Black isn’t an awful hole. It’s actually quite picturesque from the elevated tee, down a hill to an hourglass landing area with gnarly bunkers on both sides of the fairway, and then an uphill shot to the green. It’s just not nearly as brawny as the previous 17 holes you’ve just played.
The 18th measures 411 yards from the back tee, which is considered medium-to-short for the best players in the world.
Before that 2009 U.S. Open, which Glover won, Mike Davis from the USGA considered lengthening the 18th by pushing the tee back onto the adjacent Red Course, but he opted against doing that.
“I don’t think it’s as easy as people think it is,’’ defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka said. “You put it in those bunkers [and] you can get a funky lie. It’s a great finishing hole. You can make a disaster. You can make bogey from being in the middle of the fairway pretty quickly.
“But also I think, if you put it in the fairway, you can be as aggressive as you want. You can take it over the bunkers if you choose to and really have kind of a flip wedge in or you can hit 3-iron [off the tee], which I think is what we’ve done in the past, and lay back and just try to win it from your second shot or try to win it from there.”
Evidence from the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens actually supports the fact 18 isn’t a complete pushover. In those two Opens, the average score was 4.17, slightly over par.
Rory Mclroy described 18 as “sort of like risk and reward.’’
“You can hit iron off the tee, but you’re still leaving yourself a 7- or 8-iron [to the green],’’ he said. “I hit driver [in Tuesday’s practice round] and left myself about 90, 95 yards to the pin. But you’re taking on a little bit of risk by doing that. At the same time, it’s not an easy green to go at with a 7-iron.
“You can get it on the green, but you’re not going to necessarily get it as close as you would with a wedge. You’ve just got to weigh up the option of whether you want to take a driver and get a wedge in your hand or play it a little bit more conservatively and take your chances with a mid-iron.’’
In defense of the Glover 6-iron option off the tee in 2009 was the fact the USGA had to move the tees forward in that final round to avoid having players hit into standing water from heavy rain in the general landing area.
Glover said he had been hitting 5-wood off that tee in the previous three rounds and the 6-iron on the final day was going to get him to the same landing place the 5-wood had been.
“I don’t think it’s a bad hole,’’ Glover said. “It’s tight. It’s a cool-looking hole. If you don’t get it on the fairway, it’s a bear. If you get it on the fairway, there’s not much to it.’’
Therein lies the problem: “Not much to it’’ isn’t what you want from the closing hole on a world-class championship course like the Black.
“It’s a strong course, a tough course,” Henrik Stenson said. “But it doesn’t have the strongest or best finishing hole.”
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