Forty-four summers ago, Tommy Nakajima of Japan was within the hunt throughout the third round of the 1978 British Open. On the Old Course at St. Andrews — where the tournament might be staged once more this week — Nakajima knocked his second shot onto the putting surface at No. 17, a par 4 often known as the Road Hole. Mission completed.
Nakajima would now likely make a par, or bogey on the worst, on one of the vital intimidating holes in skilled golf.
His putt, nevertheless, made its way down the incorrect slope, taking an unlucky left turn right into a pot bunker with remarkably high side partitions. But his troubles were just starting. From there, Nakajima needed 4 shots to get the ball onto the green. He ended up recording a nine on the opening, ruining any real hopes of winning the claret jug. He would finish the tournament in a tie for seventeenth.
Nakajima’s playing partner in that third round was Tom Weiskopf, who had won the 1973 British Open.
Before Nakajima hit his first putt, Weiskopf said to his caddie, “He higher watch out,” Weiskopf recalled.
Nakajima’s collapse, as crushing because it was, has hardly been the one calamity on the Road Hole, so named since it’s next to a road.
“There are lots of things that may go incorrect on this hole,” said Nick Price, who won the British Open in 1994. “It’s like walking through a minefield.”
In 1984, Tom Watson found the road. He was aiming to win the tournament for the third consecutive time. Such a victory can be his sixth title within the Open; he would tie the record held by the British golfer Harry Vardon. Nonetheless, Watson’s dream would soon be history.
In 1995, Italy’s Costantino Rocca, in a four-hole playoff against John Daly, needed three shots to get out of the bunker. That was it for him.
The primary challenge for players at No. 17 — which was lengthened in 2010 to 495 yards from 455 — is to navigate a treacherous blind tee shot, meaning players can’t see the landing area on the golf green since the view is blocked by a green shed on the appropriate.
The popular landing spot is on the appropriate side of the golf green, but when the ball veers too far right, it would find yourself out of bounds. Players will typically set their goal, depending on the wind, for considered one of the letters on an indication on the shed that reads: Old Course Hotel. Sometimes, balls hit the hotel itself.
No wonder lots of golfers play it secure by aiming left, but that approach isn’t foolproof, either.
In the event you go into the rough on the left, “you’ve got a terrible angle to the pin and a terrible angle to the front fringe of the green,” said David Graham, a two-time major champion.
Wherever that first shot finally ends up, the following shot is just as daunting.
“The last item you wish to do is go on the road,” Tony Jacklin, who won the 1969 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England. “The very best you’ll be able to expect to do with a second shot is go for the front a part of the green. I don’t care how answerable for your game you’re. You may’t guarantee hitting that green in two.”
As Tom Watson knows too well.
In the course of the 1984 Open, Watson was tied with Seve Ballesteros when he sent his drive at 17 to the appropriate. He hit it far enough to clear the wall of the hotel, however the ball wound up on a steep slope.
“The shot you wish to play to that green is a low-running shot,” Watson said. “You may’t try this from a severe upslope.”
He flew his two-iron approach about 30 yards to the appropriate, the ball coming to a rest on the road near a stone wall. With an abbreviated backswing, Watson managed to get the ball to inside 30 feet of the flagstick. He could still save par.
Before he putted, nevertheless, Watson recalled, “Hastily, I hear this roar on the 18th hole. I look up and there’s Seve along with his fist up within the air. I said, ‘Uh-oh, I’ve got to make this putt and birdie the last hole.’” When he didn’t make the putt, Watson knew it was over. He lost by two shots and never won one other claret jug.
Watson, who played within the Open at St. Andrews on eight occasions, strongly advises against difficult the back or middle a part of the green.
“In the event you really play it smart,” he explained, “you never attempt to hit it greater than 20 or 30 feet onto the surface of the green. Attempt to two-putt in your par and get out of there.”
Or perhaps not go for the green in any respect.
Within the 1990 Open, which he won, Nick Faldo laid up wanting the putting surface on 17 in three of the 4 days, including the ultimate round. Leading by five shots and 215 yards away, he saw no reason to take any possibilities. Faldo walked away from the opening with a bogey. Earlier in that very same round, Peter Jacobsen had needed three strokes to maneuver the ball 30 yards from the rough at No. 17, recording an eight.
In 1984, Ballesteros looked as if it would approach the opening as if it were a par 5, hoping to make no worse than a bogey. Price, the 1994 British Open winner, expressed an identical sentiment.
“If it was really into the wind, I’d lay up with a 4 or three iron after which chip up,” Price said. “If I made 4, I made 4. I wasn’t going to make six, seven or eight, that’s needless to say.”
That the opening comes so late within the round, with a championship possibly at stake, makes the challenge much more formidable. In 2015, the last time the Open was held at St. Andrews, the Road Hole ranked as probably the most difficult hole, with the players averaging 4.655 strokes.
Over the course of all the tournament, there have been only nine birdies on 17, while there have been 217 bogeys and 32 double bogeys there.
“It’s nearly unattainable to make a birdie even once in 4 days,” Graham, the two-time major champion, said. “In the event you do, it’s a protracted putt.”
Bernard Darwin, the English golf author and completed amateur, perhaps put in best in describing the elusive green on the Road Hole. He wrote that it “lies between a greedy little bunker on one side and a brutally hard road on the opposite. Many prefer it, most respect it, and all fear it.”