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Business News/ Sports / The 136-Yard Hole That Will Drive Golfers Mad at the British Open
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The 136-Yard Hole That Will Drive Golfers Mad at the British Open


The new par-3 17th hole at Royal Liverpool got shorter—and trickier

‘It’s fair because it’s unfair to everybody,’ Jon Rahm said. ‘It’s way more difficult than it was before.’ Premium
‘It’s fair because it’s unfair to everybody,’ Jon Rahm said. ‘It’s way more difficult than it was before.’

Reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith stepped onto the tee box of Royal Liverpool’s 17th hole during a practice round, and what he saw resembled an infinity pool. The view heading out toward the water, beyond the green, was gorgeous.

The prospect of hitting a golf ball toward it was a nightmare.

The elevated green on the par-3 aligns with the horizon line, making the hole as scenic as it is bedeviling. To Smith, the putting surface that was barely over 100 yards away felt much farther with a 40-mile-per-hour wind blowing in his face. And with such little room for error, Smith concluded that it’s all but certain to inject drama into the finish of this year’s Open Championship.

“It was not a tee shot that you want to have," Smith said.

The Open is back at Royal Liverpool Golf Club for the 13th time, but keen observers will notice a key difference at this year’s edition. It’s a hole called “Little Eye" that embodies the unique test that this major offers. Contemporary course redesigns usually add yardage to handle the power of modern golfers. This hole got shorter—and more British.

The reimagined 17th, named for an island in the estuary visible once players arrive on the green, may not be the most difficult hole at this tournament. But it could be the most volatile, subject to the whims of the English summer winds, and Martin Ebert plans to park himself in the grandstand on Thursday to see it in action.

“I’ll have to go early," Ebert says. “Someone could make a two, someone could make a five."

Ebert is even more interested than the casual golf fan in this 136-yard gem. That’s because he’s the golf architect who helped reroute what had previously been the 15th hole into the course’s penultimate challenge. The 15th was a longer, 161-yard par-3 when Rory McIlroy won at Royal Liverpool in 2014, and it had been flipped in the other direction: the tee box had its back to the sand dunes and water. Golfers now hit that way.

That’s why 2023 Masters champion Jon Rahm says the hole is now the complete opposite of what it used to be. A downhill hole that was likely downwind with edges sloping toward the center has been transformed into an up-sloped shot where the ball can slip off any edge into a bunker a golfer would be happy to get out of in one shot.

“It’s fair because it’s unfair to everybody," Rahm said. “It’s way more difficult than it was before."

The hole’s new idiosyncrasies begin before golfers even select a club. They walk onto the tee box through a tunnel from the 16th green, and they emerge surrounded by a horseshoe grandstand. That’s great for the atmosphere of fans. It’s less ideal for the players trying to determine the actual atmospheric conditions—the grandstand can block the wind and prevent them from knowing which way it’s blowing.

The view from the low tee box makes the hole even more difficult to solve. Because the green is elevated, it aligns with the horizon and meddles with depth perception. There are no trees that can serve as visual markers, either. The green just seems to fade into the sky.

Ebert says he wouldn’t be surprised if the hole’s short length produces plenty of birdies. It’s an opportunity to be rewarded for accuracy. The punishment for failing to hit the green, though, may often be stiffer than bogey.

“A hole of that nature should have enough high scores to show that it has achieved its objective of demanding precision," Ebert says.

The putting surface and its surroundings are what create such a vast band of potential scoring outcomes. Players who manage to land the ball on the green should have a decent look at birdie—in part because the green itself is minuscule relative to its surroundings. The average green at Royal Liverpool is about 6,500 square feet. On the new No. 17, it’s closer to half of that.

The penalty for missing that small target is severe. Slopes feed the ball into nasty stand traps both in front and to the right of the hole. There’s another potentially brutal bunker on the left-hand of the green.

It’s yet another instance of how some of the most intriguing par-3s in the sport are the shortest because they vaporize the superpower of most modern golfers: power. This year’s U.S. Open had a hole that was played at 80 yards in one round, making it the shortest in tournament history. Five-time major champion Brooks Koepka rattled off a list of other modest-length holes around the world he adored, such as the famous “Postage Stamp" hole at Royal Troon and the island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass, saying the longer ones can sap the excitement.

“All the best par-3s in the world that have ever been designed are 165 yards or shorter," Koepka said. “There’s a bunch of them, and you can walk away with five just as easy as you could two. I like it."

The potential for scores both low and high means even seemingly comfortable leads can be tenuous during the final stretch of this British Open. A three-shot advantage can evaporate on one hole when everything from birdie to double bogey are entirely reasonable outcomes. And that crescendos with a par-5 finale, which is yet another opportunity for players to make up ground quickly.

But, oddly enough, a 609-yard 18th hole will come as a sigh of relief to the world’s best golfers. That’s because they’ll be finished with Little Eye.

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