The 18th hole at Redstone has ranked as the toughest on the course for seven years. (Martin/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
It doesn’t pack quite the same lyrical quality as, say, Doral’s watery Blue Monster. But “Big Ball Washer” works quite nicely in plain-spoken Texas, and the trepidation found at the closing hole of the Shell Houston Open is no less palpable.
The eight-acre lake that guards the left side of No.18 swallows close to five dozen shots in a typical year, easily ranking among the top five closing holes on the PGA TOUR.
“It’s a good hole all the way to the green,” said Jimmy Walker, an Oklahoma native who has taken his lumps at Redstone Golf Club’s Tournament course every year but one since 2006.
Said defending champion Hunter Mahan: “You just have to hit a couple of good shots. You have to stand up there and be committed to your drive and see the line and make an aggressive swing.”
The 488-yard 18th has ranked as Redstone’s toughest in all seven years since the tournament moved to the Rees Jones layout. Last year’s stroke average of 4.337 ranked only behind Doral, Kiawah Island and Bay Hill among the TOUR’s 49 finishing holes.
In 2009’s final round, the Big Ball Washer posted a stroke average of 5.103 as a stiff wind blew straight into golfers’ faces. Paul Casey bogeyed it twice that day – the first time to fall into a playoff against J.B. Holmes, then for victory after Holmes dunked his tee shot on the replay.
One year later, Vaughn Taylor scored a rare birdie to force extra holes against Anthony Kim – then bogeyed the second time through as Kim won with a par.
“You never know what the conditions are going to do there,” said Walker, noting the prevailing southerly breezes make the hole play downwind. A good drive could leave an approach shot as short as a 9-iron or even wedge, with water still lurking left of the green.
When the wind blows from the north, though, the Ball Washer starts to churn.
“I’ve hit 5-wood in there before, and I’ve heard of guys hitting 3-wood sometimes,” Walker said.
The Big Ball Washer got its nickname in the Tournament course’s first year as the SHO’s new home, from a caddie whose boss splashed down in each of the first three rounds.
Said Mahan: “At the end of the day, you need two good swings.”