Troon's short but daunting task
July 13, 2016
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Even in its simplicity, the 8th hole at Royal Troon historically has caused havoc to the professionals and that does not look to change at the 2016 Open Championship. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
TROON, Scotland – Golf’s shortest holes often have the most character, and the eighth hole at Royal Troon is no exception.
The 123-yard par-3 is known as the Postage Stamp. Though diminutive, it is no push-over. Five deep bunkers surround the green, and shots from the elevated tee are often played back into a breeze blowing off the frigid water of the Firth of Clyde.
It’s easy for a hole to overwhelm players with length. Like a featherweight fighter, the shorter ones have to be craftier, and they have a punishing jab waiting for those who underestimate them.
Henrik Stenson called Troon’s eighth hole “one of them great little par-3s.” It joins the likes of TPC Sawgrass’ 17th, No. 12 at Augusta National and Pebble Beach’s 107-yard seventh as short one-shotters that offer more of a challenge than the scorecard would indicate. TOUR players usually smile when they face a shot of less than 150 yards. These short par-3s carry a severe penalty for those who don’t properly execute the tee shot.
Embarrassment is just one of the pratfalls for those who miss the green.
“The hole is so short that you feel like a plonker if you miss the green,” said Golf Channel commentator Frank Nobilo, who finished 10th in the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon. He ranks the Postage Stamp in an esteemed class of holes that “bring people back to play, take a picture or share a story, and no bulldozer is ever allowed to touch.”
There is no water at the Postage Stamp. The deep bunkers, including the macabre Coffin Bunker, offer sufficient challenge. Train-wrecks are possible at this short hole, which is why Stenson recommended that those who enjoy watching pros struggle park themselves in the grandstand left of the green NBC will have 11 cameras on the hole, including a wire cam that spans the distance from tee to green, to capture the potential carnage.
Scores ranging from 1 to 15 have been made on the hole in The Open Championship. The scoring average in 2004 was 3.09, making it the Royal Troon’s 13th-hardest hole. There was one more bogey than birdies (83 to 82), as well as 19 scores of double-bogey or worse.
“You are expected to hit the green, and everyone knows you are,” said Colin Montgomerie. “You are, your caddy is, all the crowd around. Both stands will be full all day, and they're expecting it, too, and it's great. It's drama.”When the wind is rollicking in from the sea, as it so often is, this is scarcely a hole for the chap whose nerves are fidgety.
Gene Sarazen was 71 years old when he aced the hole in the 1973 Open Championship (he holed a bunker shot for birdie the following day, playing the hole in three strokes for the two rounds he played that week).
“For many years, the Postage Stamp hole had haunted me,” Sarazen once told the Palm Beach Post. “I feared the hole, so when I stepped onto the tee and faced the wind, I admit that I was nervous. … When the clubhead came into contact with the ball, I had the same feeling when I had my double-eagle (at Augusta National) in 1935. When the crowd roared I realized that the ball was in the hole. I knew there was no better way to close the books on my tournament play.”
German amateur Herman Tissies made 15 on the hole in the 1950 Open Championship. Reports vary over whether Tissies needed one or three putts to complete the hole, but that seems a bit inconsequential. The point has been made.
The hole still presents a challenge to today’s players and their high-tech equipment. Rory McIlroy needed five or six swings, in his estimation, to escape the Coffin Bunker in Tuesday’s practice round.
Tiger Woods shot a course-record 64 to get in contention at the 1997 Open Championship, but his charge was undone by a triple-bogey on Sunday at No. 8.
The hole is little more than a pitch for most pros when played in calm conditions. That is rare, though.
Royal Troon is a tale of two nines. Eight of the first nine holes usually play downwind; the Postage Stamp, which turns back toward the clubhouse, is the exception. The back nine plays into the prevailing wind, giving players a tough road home. Players may have to hit 6- or 7-irons into the No. 8 on days when the breeze is blowing hard. They’re forced to approach the green from the air because of a bunker in front of the putting surface. Two bunkers also sit on each side of the green, which is 40 yards long and 14 yards wide.
The putting surface pitches from left-to-right and narrows toward the back. Most players will play conservatively toward the front of the green when the hole is on the green’s back portion. They’ll contentedly leave each day with a two-putt par. This little hole has players’ respect.
"When the wind is rollicking in from the sea, as it so often is, this is scarcely a hole for the chap whose nerves are fidgety,” George Trevor wrote in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle back in 1923. It still holds true today.