Chambers Bay's 18th hole is leaving a lasting impression at U.S. Open

Chambers Bay's 18th hole is leaving a lasting impression at U.S. Open
Matt Kuchar reacts to his putt on the 18th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

The 72nd hole at the U.S. Open will be hailed by some for its intriguing design. And shredded by others for its gross unfairness.

If you're looking for middle ground, try another hole. Or another course.


The 18th at Chambers Bay was designed to be a par-five, giving competitors a legitimate chance to win the U.S. Open with a birdie. But USGA Executive Director Mike Davis got an idea — flip the first and 18th from round to round, alternating between par-four and par-five.

"Think of these two as a par-nine," Davis said during Fox's coverage.

So on Sunday, as on Friday, the opening hole will play as a par-five. And its neighbor to the south will drive some players bonkers as a par-four.

Lee Westwood made a triple-bogey there Friday and called it a "stupid par-four" on Twitter. Jordan Spieth called it "the dumbest hole I've ever seen in my life" en route to making his only six through three rounds.

Spieth said his beef is there's only a "five- or six-yard area" to land a drive except for the "10 to 12 guys that can fly it 310 yards" over the bunker left of the fairway. Spieth could not carry the bunker Friday and then hit the lip on his second shot.

The hole played downwind Friday, bringing the cross-bunker on the right into play. Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott hit drives into the bunker, and their balls were so close, Johnson had to mark his in the sand. Scott saved par; Johnson did not.

"So you decide: Do you take it up the left side [with driver] or hit three-wood off the tee and lay it up?" Tiger Woods said. "But it's 324 to the right bunker, and that's nothing when it's downwind."

The Golf Channel's Frank Nobilo put it this way: "You've got a 525-yard par-four where you won't let the players drive it down the right any further than 325 yards. ... It's a head-scratcher."

But that opinion is not unanimous. Michael Putnam, the Tacoma native who played the first official round at Chambers Bay in 2007, made par on No. 18 and said, "It was great. Pretty generous fairway. Hit driver, nine-iron to the edge of the green. It was an easy hole."

And Putnam is hardly a Chambers Bay homer, having called the greens "crusty and hard to putt."

Stand by the 18th green for an hour and you get an appreciation for both perspectives.

First perspective: The green, which has waves like the ocean and ridges like a potato chip, was designed to receive the short-iron approaches of a par-five.

"The green was designed to be the defense," said Jay Blasi, the project architect on the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. "The green is the hazard."

Second perspective: Playing to a middle-left pin Friday, the players attempted all types of approach shots. That made for great theater and created precisely what USGA officials desire: Give players options and make them think.

Some landed their approaches in the fescue to the left of the green, setting up an uphill birdie try. Several used a ridge in the back left of the green as a backstop. Rickie Fowler did that, and his ball kissed the edge of the cup, almost an eagle. Fowler made one of only 17 birdies as the hole yielded a scoring average of 4.33, making it the fifth-toughest on the course.

On Saturday, as a 577-yard par-five, it gave up 22 birdies to only 11 bogeys or worse. Jason Day made a birdie four, while the other co-leaders — Spieth, Johnson and Branden Grace — made five.

Jimmy Walker bombed a drive 337 yards over the left bunker Friday and had a short enough approach shot (176 yards) to spin it hole-high. Ryan Moore's approach stayed on the top ridge, giving him a triple-breaking 21-foot putt that had the speed of a bullet train. He managed to two-putt and save par.

Luke Donald made bogey Friday after driving it into the right rough and said: "The USGA is always trying to push the boundary and make things a little quirky. But it doesn't bother me."

Donald, the former world No. 1, said players have debated in the locker room whether to purposely hit a drive well left, onto the first fairway, to avoid the bunkers on 18.

"It's not a bad angle from there, but it is kind of blind," Donald said.

Spieth, eyes wide open, said he plans to hit a "punch-slice" off the tee Sunday.

Blasi and the design team realize the hole will appeal to some players but not all. "Jordan is a smart player and understands the game well," Blasi said. "I think he will figure it out."

That much is no certainty. But this is:

"It will make for an interesting finish," Donald said.