News & Opinion

Walker Cup’s short story: 78-yard par 3

LOS ANGELES – In an era of extraordinary length in golf, finding a 78-yard par 3 at an international competition would seem to be preposterous. Yet, for the 46th Walker Cup at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course, the U.S. Golf Association set up the normally 133-yard par-3 15th hole at 78 yards for Saturday’s afternoon singles session.

It was the shortest par 3 in the USGA’s recorded history.

The move proved to be brilliant. Each shot taken by the 14 players who reached the 15th hole excited the fans who encircled the tee and green.

As the best of the shots landed and danced toward the hole, gasps of emotion followed the ball as it trickled toward the hole. The atmosphere would have fit at a soccer match.

Was it because virtually everyone in the gallery can hit a 78-yard shot? Or because everyone could follow the ball on such a short hole, with the anticipation of what was to come?

Either way, the level of expectation and excitement was palpable.

That same elation was not shared by the participants.

“I wish it was a little bit longer,” said Stewart Hagestad, a junior member at LACC and one of the 10 American Walker Cuppers. “It's a really, really tricky pin, especially when the greens get firm. It's a shot I've hit many, many times. It's a shot I'm not looking forward to hitting many more times.”

Most players used a 60-degree wedge, and not one made a full swing. The result: manufactured shots, which was the USGA’s desire with the yardage experiment, a possible prelude to the 2023 U.S. Open at LACC.  

The decision to shorten the hole, according to Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, worked well.

“It's going to be fast,” Davis said of taking the conservative route to the fat part of the green. “But it's hard for those guys not to go at it because it's just, they're so good with wedges. But you’ve really got to hit a precise shot to get this one close.”

According to Davis, architect George Thomas, who created the North Course in 1921, designed the hole to allow for a visually difficult-looking par 3 of similar length as was used Saturday.

“That's just part of the examination through its entire golf course,” said architect Gil Hanse, who brought the course back to prominence with a 2010 renovation. “I mean, I love it.

“A shot can go from 622 [yards] to a 79-yard hole to a 519-yard par 4. That's the flexibility that this golf course has and why the USGA has decided to set it up and test every facet of the game and use every square inch of this golf course to do it.”

In recent years, the USGA has set up courses for its championships to make the player think and, in some ways, be a bit uncomfortable.

Although there was only one bogey on the 15th hole Saturday, the lack of yardage gave every player pause.

“Half the battle was trying to decide whether to use a tee or put it on the ground,” American Doug Ghim said. “I don't recall ever playing a hole that short since I was like maybe 6 years old, and I used like a 7-iron then. But, yeah, that was pretty wild. I was just lucky enough to just barely get it over the bunker and have enough spin to keep it on the green. But, yeah, it's a cute little hole; really enjoyed it. It's just a little unnerving to have 80 yards off a tee box.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli