Let’s get back to Scott in a moment, but first, a history lesson on this prodigious hole. As an ode to Boston’s role in the Revolutionary War, when 14th was built in the 1920s, officials saw every bunker on the hill and the name was a no-brainer.
That it’s not child’s play either in this 122nd US Open is a celebration to rejoice in. If you’re nonchalant about those stalwart pros hitting the driver, 7-iron through the par-5 week after week, raise your hand. If you miss the days when players actually thought about their layup shot, shake your tambourines.
Then, after putting your hand down and silencing your tambourines, run to the highlights of round one and study the wonder of that 14th hole. Adorable stuff.
Yes, it placed second easiest in the first round, averaging 4.833 from the course, but before we go any further, guess which hole was the easiest? The 17th- and 18th-ranked par-5s are as sure a bet as NBA centers ranking statistically taller than jockeys.
Forget statistics – please! – and study the dynamics at play in Bunker Hill. (Hey, they don’t use the original name much anymore, but for today’s purposes, we will.) If you want to put a face to the first round of the US Open in 34 years at the Country Club, it is humbly suggested here that we indicate the 14th.
Why? “Because a lot can go wrong there,” said Scott, who is a blanket that can be thrown over all 18 holes at the Country Club. But at no other hole is the bonus on the tee shot so great as at 14.
“People have asked me which holes I’m most interested in watching?” said Gil Hanse, who has overseen the many adjustments and updates to the Country Club’s composite course since 2010. “I would say 14 and 17.”
The concerted effort “to put a bounty on the tee shot,” Hanse said, was a huge success in the 14th because he had a lot of clout. Players salivate over the longer holes, and while bogeying a par-5 is unanimously their #1 hate, hate #2 is paring a par-5.
When Scott drove it into the rough left, forget to go get the green in half, “I just had to get it out of there,” he said. Wedge was the safer option, but that would have left him well over 200 yards into the green. So he got “aggressive” and hit the 9 iron.
“I got him out of there about 130 yards,” Scott smiled, and, yeah, he was pretty proud of the shot, even though the 9-iron can often be his shot from 150 yards.
The danger of this second shot out of the rough is twofold. You can’t get enough club on it to mount it on a flat board and short wedge. And you need to put it back into play without running it too far where your third shot will be straight uphill and blind.
A serious challenge and one brought on by missing the fairway, but in this Scott was not alone. Only 55% of the field reached the fairway at 14, and 22% of the field missed the green in regulation, an alarming figure at a par-5.
Ah, but that’s not typical. It is a brilliantly designed hole and perhaps the crowning achievement of the project developed by Hanse and Jim Wagner and their Caveman team when it was determined over 10 years ago that the Country Club needed a little more muscle to get a US Open.
“We debated what would make a better par-5, No. 10 or No. 14,” Hanse said.
With less room to move the 10th tee, the decision was made to keep a par-4 that could play out 500 yards (in the first round the field average was 4.391 and he played third toughest) . A new tee for 14 has been found, it’s been stretched over 600 yards, featuring a vintage Hanse aesthetic to make you feel uncomfortable, and although it passed the test at the US Amateur 2013, this US Open was a different animal.
And Thursday, it was a beautiful bestial animal, the one who got the better of a long list of players.
Don’t dwell on the lack of double bogeys or worse. Don’t overestimate the 39 birdies that were made or the two eagles, one of which was a 40-yard hole from a bunker by amateur Billy Mouw of Pepperdine, the other a 53-foot putt by Taylor Montgomery.
Focus on this: The 13 players who finished at 2 under or better combined to play the 14th in just 3 under.
It’s not very impressive. Which says a lot about the brilliance of the Country Club and why 14th could be the face of this championship.
Somehow I think Milton native Bill Flynn, who created the 14th plan, and Francis Ouimet, whom Flynn played schoolboy games against, are smiling warmly.