As the pro tour moved to Miami last week, our fighting heroes took on what has become an annual bit of torture—namely, playing the 18th at Doral, the toughest finishing hole they see all year. It is a 437-yard par-4 that is so rugged you have to thread a needle between a lake on your left and a bagel on your right, and if you make the slightest mistake you can go in the water not once but twice. To escape with your life you have to follow Dave Hill's instructions, which are, "Hit a tee ball like you're in a greenhouse and don't break any windows, and then saw a three-iron into that hard green so it will come down like a butterfly with sore feet."
The subject of tough golf holes comes up frequently on the tour, as it does throughout the sport. Golf has never reared a club member who wanted to think that his course was a pushover or who wouldn't care to argue that his 18th hole wasn't as testing and evil as Doral's, or Riviera's or Harbour Town's or Tucson National's, which are the holes most often mentioned when the pros get to talking it over.
Not that the Doral-Eastern Open was a one-hole tournament. It was a tournament like all the others, battled for most of the way by a cast of knowns, unknowns and forgotten-abouts until Hubert Green made it a one-man show on Sunday.
Green was tied with Ben Crenshaw, a fellow known, after the first round. The 36-hole leader was Mark Hayes, a quiet unknown, but then Hubert opened up a four-stroke lead on everybody after three rounds. At this point some of the challengers included those forgotten-abouts, Bobby Mitchell and Marty Fleckman. It wasn't until the final round that Jack Nicklaus (also known) became a mild factor and at one time during the afternoon drew to within three strokes of Green. Nicklaus had turned the front nine in three under par, while Hubert had just bogeyed the 8th hole, making him one over for the round.
March 22, 1976
Nicklaus wins a lot of tournaments in Florida; to be exact, he has won an astonishing eight times there—three Disneys, two Dorals, the 1971 PGA, the 1966 PGA team championship (with Arnold Palmer) and the Tournament Players Championship three weeks ago—and it would have been nothing new had he overtaken Green. But Hubert's answer to the news on the leader boards was a shot to the par-3 9th hole that landed about a foot and a half from the cup for a kick-in birdie. He was in control.
Green can get in these putting moods were everything drops. Few players crouch any lower over the ball, and few can sink as many in a streak. On Saturday, when he shot the 65 that really put the tournament out of reach for most everyone, he birdied seven of the last 11 holes, dropping putts from all over Miami.
Green wound up winning the Doral by a cozy six strokes, and in order to accomplish this you have to do something like he did on the mean old 18th. Like birdie it the last two rounds when virtually everyone else was fighting to stay out of the lake and the mud hens and the begonias. Green closed out the tournament with a three-iron shot to the 18th that gobbled up the flag, and he rolled in about a 12-foot putt for the 69, which gave him a Doral record-breaking total of 270.
"I don't look good hitting the ball, but I can't make a living and swing pretty," he said afterward. "I may change my grip more times during the week than I change clothes. If it doesn't feel good early in the week, I'll change. I've won 10 tournaments now, counting one in Japan, but nobody thinks I'm a great player because I've never won a major championship. I agree. I'll have to win a major to be somebody besides another skinny kid from Alabama. If Johnny Miller wants to say he's a great player and ranks with Jack Nicklaus, let him say it. Johnny Miller and me are different in a lot of ways. Both of us aren't even Mormons."
When Hayes three-putted the last green, he allowed Nicklaus to tie him for second at 276, a stroke better than Crenshaw, whose fourth-place money put him over $100,000 for the year. Mark Hayes? Well, so far this is the year for slightly mysterious people to finish second. Before Mark Hayes, we have had Howard Twitty, Roger Maltbie, Mike Morley, Larry Nelson, Rik Massengale, Don Bies and Kermit Zarley.
All through the tournament the 18th was a painful reminder to the pros that life was not always a drive, a seven-iron and a 20-foot putt. This hole alone will always make Doral a little different.
The 18th on the Blue Monster course was ordered to be exactly what it is: a monument to the game, a hole that will create conversation and perhaps even lure a tourist or two to the amazing compound that is the Doral golf resort, which is not named for a flower or some old Spanish mission but for Doris and Al Kaskel, who built it. Dor-Al, get it?
Doral is made up of a dozen or so buildings and the accent is definitely on golf. The hotel can accommodate nearly 1,500 people at a time and management says that most of them usually play the game. For their convenience, a conveyor belt takes clubs to a patio near the pro shop, foursomes are packed into electric carts and dispatched every eight minutes with assembly-line frequency.
Dick Wilson, the architect, designed the Blue Monster backward to make sure the 18th would deserve the plaque now on display to the right of the tee. It states simply: DORAL 18TH HOLE—RATED HARDEST HOLE ON PGA TOUR.
Wilson laid it out so the golfer would normally be hitting into the prevailing wind. The artificial lake to the left of the fairway is very much in play from start to finish. You can drive into the water from the tee with just the slightest bit of hook. The second shot then, which can require anything from a three-wood to a short iron depending on the wind, must not only carry the water but also hold the green. If it slides too far left, you can catch the water again. There are bunkers to the right of the green and, obviously, too hard a bunker shot can fly the green and find the water with ease.
"The hole has everything," said Nicklaus last week, assuming his role of course designer. "What do you want your 18th hole to be? Should it be a disaster hole? A piece of cake? You don't want a hole that will destroy a good golfer. If you need a four, Doral's is as tough a hole as you can find. You can't play safe. You have to play well. One mistake and you might even have to play well to make a six."
The hole lived up to its reputation last week, a reputation, by the way, that was enhanced by the old IBM board that moved around on the tour for a few years, keeping up with everything from the number of Titleists that went into ravines to the number of red knit shirts worn by what pros. For three years the IBM scoreboard kept up with all the scores and proved out that Doral's 18th hole was the toughest 18th in pro golf.
Last week the stiff winds Doral usually gets were absent. The tournament, as a matter of fact, enjoyed the kind of sunny, warm weather Florida advertises but doesn't always deliver. If anything, the 18th played easier than it ever had, and yet a pairing hardly came along without somebody dropping a ball over his left shoulder or being forced to roll up a pants leg.
On Thursday there were 39 fellows out there who bogeyed the hole, 16 players who double-bogeyed it and four who triple-bogeyed it. Dave Hill came in and said, "You know how I play that dude? I defy it. I aim right at the water on the tee and then cut it into the slot. Then I slick me a little three-iron in there that will...." Do that butterfly thing, he said.
"What did you make, Dave?" somebody asked.
"Same old six," he said.
On Friday, when the very mysterious young Hayes assumed the lead, the 18th played tougher, even though the pin was sitting right and middle instead of flirtatiously near the water. Fifty-eight unfortunate souls made bogey and 22 others made double bogey. No one made worse than six, but only four golfers birdied the hole.
It was even worse on Saturday, although it didn't look so difficult the way Green played it, ramming in the only birdie of the day to complete his blistering 65 and move into the four-stroke lead he had through 54 holes. But for most everyone else the hole was exquisite torture. There were fewer golfers playing the hole after the halfway cut, but of the 72 out there 19 of them bogeyed it, nine double-bogeyed it and two triple-bogeyed it, and just that one birdie of Green's.
On Sunday the 18th drew its usual complement of atrocities. Roughly a third of the field—27 guys—bogeyed it. There were six double bogeys, including Peter Oosterhuis' third consecutive six (he hit two balls into the water). Only half-a-dozen birdies were scored on it, and Green, of course, had the main one.
Doral's 18th is more like Harbour Town's in playing quality than it is like Riviera's, although it resembles neither of those in appearance. Riviera's finishing hole is known as "Cardiac Hill." It goes up through a tunnel of trees to a natural amphitheater of a green, with the clubhouse towering over it all. At Hilton Head a lighthouse furnishes a backdrop to Harbour Town's 18th, and Calibogue Sound is right there on the golfer's left as Doral's lake is on the golfer's left, ever beckoning.
Here is how a cross section of contemporary pros rate the toughest finishing holes they regularly play on the PGA tour and what they have to say about them:
Nicklaus: "Doral, Harbour Town and Riviera, in that order. They challenge you but don't punish you unnecessarily. They reward the guy who is playing well."
Crenshaw: "Tucson National, Doral and Harbour Town. Depending on the wind, Doral can be anything from a seven-iron to a three-wood second shot. It's a great hole."
Dave Hill: "Doral and Riviera. You shouldn't make worse than bogey at Riviera, but you can make anything at Doral. It wants to grab your tee ball, and then it wants to grab your second shot."
Ed Sneed: "Doral, Harbour Town and Tucson National, but Tucson is hard for all the wrong reasons."
Eddie Pearce: "Riviera, Doral and Harbour Town. If you're talking about trying to make a four, you've got to go with Riviera, because it's longer and uphill all the time. There might be days at Doral where you can bust a drive and hit an eight-iron in there."
Bobby Nichols: "Doral, Riviera and Firestone, naturally [he's the club pro]. I think Tucson is unfair. I think we're seeing lots of holes toughened up because of television."
Bob Murphy: "Doral, Tucson and Riviera. Doral might be easier to make four at times, but it's also easier to make six or seven, too."
Oosterhuis: "Butler National, Doral and Harbour Town. Butler is so hard we can't even use the blue tees. You would never call it great, just brutal. Doral and Harbour Town are great holes."
Pat Fitzsimons: "Tucson, Doral and Firestone. Tucson is really a tougher hole with water on both sides, but Doral is tough because the water is on the left and most of us fight a hook. Lee Trevino probably wouldn't think Doral was this hard because he fades the ball."
Gardner Dickinson: "Riviera, Doral and Tucson, but at Tucson they might just as well put up a big cement wall and tell you to hit into it."
Tom Weiskopf: "Doral, Riviera, and I'd like to put Augusta in there. None of these holes are a bargain when you need a four."
Nobody could possibly surpass the bottom line on the Doral complex that was written by the Miami-Metro Department of Publicity and Tourism. The release states, "Doral, as opulent as it might be, is still a country club with a heart. So much so that not only has it raised its own ducks from eggs, but it has even stocked the lakes with bass to add the idyllic touch to its 700 acres."
Not a word about all the golf balls in the lake on the 18th with the bass. Just about everyone's but Hubert Green's, in fact.