Atlanta's 500-plus-yard Monster
A Sneaky Long Hole
This is an article from the Aug. 27, 2001 issue
The 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club in Duluth, Ga., was long.
How long? "Too long," muttered Nick Price. "Way too long."
The PGA of America got what it wanted for its championship--an
18th hole that inspired fear and loathing among the Tour's long
hitters. A 490-yard par-4, the hole was longer than a
mother-in-law's memory. "It's silly," said Jeff Sluman. "It's a
monster," said Grant Waite. "It's one of the hardest finishing
holes we've ever played," said Paul Azinger. "C'mon," said David
Toms, "it's a par-5."
Officially, the 18th was the second-longest par-4 in the history
of the majors, a yard behind the 491-yard 16th at Southern Hills,
the site of this year's U.S. Open. In reality, though, Atlanta's
18th, which features bunkers down the right side and a pond on
the left that sweeps in front of the green, is the long-distance
champion. The 18th played at between 505 and 515 yards. That's
right, the first-ever 500-yard par-4 in a major.
"When I played here three weeks ago, one yardage plate on the
18th tee said 475 and another said 505," said Stewart Cink, who
lives in Duluth. "The 490 spot is between them. We're playing it
back where it said 505, but PGA officials removed the marker. The
18th is the only tee on the course without a yardage plate. There
are little squares of sod where the plate used to be. They didn't
want anybody to know we're playing the hole at more than 500
yards. They didn't want to look ridiculous."
Members play the hole as a 528-yard par-5 from the back tee,
where the yardage marker was still in place last week. The tee
box used during the PGA was 26 paces in front of the 528 marker.
That would make the hole 502 yards long, not 490, and the tee
markers were several steps behind the 502 spot all week.
To prove his point, Cink flipped open his yardage book. "From the
back of the tee, if you cut off as much yardage as possible down
the left side and stay in the fairway, it's 276 yards to the
water," he said. "That leaves 230 yards to the front of the
green. Add it up, that's 506. It's another 16 yards to the
middle, that's 522. On Friday the tees were up seven yards, so it
was 515 to the middle, and that's if you cut off as much as you
can down the left. If you don't cut the corner, it's more like
Kerry Haigh of the PGA of America, the senior tournament director
who set up the course, shrugged off the missing plates and Cink's
evidence that the hole exceeded 500 yards. "Everybody in the
field can reach a par-5 under 530 yards in two, so we decided to
play it as a par-4," he said. "My aim was to make the players hit
a long iron or a wood into a par-4. The most famous photo in golf
is Ben Hogan hitting a one-iron to the last hole at Merion, and
no one complained about that."
On Sunday, Haigh got his memorable moment when Toms laid up with
his second shot, wedged to 10 feet and drained the putt to win.
For the week, the 18th ranked as the toughest hole on the course
with a 4.40 stroke average, was the most difficult to hit in
regulation (46.1%) and yielded almost as many double bogeys or
worse as it did birdies (42 to 43). The 18th did not, however,
rank as the most difficult par-4 in the majors since 1980. It was
the 102nd, well behind the 461-yard 17th at St. Andrews during
the 1984 British Open (4.79).
The 18th played a pivotal role on all four days of the
tournament. On Saturday, Toms sank a 30-foot birdie putt from the
back fringe moments after Shingo Katayama, who either swiped
Madonna's hat or was auditioning for the Village People, hit his
approach into the water, then watched the ball magically skip
over the retaining wall and onto dry land. Katayama saved par.
The hole was rarely that forgiving. On Thursday, Loren Roberts
dunked his three-wood approach, Hidemichi Tanaka hit two balls
into the water and took an 8, and Ernie Els drowned one and made
a double that turned a 65 into a 67.
Jerry Pate, whose famous five-iron from the right rough to two
feet at 18 won the '76 U.S. Open at Atlanta Athletic Club (the
hole played 460 yards then), re-created the shot in the first
round. After driving into the water, he took a drop, hit a
three-iron to four feet and made the par putt. "I was one over
par and said, 'Hell, I'm going to hit this sumbitch at the pin
again,'" said Pate, 47. "That was the best shot I've hit in a
long time. My son Wesley was caddying for me and said, 'Hey, they
don't know this is your hole.'" Pate offered the shot as evidence
that the hole had needed lengthening. "I hit a three-iron from
228 yards. Can you believe that?" he said. "I would've hit a
three-wood 25 years ago."
Pate hit another three-iron to the green from the same distance
in the second round. This one didn't clear the pond and led to a
double bogey. "I think I'm going to throw up," Wesley said.
At 18, he was not alone.
The PGA championship has become the most exciting major. We had
Tiger Woods versus Sergio Garcia in 1999, Tiger versus Bob May in
'00 and, last week, Phil Mickelson going head-to-head against
David Toms amid a barrage of birdies, eagles and holes in one.
Drama like Sunday's used to be the province of the Masters, but
the lords of Augusta seem intent on tinkering it away.
What do these players have in common?
They won more Tour events than Phil Mickelson's 19 and never won
a major. Cooper won 31 events, Smith 24, Melhorn and Sanders 20
Should Curtis Strange have picked the 11th and 12th players in
the Ryder Cup standings, or was he right in selecting regardless
Follow standings 9%
Choose whomever he wanted 91%
--Based on 498 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Should Strange have selected Tom Lehman (12th in
the final standings with a 5-3-2 Ryder Cup record) instead of
Paul Azinger (22nd and 5-6-2)? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
Does length alone make a course difficult? Here are the longest
courses on which a major has been played over the last five
years with 1) the scoring average of the field in relation to
par and 2) Length Index (computed by dividing a course's yardage
by its par).
Course +/- Par Length Index
Carnoustie 1999 British Open
(7,361 yds.) +5.82 103.7
Atlanta 2001 PGA
(7,213 yds.) +1.21 103.0
Congressional 1997 U.S. Open
(7,213 yds.) +2.66 103.0
Medinah 1999 PGA
(7,401 yds.) +0.59 102.8
Pinehurst 1999 U.S. Open
(7,175 yds.) +3.67 102.5
Maggie Noel, HOUSTON
Maggie, 13, took two titles in three weeks. She won the girls'
division of the Inner City National Championship for the third
straight year, shooting a three-under 65 for a 12-shot victory.
Maggie also won the 12-to-14-year-old division of the Texas Girls
Championship by six strokes with a four-over 147.
Webb Simpson, RALEIGH
Webb, 15, was victorious at the AJGA's Tournament of Champions, a
major on the junior circuit, shooting a seven-under 281. Webb
beat 17-year-old Kevin Na by a stroke. A sophomore at Needham
Broughton High, Webb finished fourth in the Class 4A state
tournament to help the Caps to their fourth consecutive title.
Chuck Tanner, WASILLA, ALASKA
Tanner, 56, a retired supervisor at the Alaska pipeline control
center, won his third, and second straight, Alaska Senior
Amateur, shooting a nine-over-par 225 to prevail by nine strokes
at Anchorage Golf Club. Tanner was also victorious in the senior
division of the 2000 Alaska Mayors Cup.
Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.