Ocean Course's savage 17th could be decisive at PGA Championship
KIAWAH ISLAND — Adam Scott striped a 3-iron to within four feet of the cup at the Ocean Course's 17th hole Monday afternoon. It was so close, he didn't even bother to putt it out during his practice round.
But there's no fooling the laid-back Australian star. He knows that before the Wanamaker Trophy is handed out Sunday afternoon, the Ocean Course's signature hole — an oceanside 223-yard beast of a par-3 — will have its say about who wins the 94th PGA Championship.
“It's easy on a Monday,” Scott laughed when his round was over. “But look, it's a very, very difficult hole. Having to hit a 3-iron there in a crucial moment is tough. And factor in some breeze, and it will be even harder.”
Kiawah Island's notorious winds were just a gentle breeze Monday as the 156 players in the field — including the top 103 in the world ranking — hit the driving range and putting green before getting in some practice rounds.
But that didn't stop South Carolina's homegrown pro, Tommy Gainey, from rinsing two balls at 17.
“I had 225 and hit 5-iron,” Gainey said with a wry grin. “It looked good, it looked good — and then it hit the wood (by the water). It just shows you how the wind can change. You see it one way, and it can switch and go the other, and the next thing you know you are screwed. So to speak.”
Fans should be wary, as well. Pro Kevin Na reportedly nailed a spectator, standing well to the left of the 17th green, on the shoulder Monday.
Gainey and Na shouldn't feel too badly. The last time there were this many people at the Ocean Course — for the Ryder Cup in 1991 — the list of players who hit the ball in the water at 17 included the late Payne Stewart (twice), Paul Azinger, Hale Irwin, Mark O'Meara, Colin Montgomerie and Mark Calcavecchia.
The water in front of 17 could be called Lake Calc, for it is the unfortunate Calcavecchia who is most associated with the hole. He drowned three balls in the water at 17 during the Ryder Cup, including a dead shank during the Sunday's singles matches, his meltdown nearly costing the U.S. the Ryder Cup.
“That might have been the strangest shot by a pro that I've ever seen,” Johnny Miller, working the TV booth, said that day.
The hole played 197 yards during the Ryder Cup, and has been stretched out to 233 on the card this week. The thin ribbon of a green is protected by two bunkers on the left and Lake Calc — which can have whitecaps on a windy day — on the right. And with grandstands surrounding the green and its natural amphitheater, No. 17 should be a hit with fans and on TV.
“There is no recovery to the right,” Scott said. “And too far left isn't good either. You just really have to hit a good shot there.”
Both Scott and Gainey agreed that the Ocean Course's 17th hole is more difficult than the more famous island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship.
“That hole is 165 max,” Gainey said. “This hole here, it's 225 and it can play 250 of the hole is back left.
“Hopefully, if the wind is blowing anything close to 20 mph, they will move that tee box up a little bit. I hope they set it up the right way.”
Of course, No. 17 is just the mid-point of a back-breaking finish at the Ocean Course, between the 581-yard par-5 16th and No. 18, a 501-yard par 4 where the pros will face an approach shot of 200 yards plus.
“There's a likelihood — not to bring up a sore spot for Mark Calcavecchia — a likelihood that we are going to see a meltdown similar to what we saw in the 1991 Ryder Cup,” said Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.
“It should be very exciting to watch.”