Marina Alex stood on her tip toes, deep in the cavernous bunker that drops down from the right side of the 11th green at the Country Club of Charleston.
Unable to see where her sand-wedge blast landed, Alex called up hopefully to her caddie. "Was that better or worse?"
"Better," the caddie answered.
For better or worse, the Country Club of Charleston's iconic hole No. 11 — a 172-yard par 3 with the tee built on a Civil War-era arsenal and a huge false front rising up to a long, sloping green with deep bunkers on each side — will play a key role in the 74th U.S. Women's Open, which begins Thursday.
"I feel like that hole, anything can happen," said defending Open champion Ariya Jutanugarn.
"When I saw No. 11, I was trying to figure out if that was a green or just a big hill," said two-time Open winner Inbee Park.
Two sticks or five?
Like the Country Club of Charleston itself, the 11th hole has a rich history.
Golfing legend Sam Snead made a 13 (that's 10 over par) on the 11th in 1937. Another legend, Ben Hogan, once recommended either "two sticks" or "five sticks" of dynamite for the green, depending on the historical source.
Hogan also allegedly joked that there were "17 great holes" at the Country Club, the implication being that No. 11 was not among them.
"It is controversial," admits Charleston Hall of Fame golfer Beth Daniel, who grew up playing at the Country Club.
What makes the hole, designed by famed architect Seth Raynor, so controversial?
"The green complex is what makes it controversial," said Daniel. "It's stuck up in the air a good 20 to 25 feet, it's bunkered on both sides and the green is very long and narrow. It's a hard target to hit."
The green complex is what is known as a "reverse Redan" design. "Redan" is a French term for a V-shaped angle in fortifications, designed to repel attacks.
In golf, a "Redan" is a green that slopes down and away from the point of entrance, usually from the right front down to the left. A "reverse Redan", like No. 11 at the Country Club, slopes from the left down to the right.
"Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally and you have a Redan," is golf architect Charles Macdonald's oft-quoted description.
The USGA's John Bodenhamer calls it a "magnificent" hole.
"I think if I were to watch one hole this week, that would probably be it," said Bodenhamer, the USGA's senior managing director of championships. "It is just such a charming part of this place and just contributes to its character.
"I can guarantee you the players are thinking about where they want to miss it," he said. "And that isn't left."
At the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur played at the Country Club of Charleston, No. 11 was the second-hardest hole in the tournament, averaging 3.54 strokes over two rounds. (The par-4 first hole was the most difficult, averaging 4.57 strokes).
There were only eight birdies over two rounds on No. 11 at the Women's Am, by far the fewest of any hole on the course.
Whatever the technical aspects, the winner of the U.S. Women's Open is going to have to deal with No. 11 at least four times.
"Obviously, you don't want to be short of that hill," said Park, a Korean who has won 19 LPGA titles and seven majors. "It's actually a tough green to hit. I'm kind of hitting a low iron or a hybrid into that green. It was really hard for me to stop the ball, because carrying the ridge and then trying to stop the ball within the green was quite hard for me.
"I kind of have to look into the hill, like the last two or three yards of it, and then try to jump it up from there."
During practice rounds, many players have dropped extra balls into the bunkers or short of the false front to work on getting up and down should they miss the green.
But Jutanugarn, the fourth-year pro from Thailand who is ranked No. 4 in the world, is taking a different approach.
"I'm not working on like chipping around the green, hitting bunker shots," she said. "I'm working on like when I know I don't want to miss the green."