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HOYLAKE, England — At his press conference Tuesday in Royal Liverpool, Jon Rahm was asked about the new par-3 17th hole. Almost everyone has been asked about it, so you know it will be a crucial part of the tournament. Or that it’s already controversial.
Regardless, Rahm was asked about it, gave his opinion, and later was asked to clarify: Is it fair or unfair?
“I said it was fair, because if it’s unfair, it’s unfair for everyone, so it’s the same for all of us,” he said. “It can’t be unfair. It’s the same for all of us. It’s much more difficult than before.
The 136-yard hole – nicknamed “Little Eye” – will be a central feature of this week’s game. 151st Open Championship. For starters, it’s a new hole, which is almost unheard of on these old Open Championship courses.
After the 2014 Open here, the club and the R&A decided they needed a change, something that would help create a little more drama towards the finish. They approached Mackenzie & Ebert’s design and said they wanted to reverse the par-3 15th hole and make it shorter.
Now instead of having a par 3 game far from the sea, they play towards it. But that’s not all.
“The old par-3 15th was the complete opposite of the hole,” Rahm said. “You have a short downhill hole, probably downwind, with virtually every edge angled toward the center of the green. I thought it was a good hole. You could make a birdie, and if you missed the green, a bogey lurked. This time they made a very difficult turtle shell par-3. If you hit a good shot, place it on the green, you will have a clear view of the birdie. If you miss the green, you clearly see the bogey. It’s hard to tell if something is fair or unfair because it’s so short.
The Skyline Green – measuring around 3,700 square feet, half the size of an average Royal Liverpool green – sits directly opposite the Dee Estuary and is raised relative to the tee-box. The turtleback green will eliminate any shot that lingers on the edge, which is the hole’s primary defense.
At 136 yards, it is 25 yards shorter than the 2014 inverted par-3.
A short miss sends the balls into a bunker on the left front pot, and a high left green miss goes to a bunker on that side. But the most extreme slope is on the right, leading to a diabolical high-face trap that would give any high handicapper nightmares.
There is also a natural sandy area behind the green (which slopes down about 15 feet), so anything long means unpredictable lies.
Now that players have had a few days to test it, they have been asked for their feedback. Matt Fitzpatrick called it “interesting.” When asked to elaborate, he replied: “I’ll leave it at that.”
Kopeka also used that word – “interesting” – but its connotation was not as negative as Fitzpatrick’s.
“If there’s a crosswind there, it could be pretty interesting,” Koepka said. “I’m a big believer in short par 3s, which make things difficult, just like that. I’m not a big fan of 260, 250. It takes a little – I don’t want to talk about the excitement of it, but it’s kind of boring. You already know it’s a 3-iron and everyone hits the same spot, where I think all the best par-3s in the world that have ever been made are 165 yards or less.
As examples, Koepka cited 12th at Augusta National, 17th at TPC Sawgrass and 8th at Royal Troon.
“There are a bunch of them, and you can come away with 5 as easily as you could make a birdie,” he said. “I like this.”
Cameron Smith acknowledged the hole would cause drama. He said he played it Sunday in a 30 or 40 mph wind and hit a 7-iron.
“There’s not a lot of room for error up there,” he said, “and I think it’s definitely going to be a really exciting end to an Open Championship.”
On Tuesday, fans gathered on a hill to the left of the green and in the stands to the right, giggling as balls tiptoed onto the rim below.
“It’s really not that difficult,” one fan told his pals. “Don’t miss the left, don’t miss the right, don’t miss the short or the long.”
In one group, Dustin Johnson and Koepka both hit the green, while Gary Woodland missed the bunker. Johnson spent a lot of time exploring the green, walking from the back edge to the front bunker. When his younger brother Austin dropped a ball on the front of the green, it rolled about 30 feet lower.
“We all have to play the same holes,” Rahm said. “If you hit a good shot, you will definitely have a chance to make a birdie. Otherwise, you will deal with it. I understand that you are aiming for this on a championship Sunday. You have a one-shot lead, this hole can be crucial.