What a performance. On Thursday, the 10th hole at Riviera Country Club wore a beret and wondered, in a boozy voice, if "ze golfair" would be interested in some stimulating postcards. On Friday, the 10th played the teenager with rolled-up sleeves who offered you a cigarette when you were 11. On Saturday, the 10th put on a striped jacket and stood outside a tent extolling the charms of Little Egypt. And on Sunday, when the PGA Championship was ripe for the taking, the 10th wore a trench coat and tried to entice the big hitters with promises of a nuclear device.
Was anyone surprised? Since it was conceived in the 1920s by amateur course designer George Thomas, Riviera's par-4 10th hole has been golf's most notorious tempter. From the back of the championship tee to the middle of the green, it measures 315 yards, making it reachable in one shot by many pros. And if you drive the green of a par-4, as any competent Siren will tell you, you'll be putting for eagle.
Of course, just as most securities dealers don't dwell on the downside of their products, the 10th doesn't like to talk about bogeys and double bogeys. Last week's field made only one eagle at the little hole—Fuzzy Zoeller did it on Sunday—against five double bogeys and one "other."
A hole that diabolical always draws attention, and it was no shock on Thursday to find golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. lurking in the 10th's kikuyu-grass rough. "It's an interesting hole," said Jones. "You have to hold on to your hubris. A tactician like Jack Nicklaus would probably never go for it, while a Luftwaffe player like John Daly would probably always go for it."
It's not just the urging of spectators that makes a player reach for his driver on number 10. From the tee, the wide fairway seems crowded with a series of steep-faced bunkers, with each crown of sand lining up in a way that distorts distance perception. A clear channel of fairway, however, suggests a route between the two most distant fairway bunkers to the unprotected left side of the green.
Most players shun the bait and play a long iron or four-wood short of the left fairway bunker. This leaves a 60- to 100-yard wedge shot straight up the extremely shallow green. But using an iron off the tee does not eliminate number 10's terrors, because any position from the center of the fairway to the right rough forces the golfer to play over a deep greenside bunker to a green that slopes away and left. In Thursday's first round, Zoeller made bogey from the right side of the fairway when his high wedge shot bounded over the green into the thick collar grass, a mere 12 feet behind the hole. Sandy Lyle, on the other hand, hit a driver off the tee and made birdie with what he called "an unbelievable 40-yard chip shot" to eight feet from the right rough.
Others who gambled were not so fortunate. Davis Love III was one over par and worried about missing the cut when he reached the 10th on Thursday. Trying to drive the green, he hooked instead into a downhill lie behind a grove of date palms and red-blossomed coral trees. Love saved par, but he shuffled off the green with his cheeks puffed out and his eyes glazed; he didn't survive the cut. Even less successful with the bold stroke was Phil Mickelson, who on Friday drove into the bunker that fronts the green, took two shots to escape and wound up with a 7.
You would think such a capricious hole would have few friends, but you would be wrong. "It's my alltime favorite drivable par-4," Nicklaus said on Wednesday. Former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, while conceding that the 10th was not as formidable as usual because Riviera's greens were soft, agreed. "Man, that hole is hard," he said. "I can remember when you'd hit that green with a wedge and the ball would release 20 feet."
If Riviera's number 10 is the most popular drivable par-4, it is by no means the prototype. The classic Scottish courses have par-4s that can be reached in one by modern golfers. The 355-yard 8th hole at Cypress Point also has its admirers—and victims. Short par-4s fell out of favor in the 1950s when clients began asking for 7,000-yard layouts; but now designers are stretching a par-5 or two to squeeze in a reachable 4. "I love 'em," says Jones, who put a drivable par-4 on his Coto de Caza North course in Orange County, Calif. "They're good rhythm changers; the big hitters have to think carefully about the risk."
The nature of that risk can take several forms as long as the hazards are visible. "We'd like the golfer to walk up to the tee with a driver, a four-wood and a five-iron," says golf architect Michael Hurdzan, whose 14th hole at Naples ( Fla.) National is a persistent tease for Zoeller, the resident pro. "Maybe you hit the five-iron after watching the first couple of players drive it into the junk."