There are harsh endings—think Hamlet or Thelma and Louise or Bill Buckner, if you must—and then there is the 18th hole at Oakland Hills. Normally a tough but shortish par-5, the USGA decided to spice things up for the Open by turning it into a bastardized par-4 of 465 yards, and the 18th spent most of last week giving players the back of the hairbrush. The four-day spanking left the field with a stroke average more than half a shot above par (4.536, to be exact), making the 18th not only the most difficult finishing hole in the history of the U.S. Open but also, according to available records, the hardest closer of any major championship.
"It's the toughest par-4 finishing hole I've played," says Lee Janzen, who took a triple bogey on 18 during the second round. Others were not so diplomatic. "The last hole is the biggest joke in major championship history," says Neil Lancaster, who bogeyed 18 three times. Adds Jeff Maggert, who made a 7 of his own on Friday, "I don't think even Mickey Mouse knows how to play that hole. It stinks. Everyone makes it out to be such a great finishing hole because it's so hard, but it's trash."
The Open, of course, has always been about punishment. Oakland Hills just dispensed more than the usual. Torched by the sun, demoralized after hacking through the rough and frazzled by the greens, Open competitors staggered down the stretch like the '64 Phillies. Holes 14 through 18—the Flub Five—played a combined 1,119 strokes over par.
Eighteen was the final punch to the gut. The trouble starts on the tee, from which the players hit toward a dogleg that sweeps to the right but slopes to the left, with a landing area at the corner so narrow, John Daly and Tim Herron wouldn't be able to walk down it side by side. Were it a par-5, it would be possible to lay up off the tee into the fat part of the fairway, then shear the dogleg with a second shot. As a par-4, it forced players last week to try to thread a needle with a driver. On Sunday, Tom Lehman drove it through the fairway into one of the two bunkers on the left (three traps guard the inside of the dogleg), and the ensuing bogey kept him from forcing a playoff. "I made a really good swing and hit a really good shot," he said, before adding wistfully, "I was surprised where the ball ended up."
Even if a drive stays in the short grass, the approach is murder, often 200 yards or more, uphill and all carry. The green was designed to receive wedge shots, not low irons or fairway woods, so it's fronted by four hungry bunkers and some of the thickest weeds on the property. Deadpans Corey Pavin, who was two over for the week on 18, "A two-iron uphill to a shallow green.... That's a tough shot for me." For anyone. "Playing for the front bunkers isn't a bad shot," says Janzen. "That is, if you can hit it far enough to get there."
And then there's the green, which has a buried Packard in the middle and falls severely from back to front. "If you designed a green like this now, they'd say you're an idiot," says Jay Haas, whose aggregate of one over on the hole looked smart. Even the shaggy carpet of yesteryear would have been tough putting, but slicked up for the Open, the green was, shall we say, challenging. "It's not overstating things to say it's like minigolf," says Herron, who missed the cut despite an impressive pair of pars at the 18th.
If you're wondering how Steve Jones won this Open, consider that he parred the 18th in the first two rounds, birdied it on Saturday and then on Sunday hit a gutsy seven-iron shot from 170 yards that set up his winning par. Costantino Rocca was the only other player in the red on 18. Speaking for everybody else was Lancaster. "I was just happy to get the hell out of there," he said.