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The USGA rolled out several brilliant innovations, but the setup of the green at the par-5 14th wasn't one of them
The new most dangerous hole at Pebble Beach isn't on the Cliffs of Doom, isn't one of the hard-to-hold par-3s, such as 12 or 17, or even the famous finishing hole. The most exacting hole at Pebble is the par-5 14th. It doesn't rank as the most difficult hole, just the most likely to yield a garish number. No hole gave up more double bogeys (36) or others (14)—that's triple bogey or worse—than the 14th.
The problem with the 14th is the volcanolike green. It is the worst designed putting surface on the course. While the USGA drew justifiable praise for its other innovative ideas, like shifting fairways nearer to the ocean and moving the tee up on the 4th to make it a drivable par-4, the setup of the 14th is the one thing the association got wrong. The severe slope of the right side of the green was trouble enough, but shaving the steep backside banks so that even not-so-errant shots rolled way off the green was a punishment that didn't fit the crime.
All you had to do was watch Ernie Els, with the U.S. Open on the line, hit an acceptable wedge shot into 14 in the final round and watch the ball roll off the front and back down into the fairway, from where he had a devilish pitch. He made a bogey. Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champ, made a nine in the second round from the middle of the fairway. He went over the green with his approach, chipped too hard to the upper level where the pin has to be located, and watched his ball roll off the front of the green and back into the fairway—twice. Here's how he made nine: "I hit seven really good shots and two putts," Johnson said.
The 14th needs a more user-friendly green. The pin barely moves in four rounds because there's no place else to put it. "It's probably the hardest third shot in golf now," Tiger Woods said early in the week.
The 14th, once a demanding par-5, is now a gimmicky hole with miniature golf overtones. "The last 120 yards are right out of a Stephen King novel," said Paul Goydos.
The USGA should get smart and fix the 14th before the Open returns in 2019.