At 81 yards, the par-3 15th hole at Los Angeles Country Club on Saturday was the shortest hole in the history of the U.S. Open.
Only a golfer can fully grasp the mental torment that such a bite-size challenge poses, but here is one way to understand the situation: No one likes a hole where it’s easier to throw the ball onto the green than it is to hit it there with a golf club.
Add to the third-round setting a severely sloped 15th green; three massive, menacing bunkers surrounding the target area; and knotty, knee-high grass all around. And — oh, yes — the approach shot is uphill, and there is a gusty wind at the players’ backs.
Step right up, who wants to go first? How about you, Brooks Koepka, five-time major champion?
Didn’t Koepka suggest earlier this week that L.A. Country Club might be too easy? He said he worried about a “birdiefest.” Maybe he had a hole less than 100 yards in mind. (The old record for shortest U.S. Open hole was 92 yards, at the 2010 event.)
Koepka was three under par for his Saturday round and firmly in the top 10 when he stepped to the 15th. But his tee shot had none of the touch required and soared to the back of the green. His first putt was way short. His next putt was way long. The third putt just plain missed the hole. Koepka tapped in for a double bogey and is now extremely unlikely to win a sixth major at this year’s Open.
Who’s next? Don’t be shy.
Next came Tom Kim, the hottest golfer in the early wave of players on Saturday, to the 15th tee. Kim made seven birdies as he tamed 5,637 yards of L.A.C.C. terrain in his first 14 holes. He had just made par at the fearsome 627-yard, par-5 14th hole.
So, really, how hard could an 81-yard hole be?
Trying to play with finesse, Kim deftly flipped a tidy little wedge. One problem: It was about two yards short of the green and trundled backward in a yawning bunker. His blast from the sand bounded to the back of the green, 22 feet from the hole. Two putts and one bogey later, Kim walked away shaking his head as he glared over his shoulder at the 15th green.
After his round, Kim summed up the diabolical, tiny test presented on Saturday by the historic 15th hole.
“If you’re long, you’re dead,” he said. “If you’re short, you’re dead. You don’t want to bail out left because then you have a 40-footer down the hill. A bogey from 80 yards isn’t great stats-wise, but, you know, a double bogey is definitely in play there.”
Kim finished the day at three under par for the tournament and is still in contention.
Bryson DeChambeau, golf’s mad scientist, looked very determined during his time on the 15th tee. He did not even flinch when he was almost beaned by an errant shot from the 14th fairway by a fellow competitor, Keith Mitchell. DeChambeau pitched a wedge to 10 feet and made par.
“I’m the happiest man alive that I hit that green,” he said. “Super happy.”
DeChambeau said he chose a 60-degree wedge and teed his golf ball extra high to create more spin and loft.
“Very difficult, demanding shot,” he added. “Par is a great score.”
Even if it’s only 81 yards?
“I’d rather it be longer tomorrow,” said DeChambeau, who finished at three under par.
The 15th hole did not play as one of the most difficult holes on the golf course on Saturday. But it seems a surprise that the scoring average on the hole was 2.92 with 11 birdies, four bogeys and one conspicuous double bogey in the field of 65.
Forty-nine of the best golfers in the world made par, and no better, on an 81-yard hole. Then again, as is often said, golf is a game of opposites. For example, you must hit down on the ball to make it go up. So in that way, the 15th hole in the third round of the 2023 national golf championship was, perhaps, perfect.
Shane Lowry, the 2019 British Open champion, may have said it best.
“It was different, and that’s interesting,” he said with a smile. “Different is OK. But I had a plan. The plan was par.”