Sometime Sunday, a few of the PGA Tour’s best, who might be near the top of the leader board at the Players Championship, will have to face down the demon.
That demon being the wild and woolly 17th at Sawgrass. The famous — and infamous — hole at golf’s fifth major has crushed many a tour player’s dream of emerging victorious at the prestigious tour stop.
At last year’s tournament, the statistical breakdown for the final round at this diabolical hole was thus: 13 birdies, 50 pars, nine bogeys and four doubles. Four of the tournament total 36 balls went into the water.
Of note, Russell Knox, who shot 67 and 68 the first two days at Sawgrass last year to put himself in the hunt, carded a six-over nine on 17 in the third round. That was part of a eight-over 80 he shot for the day and played a big hand in him finishing T-19. Had he even just shot a level-par round, he would have been solo second to Jason Day.
So, with that island hell in mind, we are going to say it’s the toughest and detail another 10 frightening par-3 holes on the tour.
10. Harbour Town Golf Links – No. 14, 192 Yards
The RBC Heritage has the tough task of drawing the best from the PGA Tour as it is held the weekend following the Masters (just like the Canadian Open follows the British). But, the tour pros rank the course in Hilton Head very highly and for those on PGA circuit who do participate, the par-3 14th is truly scary. With water all along the right side of the hole, it forces most players to bail out on what some call the toughest par-3 on the PGA Tour, leaving a tough up-and-down for par. Wesley Bryan, who won this year’s edition of the Heritage with a 13-under score, was par at no. 14 every round. Not bad. Canada’s Graham DeLaet, however, wasn’t as proficient at that hole, which cost him. He was at 12-under and in the hunt entering the Sunday round, when he blew up. He had four bogeys and a triple-bogey that day, after posting just three such scores all tournament. The triple wasn’t on no. 14, but he did bogey that was the final bogey of his round and tournament — putting a final lousy touch on his miserable closing round.
9. TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course – No. 16, 162 Yards
The 16th at TPC Scottsdale, home of the raucous and rowdy Phoenix Open, is necessarily the toughest par-3 , but it is one of most frightening. We say that because the hole, which doesn’t hold a lot of danger for golfers, is transformed into a crazy and loud stadium unto itself. This is fans’ tournament and they pack the stands at 16. So, tour players making their first stop there — and even seasoned veterans — might be taken aback a bit by the shear numbers watching their every move and making big noise on every shot. A lot of players, probably to calm their nerves at the thought of screwing up a fairly easy hole in front of thousands, take to appeasing the crowd with a few antics. In 2016, Rickie Fowler exhorted the crowd to make more noise before he hit his tee shot, while James Hahn did push-ups as an apology for missing the green with one of his attempts there.
8. Bethpage State Park Black Course – No. 17, 207 Yards
The hardest of five courses at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, the Black Course has played host to the U.S. Open and the Barclays (most recently in 2016) and will host the PGA Championship in 2019 and the Ryder Cup in 2024. It is a beast of a course that sets up just under 7,500 yards for big events like the U.S. Open and also features the ghastly (for the players at least) 207-yard 17th hole, just to break their spirit a bit before heading home at 18. For any player hoping to make par, they best miss the deep bunkers, seven in all, that surround the green. Even worse, the ball could come to rest in the nasty fescue. The hourglass shaped green is the safest place to be, but it’s a blind shot from the tee deck. The way the hole is set up, too, for these high level courses is daunting, as the stadium all around the hole gives it a distinctly different look and makes that pressure shot even more daunting.
7. Trump National Doral Miami – No. 13, 245 yards
As if the Blue Monster and that crazy hard 18th hole weren’t hard enough, they had to design one of the more terrifying par-3s on the tour. The field at WGC-Cadillac Championship, which was hosted at Trump National until 2016 (now moved), had to contend with the long par-3 where a par was indeed very pleasing. The green is flanked by well-defined bunkers and a back-left hole location is the worst, in that the back of the green slopes away from the tee. Many players in the top 20 of the 2016 WGC tournament carded bogeys — and even a double (Dustin Johnson) in the fourth round. Rory McIlroy, who finished T-3 but could easily have won, bogeyed the hole as part of a lackluster two-over 74 that blew up his hopes at winning it.
6. Muirfield Village Golf Club – No. 16, 201 Yards
Home of the Memorial on Jack Nicklaus’ signature course, Muirfield is a stern test of golf that includes one of the more knee-knocking par-3s on the tour. In 2012 it was one of the toughest par-3s on the tour, with just 32 total scores including birdies on that hole, and 140 carding over-par (including 25 double bogeys). The Memorial is held in early June and the defending champion is William McGirt, who won in a playoff with Jon Curran in 2016. The tiny green at this hole is protected on the left by water and then flanked by three bunkers, two at the back and one at the front. The front of the green slopes back to the fairway, so a front pin is trouble for players who spin the ball hard. Both Robert Streb and Adam Hadwin were near the top of the leaderboard last year, and both carded bogeys on 16 as their closing rounds sunk their chances. Hadwin shot a 74 to fall seven spots to a T-11 and Streb a 73 to tumble nine places to T20.
5. Pebble Beach Golf Links – No. 12, 202 Yards
Pebble Beach is one of the most scenic courses on the tour, and one of its most difficult. Thus, PGA Tour pros and their celebrity sidekicks at the Pro-Am also have to contend with several beautiful but horrifying holes there, including the 202-yard ball eater at the 12th. This hole is filthy with bunkers, including a large one guarding most of the front of a green that is wide, but very shallow. Geoff Ogilvy, who finished T14 at this year’s Pro-Am, fell eight spots to that position, courtesy of a bad final round that saw him shoot a 73 after carding a 66 on the very same course the day before. On the Saturday, Ogilvy shot part at no. 12, but on Sunday he bogeyed the hole, which started a three-hole run of bogeys (preceded by three birdies ).
4. Oakmont Country Club – No. 8, 288 Yards
For the average course out there, 288 yards usually means a short par-4 that the average player would probably use a driver for. But, for the bombers on the tour, the governing body likes to freak them out with this beastly hole at Oakmont, host of the 2016 U.S. Open and future site of 2025 U.S. Open. In fact, it is registered as the longest par-3 in championship golf. Not only is the hole a lengthy trip, but the greenside bunker is 100 yards long, or just shorter than a lot of par-3 holes on other PGA Tour stops. At the 2016 U.S. Open, won by Dustin Johnson, it actually played a massive 299 yards. The only saving grace for most players is that the green is quite big, too, so they can drive the ball onto it (hoping to miss that Manhattan sized bunker). At the 2007 U.S. Open there, the hole played .452 strokes above average and only a little over 25 percent of the players hit it in regulation.
3. Olympic Club, Lake Course – No. 3, 247 Yards
The U.S. Open set up at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course has not been kind to PGA Tour Competitors, especially after 54 holes. The third hole on the Lake Course certainly adds the Sunday heartache, as it’s a long downhill shot into a view of the city of San Francisco. Four bunkers guard the left, right and rear of a green that slopes away to the right. Thus, landing in the bunker to the left presents a challenging shot just to keep the ball from rolling down the hill. It’s such a difficult hole, a lay-up to the front isn’t out of the question for some tour pros. The Olympic hosted the 2012 US. Open and that year, Ernie Else got himself back into contention with admirable rounds of 69 and 68 on Friday and Saturday, only to shoot a pedestrian two-over 72 on Sunday to fall five places to solo ninth. A bogey at the third on Sunday started his round downhill, where he would card four more bogeys against two birdies.
2. PGA National, The Champion – No. 17, 190 Yards
The “Bear Trap” at the PGA National “Champion” course in Palm Beach Gardens, FLA, is more like a three-hole death trap for PGA Tour pros playing in the Honda Classic. Holes 15 and 16, a par 3 and a par 4, respectively, set the golfer up for the par-3 17th that demands precision and can sink a player’s title hopes accordingly. Golfers hit off an elevated tee into a green protected by water on the right (and lots of it) and a bunker at the back left to catch heavy shots. Ask any player on the tour and they will say that the 17th, with its often swirling winds, is the hardest of that scary three-hole trifecta. A back right pin close to the water is the most dastardly set-up, too.
1. Augusta National – No. 12, 155 Yards
The “Golden Bell” of Amen Corner has rung the bell of many a player, the last of which to blow up spectacularly there being Jordan Spieth in 2016. There are no other par-3s on the PGA Tour that inspire palm-sweating horror in a player near the top of the leaderboard at the Masters than the 155-yard Golden Bell. The picturesque setting of the hole at the famed Augusta National lulls many a golfer into false sense of security. It is set into the trees, with bunkers in the rear and a burbling Rae’s Creek in front. But, the winds there swirl and can be tricky, taking shots in places PGA Tour pros never thought possible. Just ask Spieth, who had a meltdown of epic proportions to lose the ’16 event, which would have been his second in a row.