BROOKLINE — Consistent with the age of might and muscle in which we reside, Adam Scott was committed to taking on The Country Club’s 619-yard, par-5 14th hole with a 9-iron.
Yes. After all, how else was he going to get in position to hit a 199-yard third shot into a green at the top of Bunker Hill?
Back to Scott in a moment, but first, a history lesson about this prodigious hole. As an ode to Boston’s part in the Revolutionary War, when the 14th was built in the 1920s officials saw all the bunkers in the hill and the name was a no-brainer.
That it’s also no pushover in this 122nd US Open is a celebration to be rejoiced. Should you be nonchalant about these gallant pros hitting driver, 7-iron into par-5s week after week, raise your hand. Should you miss the days when players actually gave thought to their layup shot, shake your tambourines.
Then after you put your hand down and silence your tambourines, run to highlights of Round 1 and study the wonder of this 14th hole. Lovely stuff.
Yes, it ranked as second-easiest in Round 1, a field average of 4.833, but before you go any further, guess which hole was easiest? Par-5s being ranked 17th and 18th is as sure a bet as NBA centers ranking statistically taller than jockeys.
Forget stats — please! — and study the dynamics in play at Bunker Hill. (Hey, they don’t use the original name much anymore, but for today’s purposes, we will.) Should you desire to put a face to the first US Open round in 34 years at The Country Club, it is humbly suggested here that we point to the 14th.
Why? “Because lots can go wrong there,” said Scott, which is a blanket that can be tossed over all 18 holes at The Country Club. But at no other hole is the premium on the tee shot as important as it is at 14.
“People asked me which holes I was most interested to watch?” said Gil Hanse, who oversaw the many tweaks and updates that have taken place to The Country Club’s composite course since 2010. “I would say 14 and 17.”
The concerted effort “to put a premium on the tee shot,” said Hanse, was hugely successful at the 14th because it carried so much weight. Players salivate over the longer holes, and if making bogey at a par-5 is unanimously their No. 1 hate, the No. 2 hate is making par at a par-5.
When Scott drove it in the left rough, forget going for the green in two, “I just had to get it out of there,” he said. Wedge was the safest option, but it would have left him well over 200 yards into the green. So, he got “aggressive” and hit 9-iron.
“I was able to get it out of there about 130 yards,” smiled Scott, and, yes, he was quite proud of the shot, even though 9-iron quite often can be his 150-yard shot.
The danger of that second shot out of rough is twofold. You cannot possibly get enough club on it to get it up to a flat plateau and a short wedge. And you need to get it back in play without running it too far where your third shot will be straight uphill and blind.
A serious challenge and one brought on by missing the fairway, but in that, Scott was not alone. Only 55 percent of the field hit the fairway at 14, and 22 percent of the field missed the green in regulation, an alarming figure at a par-5.
Ah, but this is not typical par. This is a brilliantly designed hole and perhaps the crowning piece to the project Hanse and Jim Wagner and their Caveman crew developed when it was determined more than 10 years ago that The Country Club needed a little more muscle to get a US Open.
“We debated which would make a better par-5, No. 10 or No. 14,” said Hanse.
With less room to move the 10th tee, the decision was made to keep that a par-4 that could play as long as 500 yards (in Round 1, the field average was 4.391 and it played third-toughest). A new tee for the 14th was found, it was stretched to over 600 yards, provided with vintage Hanse aesthetics to keep you uncomfortable, and while it passed the test at the 2013 US Amateur, this US Open was a different animal.
And on Thursday, it was a beautiful, beastly animal, one that got the better of a long list of players.
Don’t get hung up on the lack of double bogeys or worse. Don’t overrate the 39 birdies that were made or the two eagles, one of which was a 40-yard hole-out from a bunker by amateur Billy Mouw of Pepperdine, the other a 53-foot putt by Taylor Montgomery.
Focus on this: The 13 players who finished at 2 under or better combined to play the 14th in just 3 under.
That’s not very impressive. Which speaks volumes for The Country Club’s brilliance and why the 14th might be the face of this championship.
Somewhere, me thinks Milton native Bill Flynn, who created the blueprint for the 14th, and Francis Ouimet, against whom Flynn played schoolboy matches, are smiling warmly.