Just like life, what's the reward without some risk?
It's a new game come the Ryder Cup, where in match play only each hole won matters. Hazeltine National Golf Club's newly configured four finishing holes — likely set up to reward those who are both daring and deft— truly could determine which team succeeds and which team fails. Star Tribune writer Jerry Zgoda asked Hazeltine National head pro Chandler Withington for his thoughts on the new finish:
No. 15 405 yards, par 4
Every morning's important question: To shave or not to shave?
Hole location means everything here at the start of a potential four-hole finish. With it front right and the tees moved invitingly up to 345 yards or less, players could try to drive the green, particularly if their four-ball partner already has hit his drive safely in the fairway. But on a shelf back left is a completely different story. Like the next two holes upcoming, grass banked fronting the green can be shaved so all shots struck just a little too short will roll into the water. But will U.S. captain Davis Love III decide to do so?
The pro says: "It potentially is a hole that, with the right wind direction, or tee location, players can get aggressive here. If you can hit a high draw far enough, you could potentially hit the ball 20, 30 yards down in front of the green, if not drive it on. But there's water short left, so is that the play?"
No. 16 572 yards, par 5
Come join the party: Putting a pivotal par-5 within reach
Unlike three other par-5s that can be played at 600 yards or more, this one played with a barn and corporate village down the left side will be reachable in two shots for almost everyone, unless the wind blows from the north. How each man plays the hole will depend if the match is 1-up, even or 1- or 2-down. With bunkers right and space short right, the only thing he can't do is hit it left into the water. The real fun will be discovering who's going to go for the green in two shots first if a match is all square.
The pro says: "There will be a sea of people — there will be 20,000-30,000 people — around that hole. The electricity will be great. No. 16 is going to be the most intriguing hole out here. It's going to be great."
No. 17 176 yards, par 3
Water right and sand left, Hazeltine's shortest hole plays hard
Listed at a maximum 176 yards, it is Hazeltine's shortest par-3, but it also has the smallest green and it was the seventh-hardest hole in the 2009 PGA. It's also one of the few holes that will play in a crosswind when the wind comes out of the north or south, like it usually does. Rich Beem called the former eighth hole "unbelievably tough" after winning the 2002 PGA, and if you doubt him, ask Padraig Harrington: The Irishman was in contention to defend his PGA title Sunday in 2009 before he made an 8 there after going from water to rough and back again.
The pro says: "You've got water short and right and bunkers left and long. So where do you want to take your medicine? Even hitting your ball over the water doesn't mean you're making par or bogey."
No. 18 432 yards, par 4
It's all uphill from here at match's finishing hole
The finishing hole — which only nine of 28 matches in 2014 reached in Scotland — plays uphill alongside the ninth hole to an elevated green. It's a drive and a short iron approach, but what it lacks in risk-reward options it counters with the pressure that comes with the Ryder Cup's 18th and presumably final hole. All previous decisions made in the match have come down to this.
The pro says: "You get to 16 or 17 and they're not easy. You have to decide on those holes if this is my best chance or do I want to hold on until 18 and hope he drives it into one of the bunkers and/or hope that I make a 3 and he doesn't."