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Saturday, October 25, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 7/20/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Shorter distance makes for longer looks at hole No. 9

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Golf courses are often defined, at least in large part, by their finishing holes. Inverness Club ends with one of the nation’s famous short par 4s, all bunkers and shaved sides to the rolling green. Toledo Country Club has a scenic, meandering par 5 along the Maumee River. We could go on.

Highland Meadows has a wonderful finishing hole, too. It’s a signature hole, the kind you’d find on a postcard, but one which barely draws attention during the LPGA Tour’s annual stop there.

You see, a quarter-century ago when the then-Jamie Farr Classic moved to the Meadows, it was determined that because of topography, there was not enough space around the course’s 18th green for a large complex of bleachers and so-called sky boxes. So tournament officials flipped the nines, and the drama shifted to back-to-back par 5s, normally Nos. 8-9, that became Nos. 17-18. It remains that way to this day.

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But poor No. 9, the center of attention 51 weeks out of the year with its deep tee complex, a meandering creek wrapping around a valley fairway before the hole rises up a false front to an elevated table-top green, just sort of hangs around near the spectator entrance.

Not on Saturday, though. In a rarity, the ninth hole took center stage during the third round of the Marathon Classic. It is normally a 375-yard hole, but the LPGA had its players hit from the women’s member tees, down at valley level in front of the service road that runs just short of the fairway.

From there, it is 246 yards to the front of the green and another nine yards to the pin, a total of 255 yards.

“Twenty-five years and that thought never even entered my mind,” said tournament director Judd Silverman. “Mike Waldron of the LPGA was here for two or three days and came up with it.”

The tour’s advance rules official who oversees all aspects of the tournament, Waldron chuckled when recalling Silverman’s reaction to setting up No. 9 as a driveable par 4.

“Judd said he didn’t even know there was a short tee up there,” Waldron said.

Marshals working the hole reported that 70 of the 77 players in the field Saturday attempted to drive the green. Some, like tournament co-leader Laura Diaz and Stacy Lewis, came within inches of hitting the flagstick. Diaz and 2010 Farr champion Na Yeon Choi eagled the hole; Lewis and 33 others scored birdie.

During the first two rounds, a larger field produced 39 birdies in two days, and registered 40 scores of bogey or worse on No. 9. There were but four bogeys Saturday.

“I thought it was cool,” Lewis said. “I don’t think it’s something you do every day, but it was exciting. You could hit 3-wood up on top of the rise in front of the green and still have a 20 or 30-yard pitch. So you might as well hit driver and go for it.”

Players were forewarned early in the week that the short tee might be used, and Choi said it “added a lot of excitement and, in my case, sort of revved up my round. I’ve never even noticed that tee box before, and I didn’t hit from there in practice rounds because I didn’t think I’d try it. But when we got there, the wind was helping a little, so why not?”

Choi hit her driver to pin high, about 30 feet to the right of the pin, and drained the long putt. Diaz saw hers barely elude the stick and run 10 feet past. The eagle was the highlight of her even-par round.

“I got the right kick on my tee shot, and the way the crowd reacted, I could tell it was close,” Diaz said. “A hole like that makes it more fun for us. There’s a little more thinking instead of doing what you always do on a hole.”

Setting up driveable par-4 holes has been in vogue since the USGA did it during the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Waldron said the LPGA considered trying it at No. 13 a couple of years back, but there is a strip of rough in front of that green that doesn’t really accommodate such a shot.

“You don’t want players to have to fly it that far,” Waldron said. “You have to have fairway to the green so it can run up. We looked at a couple other holes, too, but then I saw that tee on No. 9 and said, ‘Hmm.’ ”

Making the hole driveable was partly to ramp up excitement on a course where none of the three par-5 holes are reachable for most players and eagles don’t come in bunches. But it didn’t come without a price. The LPGA backed up the par-3 14th hole to the tips. That was the party hole on Friday, but no party for the golfers Saturday.

This time, the party was on the Meadows’ best hole.

No. 18 … er, 9, would say it was about time.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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