The Temptation and Tribulation of Drivable Par 4s


    In early February, Rickie Fowler stood on the 17th tee at TPC Scottsdale with a two-shot lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

    He looked straight down the fairway and saw the pin a tempting 332 yards from the tee. Certainly, there was water left and water long, but he stayed aggressive, like he did at TPC Sawgrass where he won last year’s Players Championship. He caught the ball cleanly sending it straight towards the hole. The drive was a bullet, hit in front of the green and began racing towards the back of the green. The problem for Fowler was he caught the ball too solidly, perhaps a victim of his own adrenaline, and he heard the groans from the gallery as the ball kept rolling through the green, the back fringe and into the water.

    An indifferent long-chip left him with a 12 foot putt which he couldn’t hole. An easy par turned into an untimely bogey that eventually forced Fowler into a playoff with Hideki Matsuyama and four holes later, Fowler walked off the course in second place.

    In these power and distance-obsessed times, when the USGA routinely sprinkles 500 yard par 4’s into their U.S. Open set-ups, the beauty of a short par 4 is a wonderful thing for players and fans alike. And, it’s actually been around for a very long time.

    At the 1960 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer began his final round by driving the par 4 1st hole at Cherry Hills in Denver. He two-putted for birdie and fired a round of 65 to win the championship. Of course, Palmer accomplished the feat with a persimmon driver and a balata golf ball. At the 2014 BMW Championship, the PGA let the tour’s top pros try to replicate the feat. No one was able to do it with the persimmon driver and balata ball the PGA provided, but a handful of them knocked it on with today’s golf ball and their own 3-woods.

    Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles is one of the most storied venues in American golf, hosting what was called the L.A. Open every year and multiple major championships. The 10th hole at Riviera is a downhill 315 yard par 4 with a bowling pin shaped green surrounded by deep bunkers. A wide fairway narrows towards the green. Players that choose to lay-up off the tee and find the right portion of the fairway face an extremely difficult pitch with very little green to work with. Former U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy said this of Riviera’s 10th, “That’s the measure of a great short par 4; how uncomfortable it makes you on the tee.”

    The Belfry in Sutton, England hosted multiple Ryder Cups beginning in the mid-1980’s. The Belfry’s tenth hole played as a 285 yard par 4 with a tiny green edged by trees and a small creek.
    Winged Foot’s 6th hole played as a 321 yard hole in the 2006 U.S. Open and Oakmont’s 17th played to 313 yards at the 2007 Championship. Players complimented the USGA for working these holes into the U.S. Open, which is better known for its 500 yard par 4’s in recent years.

    Even Augusta National has gotten into the act. At the 2003 Masters, they moved up the tees on the already short 3rd hole for the final round. Tiger Woods was one of the victims, making double bogey.

    This kind of risk vs. reward set-up creates drama for fans and hard choices for players. They put equal emphasis on brains and brawn. They are especially interesting in match play and team events like the Ryder Cup. That’s why we are likely to see this trend continue and strengthen in the coming years.