A golf course architect could design the finest hole in the world, but it isn't legendary until there is a story to tell.
It certainly helps the hole's chances for such distinction if the world's best players compete for a major championship on it and that play was broadcast in HD (with Shot Tracer no less) for a global audience.
The pivotal 16th hole at TPC Harding Park, host of the 2020 PGA Championship, has that signature highlight thanks to newly minted PGA Champion Collin Morikawa. And now the 332-yard par 4 hole is deserving of inclusion among the must-play, public-access short par 4s in the United States.
Morikawa's clutch drive late Sunday at 16 in the final round led to the week's 10th eagle on the short par 4. It was certainly the most important, separating him from Paul Casey, who managed a crafty birdie on the hole minutes earlier from one of the bunkers guarding the front-left side of the green. Casey could only watch and smile as Morikawa's soaring tee shot rolled to 7 feet, 1 inch from the hole. (Watch it here)
That wasn't the first time the 16th hole assumed the highlight pedestal during the PGA. On Friday, the shot of the day was World No. 1 Justin Thomas' low, running fade that scooted onto the putting surface 18 feet from the hole (he couldn't convert the eagle putt).
That isn't to say there wasn't the chance for failure. There were 37 bogeys and five double bogeys on the week. In the final pairing on Sunday, Dustin Johnson hit his tee shot way left into the penalty area, but after a drop, miraculously holed out for birdie. Only the par-5 10th played easier to par. The popular, "good miss" appeared to be a tug into one of the left bunkers. Birdies were possible from there but generally required a long-ish putt. For the game's best, those bunkers aren't round killers, but on a hole that averaged 3.66 during the week, par is a bad score. Worse misses seemed to bleed right, where trees caused problems with pitch shots from the short side.
(Update: Architecture guru Geoff Shackelford went deep on the day-by-day Shotlink data for 16 on his blog, GeoffShackelford.com.)
The 16th certainly isn't the flashiest of short par 4s in America. There are no severe fall-offs or tiers on or around the green and the bunkers aren't terribly vicious. There are three bunkers guarding the left and one in front of the green on the right. Big cypress trees guard the right. It's pleasantly situated along Lake Merced, but is more benign compared to Chambers Bay's short, uphill 12th hole, which has more elevation change and towering dunes. It's less spectacular with fewer angles than the 16th at Bandon Dunes, which you can catch on the US Amateur NBC-GOLF coverage this week. And yet the simplicity of Harding's 1920s design still holds up in 2020 in elite competition.
The hole's design, the setup by the PGA's Kerry Haigh during the week and the spot in the routing all makes the 16th brilliant. Holes 12 and 13 are two of the course's toughest (playing 2nd and 3rd most difficult in scoring at the PGA), so by the time you reach 16, you're likely eager to get a shot or two back. It's really the last great birdie chance at Harding Park with a long-ish par 3 and par 4 to close. Morikawa didn't go for the green in the first three rounds.
"[Colt Knost] saw me Wednesday afternoon practicing on there," said Morikawa. "And he asked me if I was ever going to go for it. I told him a quick no, it's too much into the wind, why go for it.
"You know, my caddie, it was like 278 to the front, and just a good drive for me. It was going to land just short of that in this weather; it's going to bounce on up. He looked at me, he counted off and asked me what I wanted to do and I told him, let's hit a good drive."
Simply put, it's the right hole in the right place at the right time.
Speaking of memorable short par 4s in majors at public courses, I'm reminded of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where the USGA had an alternate forward tee for the par-4 14th hole. The hole is typically one of many demanding par 4s there in the mid-400s, but for the final round they moved it up and it played a pivotal role down the stretch in the Tiger-Rocco dual. The South can be a pretty brutal examination of an average golfer's game. Using that forward tee full time for daily-fee play, as opposed to yet another long 4, might make that back nine more enjoyable. (Although in a recent interview with the San Diego Tribune, Rees Jones said he doesn't expect it to play as a drivable par 4 in next year's US Open.)
Torrey Pines North Course, by contrast, has two nice short 4s, as is to be expected with Tom Weiskopf-designed layouts.
As the San Francisco muni golfers return to TPC Harding Park this week, few will have the power to reach the 16th green with their drive, but they'll still have to consider their options. They can lay up short of the three bunkers or try and steer a left-to-right ball flight up the fairway close to the green. The middle-back tees play 320 yards - that's a long poke for golfers who don't make a living playing the sport. It might behoove the setup committee at TPC to move them up to a 260 or 270-range to give low-handicap amateurs a shot at ripping a driver through heavy air onto the front edge. Pace of play concerns may prevent that. Some may want to take a crack from where Morikawa hit his drive. Is there a plaque yet?