Welcome to the Ocean Courses 17th hole, a chamber of horrors where championship golf hopes come to perish.
Mark Calcavecchia could speak to the subject. So could Chip Beck and Paul Azinger and the late Payne Stewart and Hale Irwin and Ben Crenshaw and ... the list grows with each high-profile event that ventures to the challenging layout along the South Carolina coast.
Autopsies invariably discover drowning for the cause of death with pressure and nerves contributing factors, and practitioners will be startled if the result is different this week.
The worlds finest golfers will tackle the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island this week in the 94th PGA Championship, the final major tournament of the golf year, and the 17th will look like a late-round ogre looming in the distance with misery in the offing.
Part of the Ocean Courses challenge is the visual intimidation typical of all Pete Dye golf courses, said Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. And, given the history, that could be even more so on the 17th hole.
Its likely we will see a meltdown similar to 1991, Chamblee said. Mark Calcavecchia is a guy who could close the deal, but in the Ryder Cup, he stumbled at the end with his triple-bogey at 17 the centerpiece of the crash.
If the competition, history and a tee shot that measures up to 223 yards into the wind over water to a narrow green were not enough to tax the mettle of the 156-man field, the scene itself will add to the challenge. Tournament officials expect spectators to encircle the hole, creating a claustrophobic scene reminiscent of the par-3 16th in Phoenix where fans come to party.
The Ocean Course galleries will not emulate the cacophony of catcalls that characterize the Phoenix event; the reaction to downhill shots over water will create the noise, and if history is a teacher, moans and groans will be in generous supply.
The woes that players experienced in the 1991 Ryder Cup, the event that opened the course, assured the Ocean Course would gain a spot on the toughest-in-the-world list and No. 17 became the devil. That did not change in the 2007 Senior PGA, which provided a dress rehearsal for this years tournament.
Blame a lady Alice Dye, wife of designer Dye and an accomplished golfer for increasing the difficulty. First, she suggested raising the fairways to provide views of the Atlantic Ocean, which brought the wind more into play. Then, she thought a pond to front the green rather that a series of bunkers would make the 17th.
Her husband concurred, noting, She felt we needed a more dramatic element, and she was right. The water is more challenging than another bunker would be.
How challenging is No. 17? The Ryder Cup players, particularly the United States squad, made a mess of the hole. Weather changed and the relatively easy shot from early in the week became a bear, especially with the competitions pressure mounting late in rounds.
Nothing changed at the 2007 Senior PGA. Although the Ryder Cup players used tees ranging from 190 to 205 yards, the seniors played the first three rounds in the 165-yard range and 17 still proved the most difficult on the course.
On 17, I would not anticipate using the back tees (223 yards), but that has to do with gallery movement, said Kerry Haigh, the PGA official charged with setting up the course.
The stated yardage (on the scorecard) might not be what we use, he said. During the Ryder Cup, I moved tee locations 15 minutes before the first group arrived at a hole, but we can only do so much in a stroke-play event. We have to make our decisions in the morning.
The difference in the PGAs stroke play and the Ryder Cups match play could make a difference, said Roger Warren, the tournaments general chairman and president of Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
In stroke play, (golfers) might not take an aggressive shot that would be called for in match play, he said.
But the safe shot on 17 is no picnic, especially if the pin is tucked in a corner of the green adjacent to the eight-acre pond.
For example, in the Senior PGA, Ben Crenshaw, challenging for the lead, made triple-bogey 6 from a bunker. Most of the sand had blown out one of the quirks of the Ocean Courses ever-changing wind and he thinned his shot across the green and into the water.
Warren said the Ocean Course must prove itself, a statement that might raise eyebrows around the golf world. Its reputation has grown since 1991, and one publication calls it the toughest course in the United States. NBC analyst Johnny Miller calls the layout the toughest in the country with a normal amount of wind.
But, Warren pointed out, The course was so young and wild then (in 1991), and its different today. There were some nuances to work out; for example, the grasses have changed. The course hasnt been tested by the best players in the world in a stroke-play event.
There is no doubt the course will be a challenge. There will be a lot of mystery since the pros havent played it and the tournament will be a first-time experience. They will evaluate how fair it is.
Chances are, the 17th will leave them shaking their heads. Theres the pressure of the competition, the history, the forced carry into the wind of more than 200 yards. Then, Miller pointed out, the golfer faces a cut shot into a hook wind coming over the water.
That makes it easy to get wet. That makes 17.