Drama awaits at 2023 British Open thanks to new 17th hole at Royal Liverpool

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Adam Scott took one look at the gaping hole of a bunker to the right of the 17th green at Royal Liverpool during a Tuesday evening practice round and turned to defending British Open champion Cameron Smith and said, “That’s death.”

Then he tossed three balls into it and jumped into the coffin of a bunker. After he splashed two of the three out, Smith wandered over and asked, “Lobbie?” a reference to using a 60-degree wedge and Scott nodded in the affirmative. “Let’s not go in there this week,” he said.

Royal Liverpool has undergone a few changes since it last hosted the British Open back in 2014, when Scott finished T-5, most notably the new par-3 17th, which replaced the old 15th.

Known as “Little Eye,” the new hole plays to 136 yards and features a raised horizon-line green, with the Dee Estuary as a backdrop, guarded by bunkers with massive fall-off areas on all sides.

“It’s a pretty hole, but it’s pretty extreme,” Scott said. “Every thing else out here is pretty straightforward and then this one has a lot of drama. I think it is going to be very entertaining. You’re going to see some twos and some fives, hopefully no more than five.”

As Royal Liverpool head professional John Heggarty said, any shot missing the green will leave a “devilishly difficult” up and down to save par.

“I see what they tried to do,” said Jon Rahm of the new hole. “The old 15, par-3, was the complete opposite of the hole. You have a short downhill hole most likely downwind with basically all the edges sloping towards the center of the green. I thought it was a good hole. You could make a birdie, and if you miss the green, a bogey was lurking.”

The layout at Royal Liverpool was altered to accommodate the new hole. What was the 16th hole is now the 15th. The former 17th hole is now No. 16, and the old par-3 15th hole has been removed.

“This time they made a really difficult turtle shell par-3,” Rahm continued. “If you hit a good shot, put it on the green, you have a clear look at birdie. If you miss the green, you have a clear look at bogey. It’s hard to say anything is fair or unfair because it’s so short.”

“It’s way more difficult than it was before,” he added.

Brooks Koepka loves a challenging test on the golf course, so it should come as no surprise that the reigning 2023 PGA champion is a fan of the new-look 17th.

“I’m a big believer in the short par-3s, make it difficult, exactly like that,” he said. “I think all the best par-3s in the world that have ever been designed are 165 yards or shorter — 12th at Augusta, (17th at TPC) Sawgrass. I mean, Postage Stamp (eighth at Royal Troon)…I like it.”

“There’s not much room for error up there,” said Smith, who hit a 7-iron on Sunday into a 30-40 mph wind.

English qualifier Matthew Jordan grew up playing the course as a member and is as interested in hearing what players have to say about the new hole as anyone. He’s concerned that the success of the hole may come down to the weather. “I think if you’re having 120 yards with no wind and it’s soft, I think it’s not going to create the drama that you guys probably want, that members probably want,” he said.

Another Englishman, the world No. 9 Matt Fitzpatrick, termed the hole “interesting.” Asked to elaborate, he would only add, “I’ll leave it at that.”

But Fitzpatrick’s caddie Billy Foster may have expressed a sentiment that both he and his boss share.

“Unfortunately I think this Open Championship could be remembered for a calamity that happened,” Foster told Golf Monthly. “There was nothing wrong with the little par three they had before and they’ve created a monstrosity in my opinion.”

The new hole was conceived in 2019 by Martin Ebert, who has become the British Open doctor, fixing courses in the rota ahead of their next starring role and making sure they hold up against the onslaught of modern technology. Ebert may have a bone to pick with his work being deemed a “monstrosity,” but he doesn’t disagree with Foster’s contention that someone in contention could make a mess on Sunday at Little Eye.

“I imagine the leader, standing on the 71st tee, won’t be confident of victory even with a three- or four-stroke lead,” Ebert told Links Magazine.

On Tuesday, he went to see how his creation stacked up against the pros, but didn’t stay too long.

“It’s even a bit wet for me,” he said.

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