Some of the locals call it the 'Wee Beastie', but the rest of the golfing world know it as the Postage Stamp – a short par-3 that strikes fear into the game's best players, writes Brendan James.
BY BRENDAN JAMES at ROYAL TROON
Brutal. It is a word most commonly used when describing 550-yard par-4s or even the somewhat ridiculous 300-yard par-3 that was served up at Oakmont last month. Brutal certainly fits the need to slash violently with a long club to have any chance of reaching the green in regulation
But brutal doesn’t quite cut it as a descriptive of the most dreaded hole at this week’s Open Championship. It’s a hole where finesse, quality of strike and good strategy will determine whether you survive. It’s a short hole that is quite simply fearsome, even for the best players in the world.
Royal Troon’s diminutive 8th hole, famously known as The Postage Stamp, measures just 123 yards from the back markers. The green is so close you feel like you could throw your ball onto the front of the putting surface.
The green is only 39 square metres, hence the name Postage Stamp, which was bestowed upon it by two-time Open Champion Willie Park Jnr back in 1922 when he wrote: “the pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp.” The name stuck.
And how appropriate it is. The green is set in the side of a thickly grassed sand dune and missing the target is always punished, whether you find one of the five treacherous bunkers surrounding the green and the rough at the bottom of the steep slopes.
Designed 138 years ago by Willie Fernie, the Open champion of 1883, and refined by James Braid, five-time Open champion between 1901 and 1910, the Postage Stamp is in the pantheon of great par-3s, alongside the 12th at Augusta National and the 7th at Pebble Beach and is proof that danger in golf can certainly come in a small package.
Its list of Open Championship scalps is plentiful.
German amateur Herman Tissies still has a place in Open history courtesy of his record score on the par-3 in the qualifying for the 1950 Championship. Having found a bunker with his tee shot, Tissies scuttled his next shot across the green into another bunker, which he repeated for his third shot. When the carnage was done, Tissies had been in three bunkers, he hit five shots in one of them before finding sanctuary on the putting surface with his 12th shot. Obviously rattled, he three-putted for a 15.
In 1997, Tiger Woods had roared into contention with a third round 64 and was in equally good form through the opening holes on Sunday, hitting powerful drives that threatened to again bring Royal Troon to its knees. He arrived at the ‘Stamp’ well in contention but missed the green with his tee shot and the ball buried in the heavy sand. Woods, playing in just his third major championship, blasted his ball across the green and followed up with a chip shot and three putts. His Open was done.
What makes this wonderful is the wind. Hit it high and the wind might drop the ball like a stone. Hit the tee shot low and it's tough to stop the ball on the small green. Hit the ball short or right or left and you're in a place one where only bad scores can come from.
In practice yesterday, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy saw his tee shot drift slightly on the wind and finish in the Coffin bunker a few yards right of the flag. He took six shots to extricate his ball.
Greg Chalmers had similar problems on Monday, when he took three shots to get out of the sand.
“They’re not called coffin bunkers for nothing,” Chalmers told Golf Australia.
“I got some notes off one of the members here and my plan for that hole is to forget about the flag, hit it five yards on the green and that’s it.
“There will be more fives than twos on that hole this week. No question … you can’t miss it.
“It’s the scariest short hole I have ever played. It’s much scarier than the 7th at Pebble Beach. It seems to play into the win more and Pebble gives you some room to move … you can hit it in the middle of that green all day. On the Postage Stamp, with a wedge in your hand it’s hard to get your tee shot in the middle of the green.
“And the right bunker … you could be in that right bunker all day trying to get your ball onto the green. You would be extremely happy with four out of that bunker.”
Chalmers will employ the same strategy Justin Leonard employed on the 8th hole en route to winning the championship in 1997. The American ignored the pin and aimed to get his ball onto the front eight to 10 yards of the putting surface each day.
“I would just love to get it on the front edge of the green every day,” Chalmers said, “which is weird to say when you’ve only got 120 yards, then two-putt and go to the next.”
World No.1 Jason Day echoed his comments.
“If I can get through there with par or just one-under or something like that, even though it is a short hole, you can't underestimate that hole, even though it's so short. It's going to be a difficult task this week,” he said.
Former US Open champion Graeme McDowell went further, predicting there will be some big numbers posted on what some locals call the ‘Wee Beastie’.
"There's going to be carnage," he said. "If the wind blows in the direction I was playing it in last week you're going to have all kinds of numbers. The bunker pin-high right is unplayable. I hit six-iron. The next day I hit eight. It's a very changeable golf hole."
The Postage Stamp, more than any other hole to be played in this Open Championship, requires world-class course management and ball control. The player who can do both by holding their shot in the wind and put the right spin on the ball to stop it from rolling off the green – and do it four days in a row – will go close to hoisting the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.
“At 123 yards, the expectation raises dramatically. You are on that tee and you are a professional golfer. It's your job and you're expected to hit this green at 123 yards. You could throw it on … and that's why it's difficult,” says Colin Montgomerie, who has logged more rounds on this course than any other player in the field this week.
“Whenever you're expected to win something, it's always more difficult to achieve, always. And that's why that hole is fabulous, because you are expected to hit the green, and everyone knows you are. You are, your caddy is, all the crowd around. Both stands will be full all day, and they're expecting it, too, and it's great.
“If you do happen to miss the green, well, game on.”