Consulting course architect Martin Ebert offers his unique insights on ‘Little Eye’, the short but dramatic par-3 17th he designed at Royal Liverpool. Using Clippd Shot Quality, we reveal how good shots will need to be in different conditions.
Martin Ebert: The new par-3 17th at Royal Liverpool is definitely going to be a focal point for this year’s Open Championship. The club and the R&A got together to discuss what they needed to address both from a course point of view and an infrastructure perspective ahead of the Open. One of their ideas was to reverse the par-3 13th, as the club played it. They came to us with the idea and we thought it had a lot of merit. The brief was to create something special and dramatic that can provide a real turn and twist at the end of the Open.
They were initially thinking about a very wide, shallow green but it's all very well having a 12th hole at Augusta at Augusta. With links conditions where you can get strong winds, it was far more important to create something a bit longer and narrower that tests the alignment but gives a bit more length up the green.
Part of the brief was to keep the tee low and have a green on the horizon line. The 10th at Royal St George's, with that approach shot perched up there on the horizon, was one of the holes mentioned as an inspiration.
Distance perception is probably the biggest challenge with an infinity green. Players won't be aware of how close they are to the flag until you get up to the green, so there's always that uncertainty.
The prevailing wind is south-westerly, so against and out of the left for the players, but they quite often get a north westerly wind, which would be right to left. If the green was really, really firm and the wind was blowing strongly from behind, it could get really scary.
There will be a big stand to the right hand side of the green and also a horseshoe stand around the tee. The golfers will come through a tunnel into an arena, which means they won't be feeling the wind on the tee. The grandstand to the right of the green is likely to protect the flag from blowing so if there is any wind, it will be very awkward to judge which direction it’s coming from and how strong it is.
The detail of the green of the 17th for the Open and the terrifying surrounds and greenside bunkers were very much my conception. At 136 yards, it's a minuscule hole so it needs a bit of terror!
The green is 350 square metres, which is around half the average green size at Hoylake. It's not ridiculously small and in still conditions the players shouldn't have an issue with finding the putting surface. But there will be people who miss it and if the wind is up, it's a totally different hole.
Clippd: In calculating Shot Quality, we consider a variety of conditions that affect the difficulty of a shot, from wind, weather and course difficulty, to pin placement and elevation changes. We have trained our models on millions of shots by professional golfers to better understand the nuances of every golf shot. For this special analysis of the 17th at Royal Liverpool, we have also taken into account the hazards surrounding certain pins, and specific wind direction. These are not currently factored for Clippd users.
The 125-yard shot to the front left pin is considered more difficult because of the surrounding trouble and therefore is rewarded with a higher Shot Quality score for the same result, despite the shorter distance. Our analysis shows that shots played into wind are more difficult than those with the wind behind. Cross winds have the largest impact of all.
As you can see from the comparisons between Shot Quality and Strokes Gained in the graphics above, Shot Quality factors in more context and therefore the Shot Quality scores change to more accurately reflect the difficulty of the shot in still, windy and wet and very windy conditions – shots that all golfers recognise are very different propositions.
Martin Ebert: Short is not a good place, although I'd say it’s a slightly better place to miss than the bunker to the right. If you miss short or even if you hit it on the green with a bit of spin and it's coming backwards, it will be off the front, down the approach and into a really steep faced front bunker, which merges into a sandy waste area.
You get it out but it can quite easily roll back down to your feet. If it does, it may well end up in the player’s footprints, which will only add to the drama and the potential for disaster.
Clippd: In the graphic above we show the Shot Quality scores required to finish at 6 feet from the flag from the three bunkers, which confirm Martin's assertion that the right bunker is a marginally worse miss than the front bunker. Both these traps require players to clear a steep rise between the sand and the putting surface. Anything short, as Martin says, will almost certainly roll back into the sand.
Martin Ebert: A front left pin is going to bring all that into play. The challenge is all about the distance from the edge of the green and the overall elevation change from base of the front bunker up to where the ball is safe.
In the hole’s original conception, we had a really deep swale rather than a bunker to the right of the green but it was felt a lot of players would hit the 60 degree wedge from down there. The decision was made to put a bunker in. It's easy enough for them to get out of but if you don't give it enough momentum and height to get the ball onto the green surface, then it’s coming back towards you.
The four corners of the green provide the likely pin placements. I think the pin placements on the right will be the hardest. Though it will look more open from the tee with a bit more green to the left to play with, if they want to knock it in close it will bring the right bunker into play.
The bunker on the left will probably be the place to miss. The elevation from the base of the bunker to the surface of the green is much less terrifying. But for the right hander, if you go into that bunker with speed and it’s up at the far end, you've got a really awkward stance.
A back left pin is going to be tough. It's going to be difficult to get close to that flag unless you're really brave. Anything with a significant amount of spin might just be drawn back into the swale and off the green to the left, although that wouldn't be the end of the world.
When they put the flag back left, the green surface just starts to tip away there. If you’re long, the ball will come to rest on the longer semi-rough that's been allowed to grow out behind the green, so anything rolling over the green won't get into the sandy waste. It would be odd for someone to airmail the green so much that they get into the sand.
In terms of short links par-3s, the Postage Stamp at Troon always comes to mind. Having refereed the Open at Troon, I felt the sense of nervousness the world's best players had when standing on that tee. The hole is only 128 yards, and on the Saturday it played only 100, but you could sense the nervous tension until the ball was safely heading towards the green and then landing on the surface and stopping. They knew that if they missed it fractionally they were in real trouble.
Hardly any of the players will have seen this hole or played it, so I’m sure they'll be providing lots of commentary during the practice days. All the golf course architecture lovers will be expressing their opinions, too.
The context of where the hole comes in the round and in the tournament is obviously significant. If someone's had a bit of a disaster on one of the four days, that will stick in their mind, I'm sure.
It would be nice to think the new 17th will have some sort of impact on the outcome of the Open. It would also be nice if it was a positive one with someone hitting a great shot into a couple of feet. But if there is the odd disaster, it will only add to the lore of the hole. And I wouldn't be disappointed if there were a few disasters!
I'd love to be sitting in that grandstand on Thursday morning when the first groups come around just to see what they make of it. I might be going in disguise and just seeing how the land lies!