DUBLIN, Ohio — When one looks at the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour, the 16th hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club ranks right up towards the top.
The hole, already measuring over 200 yards from most tees in recent years, is heavily guarded by both water and a fair share of bunkers. Anytime Phil Mickelson would be asked about past rounds at the event, the 16th hole was routinely a topic of conversation.
Due to the difficulty of the shot and its position in the course routing, it often played a significant role in the crowning of a champion.
Now the 16th hole joins the par-4 17th hole in being lengthened — to 220 and 503 yards, respectively — a decision Memorial Tournament Director Dan Sullivan recently said came down to statistics, and the judgement of event founder Jack Nicklaus, who has never been shy about adjusting his course.
“Jack would look at the golf course and how it’s played in its current year and determine if the golf course was set up for the most premium competition,” Sullivan stated. “This year on 16 and 17, he looked at both of those holes and thought he could tweak it a little bit in order to ensure when the players are playing at their peak on the weekend that those holes have some impact.”
With the change to 16, there now are three potential places to tee it up and that will make for some interesting conversations heading into weekend play. It is quite possible that the new teeing grounds will be factored into the final round.
Muirfield Village Director of Grounds Chad Mark said he knew that when the 2020 renovation came, that length for both 16 and 17 were both considered. This new placement became available when the maintenance facility moved in October, creating new available land.
This is Mark’s seventh year overseeing MVGC and since October has been hard at work, as he started during the May 9 media day promoting the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday.
“We put the tees in last fall, we’re still growing those tees in, they have a little catch up to do, but they’ll be ready for the Memorial,” he said. “I don’t know how many days we’ll use 16 but it’s a different angle and a little longer shot. The Tour has always used a couple of tees there, so we gave them another option and they’re both 20 yards longer.”
Defending champion Billy Horschel was asked during a pre-tournament Zoom interview opportunity his thoughts on the changes and did not appear overly concerned about 17. He said although the bunkers will be more in play, the difference is not too much to overcome.
His sentiments on 16 were a bit different when he heard about those changes in April.
“When I heard 16 was going to be lengthened, let’s just say I’m not a big fan of it,” recalled Horschel. “There was no need for that hole to be longer, it already was one of the most difficult par 3s we play on the PGA Tour and the data backs that up.
“What changes is if you’re facing the green, the tee is moved a little more back to the right and angles a little differently. Guys may move back a hit a couple of balls to just get comfortable with the angle of that tee shot being differently from where the other placements are.”
WHAT TO DO WITH DESIGNATED EVENTS?
The PGA Tour has an ongoing debate with its membership, tournaments and their partners, as this is the first year of ‘designated’ tournaments, events designed to bring in the top players and have elevated prize pools by a significant margin.
This year’s Memorial Tournament purse is $20 million, compared to $9.1 million just four years ago. Each player eligible to compete is eligible to miss one such event before being fined and a few chose to take this week off, including Max Homa, the sixth-ranked golfer in the world.
While some of the top golfers are playing now more than ever, that has cause concern for some as the Tour seeks to find balance.
One of the hottest topics surrounding this is the idea of a cut and whether designated events will experience traditional field reductions, or if all golfers teeing it up participate in all four rounds, health permitting.
Both Nicklaus and Tiger Woods host designated tournaments, and both have already stated they remain in favor of their events having cuts. Woods hosts the Genesis Invitational in February, held at Riviera Country Club.
A compromise which could be made is one Horschel discussed, which would see a 54-hole cut, instead of the traditional 36-hole cut.
“I understand why not having a cut is beneficial and allows fans to come out during the weekends when they can’t make it out Thursdays or Fridays,” he explained. “Kids who have to have school and are guaranteed to see the top players going forward.
“I believe in a cut. If we’re not going to do a 36-hole cut, I’d be in favor of a 54-hole cut, that way all of the players are there on Saturday and everyone can get out on the weekend to see all of the players play at least one day.
“A cut does so many things, you sort of see who wants to grind it out when things aren’t going well. I think that makes a player a better player and helps in situations when you are in position to win a tournament.”
According to Sullivan, his event remains in discussion with the PGA Tour in how a designated event is defined and that an announcement could be made “soon after the tournament”.
Stay tuned to Pittsburgh Golf Now for full coverage of the Memorial Tournament from Zac Weiss.