When Bill Haas shot 60 in the early years of the new millennium, he might tell you that he had one critical shot, the one that brought him a bogey on his 18th hole. Whichever one it was, is irrelevant; it was the one critical shot that cost him a score in the 50s, one of the untouchable achievements in championship golf. Another way of looking at the matter, however, is that Haas had already hit around 55 critical shots, each pushing him closer to the magic 18-hole number.
In 2011, the champion and the runner-up will each hit a critical shot at some moment over the course of the 72-hole tournament. The champion will stand with the trophy and winner’s jacket and recall “on hole number such, I hit a such that ultimately sent me on my way to victory,” while the runner-up will smile, or frown, or scratch his head and say “If only I had done such or hit such on hole such, things might have been different.”
With that said (or written), there are critical shots on the Niagara Falls Country Club course that each player must face. Some are drives, others are approaches and a few are putts. Given the course of the tournament’s history, the task of pointing to hole such and shot such is a simple one; to whet your appetite for this year’s Porter Cup, we’ll give you a top ten critical shots and even include the round(s) in which they much be played. Feel free to comment on, criticize or applaud these selections via Facebook, Twitter or in the comment form below. And we’re off!!
Shot # 10: Tee Ball, First/Tenth Holes, All Four Rounds~This one might seem a no-brainer, but no one wants to bogey the first/tenth hole ever, as both offer great chances for birdie. If you misplay that tee ball, however, you scramble for par and a shot or two are lost.
Shot # 9: Second Shot, Third/Eleventh Holes, All Four Rounds~I’m taking liberties, I know. These are the two reachable par fives, essentially long par fours, for the field. The fellows will be banging 4 irons or less into these greens, with eagle 3s firmly in their scopes. Birdie feels like par and par feels like bogey.
Shot # 8: Tee Shot, Ninth Hole, All Four Rounds~The toughest hole on the course, #9 elicits an inordinate amount of double bogeys each year from the field. With OOB right and the driving range left and bunkers left, the drive is daunting. Getting the tee ball in the fairway is not the end of the affair, for…
Shot #7: Approach Shot, Ninth Hole, All Four Rounds~You still have to get the ball on the green! If you offered a bidding lot of 4 greens in regulation on number 9 from Wednesday to Saturday to the field, you would raise a lot of cash! The green is typically horseshoed on sides and back with thick rough, so the place to miss is short-center, where you’ll see a lot of golfers Porter Cup week.
Shot # 6: Tee Shot, 14th Hole, Fourth Round~This is easily the most demanding placement of the final 9 holes. The approach to 14 green is all about angle. Slide too much to the right and you’re faced with a cut approach with possible tree interference. Bring too much left into play and more trees block your path to the putting surface. Center-Left in the fairway affords options of straight, draw or cut on the approach. Hit the green and you’re within 20 feet for birdie, small target that it is. Whatever you do, don’t go long!
Shot # 5: Tee Shot, 15th Hole, Fourth Round~The Go/No-Go hole on the back nine. A minimalist would chop down some of those trees up the left side and give the players a better crack at the green. This hole has so much potential for excitement, offering eagle or better before the intimidating, final three-hole march. Sadly, most golfers will play a mid-iron to the middle of the fairway, wedge on and leave with four. The green may be the most severe on the back side, but it ought to offer its severity to more eagle putts.
Shot # 4: Tee Shot, #8 Back Tee, Fourth Round~My last measurement had this par four playing 800 yards from the new back tee (my yardage wheel might be a bit off.) The new tee is lower, with a ginormous tree directly in its path. Unless you hit a rope hook off the tee, you go out of bounds. The tee won’t be used more than twice in the tournament, but using it on Saturday, followed by a back-tee on number nine, makes for two consecutive, 460-yard plus, two-shotters. That’s how you reward them for birdies on 6 and 7!
Shot # 3: Second shot, #12/#13, Fourth Round~Depending on whether the short 12th hole is in play this year (or is replaced by the par 3 14th hole), this unreachable par five (for most) demands a judicious second shot. If you somehow carry the water (as Jhonattan Vegas did a few years back) or lay up (as most do), you need to avoid the trees right and have the correct distance for your third shot in. The green is severely banked and makes putting long birdie putts a nightmarish challenge. Everything good and bad stems from the second shot.
Shot # 2: Tee Shot, #17, Fourth Round~If Russell Henley hadn’t made double on #16 in 2010, he and David Chung would have come to the penultimate tee deck in a tie. As it was, Chung nailed his tee shot on this par four, then made birdie from around 20 feet. If you want to hit the green that sits amid the humongous bunkers, short grass is the place from which to do it.
Shot #1: Tee Shot, #16, Fourth Round~Last year, Henley and Chung came to 16 neck and neck. A hole later, Chung had a two-shot lead which he stretched to three with an outlandish birdie on 17. You have to first get the tee ball on 16 on the green, then work on getting it close to the hole. Birdie is huge and par is sizable down the stretch.