Every military or political campaign seems to have a critical point, a hurdle which must be overcome. It may be a mountain or a river or an island in a military campaign. Or a key state or precinct in a political campaign.
Golf courses have equally critical obstacles.
Cypress Point, for example, has that nasty par-3 16th it takes an ICBM to reach from the tee. Augusta has Amen Corner. La Costa has its Miracle Mile. Many a golfer has seen a fine round disappear in the rocks along the shoreline next to 17 and 18 at Pebble Beach.
Torrey Pines South has Nos. 11 and 12. They have no fanciful nickname, but they really don't need one. The pros know where they are, and they approach them as warily as a Republican campaigning in Texas or Montgomery campaigning in Europe.
Everyone likes to gather around the 18th green at Torrey Pines South, expecting to see golf's premier players crash and splash in that little pond. If they want to see folks in the water, they should go to Mission Beach or La Jolla. That watering hole may catch the weekend hacker's fourth (or fifth) shot, but the big guys treat it as if they are stepping over a puddle.
You want to see those "out of the same cookie cutter" pros frown and grimace? You want to see their knuckles whiten just a little (or a lot)?
Check out the 11th and 12th.
Understand that it is a bit of a journey, at least from the clubhouse. These holes are at the southern boundary of the course, snuggled up against the gliderport on the left. They head straight out toward the ocean, and straight into the ocean breezes.
(There is a faster way to get there. Park at the gliderport, which you may have to do whether you want to or not. The fault with these tactics is that you don't arrive as weary as the golfers, thus getting less than the total experience.)
The 11th hole is a seemingly innocuous par-three. Hit it on the green and two-putt for a par, maybe even get lucky and come away with a birdie. Anyone can do that. Right?
For some reason, everyone seems to perceive par-three holes as easier than par-fours and par-fives. It's probably psychological. They sit right out there in front of the tee. They look as inviting as a $20 bill on the sidewalk. Some of them are.
But not the 11th at Torrey Pines South.
This one is like a little shoeshine boy who is so cute and polite that you sit back and let him go to work. He does such a fine job that you reach to give him a tip, and your wallet's gone.
Talk about the bad troll coming out from under the bridge? He lives in the ravine in front of the 11th green. The shoeshine boy must be his kid.
Not too many of the pros are going to shank, skull or top their shots into this ravine, nor are they likely to push it down the steep hill to the right or pull it onto the gliderport to the left. Those problems plague us mortals, who worry ourselves into such dilemmas.
For the pros, it is a matter of selecting the right club to carry the ball 206 yards into an uncertain wind. The sand trap to the left front of the green yawns at them and reminds them that they do not want to be short. And, of course, they do not want to be long. This wind plays little games with their minds and causes them to demand that their caddies have degrees in meteorology.
Watch how many times they go into their bags, hoping, perhaps, that the proper stick will leap into their hands and volunteer for the task. Watch them throw handfuls of grass in the air. And then watch them resist the temptation to take an erring club and wrap it around a Torrey pine, or their caddies' necks.
This game, after all, is so much fun.
If the 11th hole is deceivingly cute and polite, the 12th hole is exactly as it appears. Golfers standing on the tee feel as if they're Tony Eason or Steve Grogan with Richard Dent looming in front of him. It has massive thighs, broad shoulders and a 20-inch neck. It looks as if it devours elephants for snacks.
Instead, it devours golfers.
This hole is 469 yards, all of it uphill and all of it into that same dastardly wind. You and I can get all of a driver off the tee and a three-wood off the fairway and still be cab ride from the green, and maybe not a cheap one.
This is distressing because this is a par-four. Such holes are supposed to be handled with a drive, a five-iron (or less) and a couple of putts.
Try it on No. 12.
I watched three groups play No. 12 on Friday and saw three pars, four bogeys, a double bogey and one lonesome birdie. That one birdie was by Ray Floyd, who made what had to be a 60-foot putt from the very front edge of the green.
"Whew," he said as he walked off. "How about that?"
It may have sounded as if it was a question, but it wasn't. The sentence really should have ended with an exclamation point.
The marshal at the green suspected birdies were about to become an endangered species at 12.
"The wind's come up," he said. "They don't make any birdies in the wind."