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This Isn't Seventh Heaven

June 20, 2004|THOMAS BONK

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — It is a 189-yard journey into the unknown. It is a path that leads to despair. It is a golf hole where par comes to die.

It is a patch of shaved grass that's tilted like a dining room table with two legs sawed off.

Let us consider its texture. The granite countertop in your kitchen is softer. Plus, it's easier to get a golf ball to stop rolling in a bathtub than it is to keep it from rolling, rolling, rolling on the seventh green at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

Normally, seven is considered a lucky number, but not at this U.S. Open.

In Saturday's third round, seven had just about everybody's number. It ranked as the hardest hole on the course, causing 27 bogeys, more than any other. The seventh hole didn't need a flag hanging from a stick, it needed a warning label.

Phil Mickelson was sailing along, tied for the lead with barely a care in the world, when he reached the tee at the seventh hole. He looked straight ahead of him at that slightly elevated green that slopes from the front right to the back left, the one that's faster than the passing lane on the Autobahn.

Mickelson bounced the ball off the back of the green, but knocked it back on, about eight feet from the pin on the high side. His putt for par missed the hole, caught the down slope and took off, like a bowling ball heading down an alley.

All the while it was rolling, Mickelson stood over the ball, moving as it moved along and its pace quickened. He had an impatient look on his face as he followed the ball while it sped along the grass.

When the ball finally stopped, Mickelson bent over quickly and picked it up and marked the spot before it took off again.

This time Mickelson was 18 feet away and putting for bogey. He sent the ball close, but it spun away and didn't fall in, so he had to settle for a double-bogey five.

Blame it on seven, that crooked number. For Mickelson, it was how you lose two shots in a heartbeat. It wasn't much better for Mickelson's playing partner, Shigeki Maruyama, who barely tapped his first putt and saw it take off as if it were late for dinner in Montauk.

Maruyama wound up with a bogey. He wasn't alone, of course. Among the leaders, Ernie Els made a bogey at the seventh and so did Fred Funk, who said the seventh green reminded him of something.

"It was like Daytona with a bunch of oil all over it," he said.

Sergio Garcia managed to make par at the seventh and was grateful, although he didn't think much of the grass on some of the other greens, many of which were as brown as a UPS truck.

The style of the seventh hole is called "Redan," and it got its name from a kind of fortification used by the Russians in the Crimean War against France and England in the 1850s. The high ground impressed a British army officer named John White-Melville, who was also a golfer.

White-Melville pinned the name Redan on what was then the sixth hole at North Berwick in Scotland because it reminded him of what he had seen in the war, a raised and well-guarded fortification.

Since then, the Redan has been a much-copied design in golf architecture. It's the signature hole at Shinnecock, which began as a 12-hole layout in 1891 and was expanded to 18 holes in 1895 by club pro Willie Dunn.

There was some sentiment expressed Saturday about possibly sending the seventh hole back to Scotland.

Charles Howell, asked about No. 7, was blunt.

"I think there are 17 awesome holes here."

And that was after he made par at the seventh.

The best round of the day was a 66 by South African Tim Clark, who also made par at the seventh and said all he was trying to do was keep the ball on the green.

Tiger Woods, who said he felt fortunate to make par at the seventh, had a brief but complete critique of the hole.

"It's brutal, it really is."

Woods said he thought the USGA was going to keep the seventh slower and softer than the rest of the greens because of its degree of difficulty. But that would have meant putting water on the green and that's not going to happen. Chances probably are better that the USGA will pour quick-drying cement on the seventh green before they douse it with a drop of water.

Howell said the speed of the seventh green was extreme. If he thinks that kind of comment is going to make the people at the USGA unhappy or change the setup at the seventh, he's wrong. In fact, they're extremely happy.

And that's the hole truth.

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