Royal Troon’s ‘Postage Stamp’ exacts a high price

Bubba Watson and Pádraig Harrington among those humbled by the short par three

Bubba Watson chips out of ‘the coffin’ bunker on the eighth hole at Royal Troon known as the ‘Postage Stamp’. The American went on to suffer a treble-bogey six.  Photo: Danny Lawson/PA

Bubba Watson chips out of ‘the coffin’ bunker on the eighth hole at Royal Troon known as the ‘Postage Stamp’. The American went on to suffer a treble-bogey six. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA

 

These were the vital stats for the most talked about hole at this year’s British Open. 124, 20 on and four from the left.

But stats alone do nothing to portray the angst and elation players feel when tackling the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon.

If this wasn’t the Open it could easily pass for scenes at the local crazy golf course.

How else do you explain the best players in the world making funky swings with their backs to the target.

That was exactly Bubba Watson’s approach after finding the dreaded Coffin bunker at the 124-yard Postage Stamp during yesterday’s first round. The left-hander’s only option was to aim for the rough beyond the green.

The hazard is so narrow backswings are not guaranteed.

Sure enough the gangly American found said rough, only to fluff his third and all of a sudden a high-profile car crash was unfolding.

He eventually found the putting surface in four and two -putted for a triple bogey six.

The swagger shortened, the cheeks puffed red and mutterings of some sort were heard from under lefty’s visor. In 10 minutes he’d gone from cruising at four-under to scratching his head, dumbstruck.

“I made one bad swing and it killed me. I’ve struggled with that hole all week in practice,” was Watson’s summation.

Bouncing Bubba wasn’t the only one to succumb and Pádraig Harrington suffered a similar fate. The thing with the two-time champion is he always gives you something – we just don’t know what it is and neither does he.

Charmed life

“What’s over there Ro?” he asked his caddy. The silence was deafening from Ronan Flood. After finding said ball, he took an unplayable and knocked it into six inches from behind the bushes to make par. Classic Harrington.

However, the charmed life didn’t carry to the next as the shortest hole in Open Championship history came back to bite him.

Harrington was another victim of the ‘coffin’ bunker. This time, as a right-hander, he took aim for the front of the green away from the hole. Problem was his recovery out of sand kept rolling, only to find another bunker front right.

It was all Harrington could do to find the sanctuary of the putting surface, take two putts and walk off with a double-bogey. Another bemused customer. Roll up, roll up.

“It’s straightforward if you hit a nice tee shot,” said Harrington with his typical wry smile. “It’s a little bit intimidating because you know if you hit it wrong you are in dire trouble. I got plugged in the coffin bunker with no stance and had to go backwards and found another bunker at the front.

“I still love the hole, love holes like this.”

Jason Day arguably made things even more precarious by missing the green further left to give himself a treacherous hanging lie from wispy fescue. You know the situation is grim when the world number one’s best strategy was to aim between the bunkers over the green. He found his spot, chipped up and took his medicine with a hard-fought bogey.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom amid the voyeuristic groans and cries coming from the grandstands.

Rory McIlroy was one of the players who made the Postage Stamp look easy into the prevailing north westerly. The 2014 champion landed his approach on the narrow bank left of the flag before the slope eased his ball to within 12 inches for a stress-free birdie, his third on the spin.

“I think all the best par threes in the world are under 150 yards, I really don’t get these par threes over 250 yards, which can take a lot of skill out of the hole,” said McIlroy who played a “knock down nine iron”.

More activity

Scott HendVictor Dubuisson

But he was still outdone as his nonchalant French playing partner took the same route and spun his ball even closer for two of the day’s easiest birdies.

There could hardly be more activity round the shortest hole on the course. The combination of the R&A introducing new ideas and information screens plus the host broadcaster tinkering with all their toys and gadgets, it’s little wonder they left room for the chief protagonists to do their thing.

The most prominent tool in Sky’s box is the overhead fly-cam, whizzing up and down the left side of the hole along guide wires. It takes an unofficial 12 seconds for the camera to race from the green back up to the tee to catch the next unfolding chapter. Does it add any value?

Certainly not from one photographer’s perspective who was complaining that all the “surplus to requirements furniture made the hole look ugly”, especially when snapping from the tee and looking down the hole.

The Postage Stamp has been the most talked about hole at Troon. And with good reason.

It gives and it takes in equal measure.

This beautiful, nasty creation has the ability to make even the best look foolish. And the guy on bunker duty at the coffin was certainly kept busy.

It endorses McIlroy’s notion that that not all par threes need to be stretched way beyond 250-yards in the modern tournament arena.

Instead, the Postage Stamp calls for conviction and finesse, shot-making and calculated risk rather than brute force.

It’s an iconic hole where the variables are immense and sometimes the closer you get to the hole, the greater the potential for carnage.

And it makes for great viewing.

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