The 10 Hardest U.S. Open Holes of All Time

Kevin Casey@kevincasey19Contributor IMay 28, 2012

The 10 Hardest U.S. Open Holes of All Time

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    The U.S. Open has certainly never been a friendly or low-scoring affair. There was the Massacre at Winged Foot (and a gut-wrenching part two as well), the disastrously dry conditions at Shinnecock Hills and the terrors of Oakmont most times the Open goes there.

    Yes, last year Rory McIlroy tore apart Congressional to the tune of 16 under par, but don't expect that score to be matched any time soon (or ever).

    Clearly, the USGA loves to see the finest set of golfers in the world struggle. Par is the organization's most important standard at a U.S. Open, and bogeys are much more welcome than birdies.

    That being said, where has the USGA best achieved this goal? Which holes have struck fear in players the most over the years?

    There's over a century of Opens to choose from, but there are plenty of holes that stand out.

    From all the holes in the 111-year history of the championship, here are 10 that have caused the most misery for players over the years.

    These are the holes that can make even the best players in the game look like hackers.

Pebble Beach, 17th Hole

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    The site of some of golf's most magnificent shots of all time is in actuality a great terror of a hole.

    Visions of Nicklaus' one-iron cutting through fierce winds to tap-in distance and Watson's miraculous chip-in from left of the green are powerful, but players know just how difficult this hole is.

    Playing at 208 yards at Pebble Beach's last U.S. Open in 2010, the 17th was one of the most brutal par-threes in championship history.

    In fact, the stroke average on 17 at that Open was .487 strokes over par, making it the toughest par-three on the entire PGA Tour in 2010.

    Trying to stop a mid- to long-iron on that shallow a putting surface is almost impossible, and don't forget that the Pacific Ocean is lurking to the left.

    While a slight pull won't find the ocean, players still know that the hazard is in play for very errant shots.

    Maybe Nicklaus and Watson did get the better of this hole, but it was on just one occasion apiece.

    For others, just finding the green is a miracle, and walking away with a three is a nice gift heading to the closing hole.

Congressional, 18th Hole

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    A little rerouting turned a boring par-3 finish into one of the most exciting in golf.

    As the 17th hole in the 1997 U.S. Open, this 523-yard par-four certainly struck fear in the hearts of players, but as the 18th at the 2011 Open, it was a nightmare for closing out a round.

    Although the hole plays significantly downhill, 523 yards is a long, long distance, meaning players must still use at least a mid-iron when approaching the green.

    What's really tough about the 18th, though, is that water surrounds the surface from the left and from the back, heavily penalizing pulls or shots that go a club too far.

    It's a scary visual and has definitely got in the minds of more than a few players in its time. With such a long shot requiring that much accuracy, it's no wonder this hole played more than .4 strokes over par during last year's Open.

    Even runaway winner Rory McIlroy recorded a double bogey on the 18th during the second round.

    This is, overall, a long and unforgiving hole where any player would be happy to walk away with a par.

Olympic, Third Hole

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    The first par-three at Olympic, site of this year's Open, has a lot in its arsenal.

    The third hole plays a lengthy 247 yards, and even though it does play well downhill, a long-iron will most likely be the club of choice off the tee.

    Like the 18th at Congressional, length isn't the only defense. The front of the putting surface has a very narrow opening, and the winds that come off of the Pacific are tough to discern from the tee box, only complicating matters further.

    Four greenside bunkers are there to take in any loosely hit tee shots, and unless a player hits their ball right in front of the green, there are no easy spots from which to get up and down.

    As much talk as the 670-yard 16th will get during the Open because of its difficulty, this hole should prove to be tougher.

    It is in the middle of a six-hole starting stretch that some are calling the toughest opening to any U.S. Open course. And as the most difficult of those six holes, the third is definitely a place to be avoided.

Pinehurst No. 2, Fifth Hole

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    Pinehurst may be the Open's most frustrating venue, and the fifth hole isn't any exception.

    The 476-yard dogleg left par-four actually features one of the easier tee shots on the course (although it should be kept on the right side to have proper angle into the green), but after that, nothing is simple.

    The approach shot may be one of the most brutal of any U.S. Open hole, as the right-to-left sloping fairway forces players to hit off a hook lie to the green. There, shots that stray left face the severe penalty of falling off the surface and down a steep hill to a spot where par chances go to die.

    The right side of the green is a good bailout position, but with the ball above players' feet, it's not an easy position to get to. Plus, aiming far away from the flag quite likely kills any shot at a birdie.

    However, even for the pros, that's okay. During the 1999 U.S. Open, this hole played to a 4.55 stroke average, meaning par is a much-appreciated score here.

    Pinehurst has put up quite a fight in its two Opens, and with holes like the fifth, it is easy to see how.

Cherry Hills, 18th Hole

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    The 487-yard 18th at Cherry Hills is a brute from start to finish.

    The tee shot may be the most difficult part of this par-four, as it requires players to carry a significant yardage over a large lake that guards the left side of the fairway. Similar to the sixth hole at Bay Hill, the more a player wishes to cut off the water on this hole, the riskier the tee shot gets.

    Dry land doesn't necessarily mean a player is safe, though. Out of bounds lurks for errant shots to the right, and the thick rough on that side is no gimme either.

    If the player can indeed find the short grass, he's only cracked the first part of the equation.

    The approach shot is a lengthy one that plays significantly uphill to a green well-guarded by large bunkers. The second here is a difficult one to judge. Even from the middle of the fairway, players will be hard-pressed to give themselves a putt for birdie here.

    Once on the green, a player's work isn't finished. This putting surface is a tricky proposition and has fooled its fair share of pros over the years.

    This hole, overall, provides one of the most nerve-wracking finishes in golf, and as big tournaments here have shown in the past, this is a prime place to choke.

    One shot off the lead during the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open, Ben Hogan blew any chance he had at the title by making a triple-bogey seven at this brutal finishing hole. Seven years ago at the U.S. Women's Open, Lorena Ochoa had put herself in position for the title but then "chili-dipped" her drive right into the lake and walked away with a quadruple-bogey eight and a broken heart.

    This is one of the U.S. Open's best finishing holes because almost no lead is safe here, and even some of golf's all-time greats have succumbed to the hole's pressure.

Oakmont, First Hole

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    The opening hole at Oakmont is a stern beginning to one of golf's toughest tracks.

    The par-four, playing at 482 yards, is a lengthy one and asks for extreme accuracy on the drive, as the fairway is just 24 yards wide and is guarded by bunkers on both sides.

    The approach is a blind shot to a green that is very difficult to find.

    The surface slopes severely from front-to-back and right-to-left, meaning approaches have trouble holding the green and shots on the left side can quite possibly fall all the way off the surface and leave a difficult up-and-down.

    This is not a good birdie hole to start the round, and if players record bogeys here, they won't be too upset walking to the second.

Oakland Hills, 18th Hole

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    On a course that has sometimes been called "The Monster," this hole provides a fitting conclusion to the round.

    Playing to nearly 500 yards (498 to be exact), this par-four is easily the most intimidating hole on an intimidating golf course.

    The length is enough to scare players a bit (especially since the hole plays slightly uphill), but the accuracy required on this hole is also quite frightening.

    The tee shot on 18 is a devilish one as a player must hit into a fairway that slopes right to left on a hole that doglegs significantly to the right. It's not easy to find the short grass here. That is bad news for all, since the thick rough and set of unforgiving bunkers that guard each side can make the rest of this hole a nightmare to deal with.

    For those lucky souls who do stay in the fairway, the second shot is still quite demanding. Players must hit a long-iron uphill to a shallow green that is essentially cut in two by a large mound in the middle of the surface.

    This is not to mention the demanding greenside bunkers that take care of any mishit approaches.

    If you want proof at how tough this hole is, just look at the 2008 PGA Championship when the hole played .661 strokes over par and barely gave up more birdies (14) than "others" (10).

    The 18th has a majestic view of the course's clubhouse, but before players can get there, they must battle their way through this beast.

Pebble Beach, Ninth Hole

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    One of the most gorgeous holes in the world is also one of its most treacherous.

    In the middle of Pebble Beach's three-hole "Cliffs of Doom" stretch, the ninth offers much danger for players to fear.

    The par-four hole does play downhill, but at 505 yards, it can leave quite a lengthy second shot for any touring pro.

    That approach shot also leaves little margin for error. With the ball below a player's feet and in a fade lie, the Pacific Ocean to the right is well in play and just beckons for any loose shots. And if a player thinks of bailing out left, a large, cavernous bunker awaits to gobble up balls and present players with a nearly impossible up and down.

    Oh by the way, this green is very fast and well-sloped, so even getting on here in regulation is no guarantee for a par.

    For the 2010 U.S. Open, the ninth played .3933 strokes over par and let up just 37 birdies in the entire tournament.

    These statistics demonstrate again just how tough a finish this is to Pebble Beach's front nine.

Winged Foot, 18th Hole

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    The 450-yard par-four has always been quite a terrifying finish.

    It's only a decently long hole, but it has defenses on every shot.

    For the tee ball, there is heavy rough on both sides of the fairway, which makes any shot at the green a useless venture.

    On the approach, a massive false front repels any short approaches to leave a tricky pitch, and any shot right gets tangled in gnarly rough. Even getting par from there is quite miraculous.

    Once on the green, a lightning-fast and sloped surface awaits to test even the best of putters. When Bobby Jones had a 12-footer for par here to force a playoff at the 1929 U.S. Open, the putt had a good foot-and-a-half of break. (He did make the putt, but still.)

    So, on all aspects, this hole is difficult, something you don't need to tell those who watched the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open.

    Player after player came to this hole with a great shot at the title (or at least a playoff) and failed.

    Jim Furyk bogeyed 18 to finish one back. Colin Montgomerie made a double bogey here from the middle of the fairway to also fall one short of a playoff. And of course, Phil Mickelson collapsed to a double bogey here when a par would have meant the title.

    This hole just doesn't have a sense of mercy: a perfect hole to make this list.

Oakmont, 18th Hole

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    Like Winged Foot, Oakmont gives players quite a headache of a final hole.

    In fact, this 484-yard par-four played a whopping .602 strokes over par during Oakmont's last U.S. Open in 2007, and with good reason.

    Not only is the hole long, but it demands extreme accuracy. Missing the fairway to the right or left is a huge mistake on the 18th, as both sides feature rough that is quite thick and juicy.

    There is really no chance to hit the green from that stuff, and even finding the fairway isn't the end to a player's troubles.

    One faces a long, uphill approach to a precariously-placed green that isn't easy to find.

    In addition, if players don't find the putting surface, they face a brutally difficult par save (as noted by the stat that only eight of 38 who missed the green at the 18th during the final round of the 2007 U.S. Open got up and down).

    This is just a brutally difficult hole through and through. Luckily for players in this year's Open, they won't have to face this hole or almost all of the others on this list.

    Olympic should be quite challenging this year, though, and maybe in the future, more holes from this course (like the 16th) will find their way on this list.