The Jordan Spieth-Dustin Johnson duel at The Northern Trust was very exciting. No doubt about it. The conclusion was a bit unfortunate, however, owing to the choice of playoff hole.
You can see the lines Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth took off the tee in this tweet from Ian Poulter.
— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) August 27, 2017
Poulter calls the choice of hole a “shame,” and he’s right. Johnson learned his lesson from missing the fairway right in regulation and having to lay up. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again, and instead he unleashed a howitzer, cutting the corner on a line more aggressive than Poulter with the block button on Twitter.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 27, 2017
DJ piped his drive 341 yards. Spieth hit an excellent, 300-yard-plus drive, but was unable to take the same line.
Look, there’s an element of “you should never put the game in the ref’s hands” here. Spieth didn’t play as well as Johnson Sunday, as evidenced by, you know, their scores. Spieth shot 69. DJ shot 66.
That said, the 18th hole does offer the biggest bombers a massive advantage if they can clear the water. And it’s not really “risk-reward,” because as long as DJ makes decent contact, he carries the water. Maybe he’s in the rough, but he’s still garnered said massive advantage for his second shot. You shouldn’t hit a drive 315 yards and find yourself facing a 180-plus yard approach while your opponent is looking at a baby wedge.
Proceeding from the standpoint that a poor golf course advantages only one type of player, you can certainly make the case (as pros did) that the 18th was a poor choice of playoff hole.
If you fly it 315 then you have a 100 yd wide fairway on 18…..
It's a shame that it ended because of a long drive contest in the playoff
— Wesley Bryan (@wesleybryangolf) August 27, 2017
And yes, Johnson still had to hit the wedge. Heck, he had to hit the booming drive under pressure. But the idea of playoff hole selection is generally to pick a fairly benign hole that affords a birdie opportunity. Right?
Looking at the course map, the teebox at No. 10 (a mid-level difficulty, 445-yard par 4) would have been an even shorter commute than the 18th tee. Of course, the fans were already in place at No. 18, so you’d assume that was the tournament organizers’ guiding factor in the decision.