Medinah's 15th could play key role

MEDINAH, Ill. -- The 15th at the Medinah Country Club's No. 3 course is a 391-yard hole with a two-acre lake that runs nearly the length of the fairway.

In 2010, golf course architect Rees Jones, famous for his doctoring of several recent U.S. Open venues, shortened the 15th by 100 yards in a major renovation of the course and added the lake to introduce a risk/reward element to the hole.

When the 39th Ryder Cup matches start here on Friday morning, the hole could play as short as 280 yards from the forward tees, which would make it drivable for most of the players. Matches could turn here if players try to reach the green with a driver or fairway wood.

An errant tee shot to the right will find the water. But most players are likely to take the water out of play by favoring the left side, where they could also find a bunker adjacent to a tiny, shallow green.

"My take on the 15th hole is that it's a reachable par-4, but it's not really drivable," Phil Mickelson said. "I think most guys are going to lay up. I just think it's overdone as a hole that would try to entice you to drive it, unlike, say, the 10th at Riviera, which easily entices you and gives you options.

"I think that it's an easy birdie laying up, and as disappointing as the fans are going to be to see that, we have to play what's there in front of us and try to shoot the lowest score, and the lowest score will be shot by laying up."

Mickelson's approach is probably the best strategy for the hole, but that doesn't mean players won't ignore common sense and go for it.

It's a good risk for a long hitter such as Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson. Johnson says he plans on being very aggressive, but very careful and thoughtful in his decision.

"It kind of just depends on the wind," Johnson said. "For me, unless it's into the wind, I'm probably going to hit a 3-wood. I'm just trying to get it just short of the front edge or right on the front edge, and it all depends on where the flag is, too.

"It all just depends on how they set the hole up, whether they play it long or short or however they want to do it."

Watson, the free-spirited Masters champion, is taking a pragmatic approach to the hole.

"I want that yardage to play whatever it takes for me to make birdie," he said. "If I make birdie, I don't care what the yardage is.

"If it was alternate-shot and it's my turn, I might just want to just lay up and let my guy wedge it in there. There's a lot of factors that go on with that: wind condition, pin location, how you're hitting your ball that day -- if we made it that far in our match. There's a lot of things that are going to determine what goes on at that moment."

The 2010 Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor also had a drivable 15th hole. At those matches, the tees were pushed up to 246 yards for the Sunday singles. The U.S. team didn't get a win on the hole until Steve Stricker made an eagle there on Sunday in his win over Lee Westwood.

This time around, captain Davis Love III will certainly try to make for more favorable conditions on this drivable 15th. He knows the importance of the final stretch of holes to the matches. By shortening the hole to 280 yards and placing the pin in a favorable position, it might be too enticing for his long hitters to lay up.

Love likes the risk/reward element.

"If you go down the stretch, 15, 16, 17, 18, you have 15, a drivable hole, par 4, but with a lot of risk, water right, even if you bail out left in the bunker you're going to have a tough job making a birdie from that bunker," Love said at the PGA Championship. "I think risk/reward is the main thing I think in match play."

Hopefully for the fans, players will try to drive the green and make eagles here. But unfortunately, most are likely to lay up and try to convert easy birdies with wedges from the fairway.

There is a good chance that this hole will be halved with birdies more than any other hole this week.