In golf, monsters are slain with shovels. Which is how the 10th hole at Congressional got killed, finished as a thing of diabolic beauty for this week's Kemper Open. Only a few of us will mourn.
I've always thought that for a tournament to be exceptional it had to feature one close-to-unfair hole. Because these glittering nomads play at a level most of us cannot comprehend, they should not play the same course we do. Once a round, they ought to face a test that has them quaking in their cleats, hitching their belts up, Arnie style, and discovering how good they really are.
The 10th at Congressional (sob) was such a hole. At 460-some yards, it was a hybrid par 4 for the U.S. Open in 1964 and the PGA in '76. This brilliant line of thought prevailed the first two years the Kemper was wedged here from North Carolina.
No longer. The 10th proved too tough, to the point where the field was 167 over par on it last year and threatening to fling clubs in the pond to the right of the green and hustle for the nearest tax shelter. Although there were 32 birds, the mood around 10 was mighty close to funereal.
Joy clouds are the forecast for Thursday through Sunday around No. 10. A Congressional investigation showed that the simplest way to make the most people, fans as well as players, happy was to lengthen the hole about 30 yards and add one stroke to par.
From a witch of a par 4, it's now, in the words of Congressional pro Bob Benning, "a piece-of-cake par 5."
At less than 500 yards (the distances vary from day to day), the sluggers still can reach the green in two; the chicken-hearted and singles hitters can play short and still get up and down for bird. Anyone worth a shoe contract can make par even if his second shot--from an uphill, sidehill lie--dives into the pond.
Spectators should love it. Silent for the most part when a man earned a C on an exam so many failed, they might get applause blisters rewarding all the As this year. Anyone who doesn't make par now ought to be banished to the red tees at Redgate.
This hardly is to suggest that all the drama and mean has been bludgeoned from Congressional. Only three holes (Nos. 8, 15 and 17) played under par last year. And the third and fourth, 14th and 18th were close to as tough as 10. Although the mightiest, only one headache has been eliminated.
And another place for mental madness has been added. That is the sixth hole, where more sophisticated tinkering has been done. It also is a par 5 now, pushed back to about 540 yards. With a blind second shot and water in front of much of the green, most of the players will fret over club selection.
Most will lay up, Benning believes.
Most will go for it, Labron Harris insists.
The hill to the left of the sixth fairway, which offers a view both of where that second shot is struck and where it lands, ought to be among the most crowded at Congressional.
Benning and all the other officials will be scurrying about the course the entire week. But one major concern has been eliminated: the driver of the tractor that pulls the golf-ball retriever around the practice range will end each mission alive.
Because the tractor with the protective cage wouldn't work, the driver of the uncovered one borrowed from another part of the course took to wearing a lacrosse helmet during the member-guest tournament last week. Man and machine gather range balls while golfers still practice; such journeys into Hogan hailstorms are dangerous.
Nobody on the unsafe tractors was hit. With the regular, safe one purring again, ornery pros who could bounce a ball off a bee's breast at 200 yards will not be tempted to play closest-to-the-skull. Only greenies and sandies this week. No headies.
With Congressional changed so dramatically, to a par of 72 instead of 70, we can savor all the more what Craig Stadler did in winning last year. He was 10 under par. In the three prior major and tour events, Ken Venturi was even par while staggering to the Open title; Dave Stockton was one over in winning the PGA championship; John Mahaffey was three under as the first Kemper Congressional champ.
Stadler was 10 under last year, six shots better than runners-up Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf. The current Masters champion was in the 60s each day, six under the last two rounds. Second the year before, Stadler has won $115,200 at Congressional in two years.
"His Masters victory gave what he did here last year credibility," Benning said. "He's for real."
Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Seve Ballesteros are additions to the Kemper clan this year. And if Arnie suddenly wants to tee it up here again, everybody but some poor bumped rabbit will be glad.
Benning's favorite holes are No. 14, the 439-yard par 4 that requires such an exacting second shot when the flag is back right, and No. 7, the 166-yard par 3 on which a man must be able to stop a mid-iron on quarter-sized slate to have a decent birdie putt.
He never passes a particular pine off the 15th fairway without a twinge of nostalgia. In '64, as an obscure club pro from New Jersey, Benning played his first Open at Congressional. And made 10, double par, at 15 the second round after dumping his tee ball under what then was a puny tree that proved lethal.
Benning also loves 18, as gorgeous and potentially hazardous a finishing hole as any in golf.
The goose hole, as local lore requires it be known, 18 also has been rated the third best splashin' spot for winners. Evidently, Gary Player got bumped into the pond near 18 sometime, so it now is judged behind Jerry Pate's ponds (Colonial at Memphis and the TPC course) as the most appealing place for a victor's dip.
Stadler might drain the thing.