Risk-reward takes on new meaning on Austin Country Club’s ‘goofy’ 13th hole

Risk-reward takes on new meaning on Austin Country Club’s ‘goofy’ 13th hole
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AUSTIN, Texas – Be alert for foul balls!

Such is a warning that one would expect to see while watching the Round Rock Express, the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, which competes about a half-hour north of Austin. But the folks down south at Austin Country Club may need to post similar signage on the par-4 13th hole.

And fans may want to bring their gloves.

The 285-yard drivable hole, nicknamed “Cape Dye,” is arguably the most entertaining hole on property, and thus deserving of the massive buildout around the green. But in addition to hosting hundreds of spectators, the hospitality tents are seeing plenty of action from the players – specifically their golf balls – as risk-reward has taken on new meaning.

With a 20-mph wind howling at the players’ backs off the tee, about half the field on Thursday at the WGC-Dell Match Play swung for the fences.

None of those balls found the putting surface.

Almost a dozen and a half sailed into the stands, requiring those players to take free relief.

“Probably one of the best drivable par-4s for match play,” said Brooks Koepka, who still decided to lay up on Friday. “You’ve really just got to sack up and hit a shot. … But those tents back there obviously stop it, so guys can just blast it in.”

Matches and scoring from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship

In normal conditions, or even a crosswind, players are given the option to shape shots that can stop on the green. Friday’s wind, however, made such an accomplishment nearly impossible. Bryson DeChambeau was the closest, but even he found the fairway cut 37 feet, 11 inches away.

DeChambeau accounted for one of 11 birdies made at No. 13 on Day 2, and of those 11 birdies, eight were made after the player went for the green with three of those (by Daniel Berger, Sepp Straka and Will Zalatoris) coming after free drops.

Conversely, lay-ups produced five of the seven bogeys that were tallied.

“With the wind blowing straight down like it is, I mean, if you lay it up you’ve got a hard time getting it close,” said Dustin Johnson, whose drive carried the green, hit off some steps and splashed into the water. He made an 11-footer to save par. “Today, I felt like I just caught it off the toe a touch, but I still thought my ball was going to be back in the corner, but it actually bounced off the steps and went in the water. But if you can keep it left of the flag today and long, it’s an easy chip back into the wind.

“… It’s a little goofy, but there’s no really good spot to hit it because it’s about impossible to hit it on the green.” 

Added Jon Rahm, who opted to lay up before nearly rinsing his approach and scrambling to save par: “I feel like the only chance of stopping it on the green is hitting the pin, otherwise you’re in the back, most likely not going to stay in the fairway, and you’re going to be against the grandstands dropping on dormant Bermuda on a downhill lie. It’s a great par-4. You can hit a 7-iron and still have a tough shot with a wedge shot or go for it and kind of hope for the best.”

Bad shots from second round of WGC-Dell Match Play

While the hole still demands a lot of thought on the tee box as players must weigh the risks of both going for it or laying back – especially considering the hole bends left around Lake Austin – the tents minimize the penalty for blowing one long and right. Balls that would normally have to be played from off the ShotLink planet are placed either just behind the green or back in the right rough with an ideal angle into the green.

Case in point: Tyrrell Hatton’s drive bounced off the roof of one of the tents like a trampoline and traveled 366 yards before coming to rest in the 15th fairway some 90 yards behind the green. He then dropped back in the rough right of the fairway and had about 100 yards in for his second shot.

He eventually tapped in for an easy par, though despite the break, Hatton still took some issue.

“It would be nice if there were some actual drop zones around where all the hospitality is, [so you’re not] ending up having to drop it in some stupid places,” Hatton said. “Having to go 100 yards back around to try and find a point to drop, when most places you would play there would be a drop zone nearby. Certainly for me, I was on the fairway on 15, obviously yeah, you don’t want to be there, but then I’m having to drop it on a point on a massive downslope, ball below my feet, wind maybe off the left, maybe down. Yeah, it’s kind of not ideal.”

Lee Westwood, who laid up Friday and yet still had to convert an up-and-down par from 80 yards, has no problem with the hole or the drop rules, but that doesn’t mean he lacks for concern.

“I think it’s a great hole,” Westwood said. “The only thing I don’t like about it is the danger to the crowd. Obviously, there’s the tents there and there’s the option to hit 3-wood off there or driver off there and just clatter it into those tents, and then you get a drop out and a chip onto the green. … That’s the problem. You crash it into those right-hand stands, it endangers people and then you’ve got to drop in a good spot on the edge of the green.

“Like I say, thinking about it now, I can’t figure out what needs to be done, but something clearly needs to be done.”

Perhaps a few signs or some catchers’ mitts?

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