If there was a hole which defined Jaco van Zyl’s debut experience at The Open, it was the 17th – the infamous ‘Road Hole’.
He might have missed the cut in the 144th Open Championship after he backed up his opening seven-over-par 79 with a three-under 69 after a three hour and 20 minute delay after torrential rains left the hallowed Old Course turf at St Andrews waterlogged, but he managed to record the tournament’s first birdie on that hole after it yielded only 54 pars to the players in the opening round. There were 84 bogeys and 18 doubles or worse as the average score in round one for the par-four was 4.833.
“I hit a good drive down there today,” said Van Zyl of the moment he stopped the rot on the 17th for 2015. “I think I had 195 yards left to the flag. Hit three-iron, nice little stinger three-iron to about 20-foot and rolled it in.”
That was in stark contrast to what happened to him in the first round: “I hit driver, and then I had 277 yards to the flag, and then I laid it up with a three-wood, and then I hit sand wedge, and then I hit lob wedge,” he laughed. “It would have made a great par-five.”
His enjoyment of his first appearance in an Open Championship was somewhat spoiled by a horror run of five holes during which he dropped eight shots. So, from being one-under going into the 13th, ticking over smoothly, he came out after the fun and games of the 17th at seven-over and essentially dead and buried – bar a miracle.
“It didn’t feel like I played badly,” he said of that little spell. “I didn’t putt great at all yesterday. You know, going through 13, 14, 15, I mean, I just hit in the wrong places, ended up in the pot bunkers, and couldn’t get it out, and found a couple of divots after that.”
He regrouped overnight, and found himself faced with a monsoon as he got on the first tee – which was maybe appropriate as the first green is close to the Himalayas, a putting green which allows the general public to experience a little bit of St Andrews golf.
“It was pretty bad when we started,” he said. “It had really kind of set in by the time we hit our second shots. We were lingering around the green for about five minutes before they actually called it. By the time we got to the first green, it was literally unplayable. They tried to squeegee in between us putting the ball down, but the water was rising quicker than they could get it away.”
He had hit his second to inside two feet, so he was able to eventually get his second round off to a good start when he tapped in his birdie putt on the resumption.
After that, it was onward to his taming of 17, a hole which will be intimidating and decisive in every Open Championship. “It’s a great hole,” said Van Zyl. “It starts off with a tough tee shot. There’s just no room for error with the second shot. You can bail out – if you want to hit it short right – but it doesn’t give you a four on the card. You miss it right, you’re on the road; you miss it left, you’re in the bunker. It takes two quality shots, and even if you are on the green, it still doesn’t guarantee that you’re walking off with four.”
He’ll drink in the rest of his time at St Andrews greedily, but he’s wishing he could be playing the weekend after being the first to cope with the Road Hole…