112. The total number of matches over the last four Ryder Cups.
85. The total number of those matches that went at least to the 16th hole.
Better than 75% of the time, nothing is decided until the final three holes. These become the holes of history. Think Justin Leonard stomping around the long, narrow, two-tiered 17th at Brookline. Or Justin Rose’s jaw-dropping 35-foot curler on the Medinah’s 17th, rendering Phil Mickelson’s near miracle chip a historical footnote. Or Jack Nicklaus gentlemanly “concession” to Tony Jacklin at Birkdale on the 18th to end a raucous tournament in a sportsmanlike draw.
Ryder Cup moments are not etched in our collective consciousness on the front nine — perhaps not even the first 15. It is always the last three. If you fail here, there is no rebound. No comeback. No getting the next one. But if you succeed, you’ll be welcomed as a conquering hero. Either way, in the last three holes it’s time to take off the cap and shake hands. Here present becomes past in the blink of an eye and the memories are nigh-eternal.
All of which makes the rerouting of Hazeltine National incredibly significant — and wildly compelling. The change is not just about the flow of spectators or ease of entry and exit. This is about drama. And the new layout begs plenty of it.
Swapping the 9th for the 18th offers a subtle change. The holes are mirror images, but the 9th plays just enough shorter that the Cup may be decided by who can hit a kick-in wedge with a python around the throat.
And we can hardly wait to see the world’s best stand at the tee of the diabolical new 17th. Looks easy. Too easy. But, um, a certain 12th looks easy too, and many green jacket dreams die in Rae’s Creek. Imagine Jordan excising his blocked fade demons with an arcing draw soaring over the water to slam the door on MciIroy and secure the Cup in the final match at Hazeltine. It’ll be talked about forever.
But all that pales to the possibilities of the new 16th. Yes, the current 16th is among the most beautiful and stunning holes in golf. It is a “must play” for any global golfer worth their salt. But for Ryder Cup purposes, the new 16th might even be better.
The current 16th is all about execution. The new 16th is about risk/reward, and there is nothing like “going for it” to take golf to its most visceral and primal dimensions. Execution earns respect, but risk/reward immortalizes.
Watching the possibilities of the second shot on the new 16th will keep tens of millions glued to the screen. Who goes first? Will they go for it? Can they stand 2 1/2 football fields away and hit with enough height to clear the water, climb the elevated green, and yet land softly so as to not roll up the hill into a treacherous chip? Do they even want to? The new 16th stands to be remembered as near perfect Ryder Cup test. Risk/reward at the most critical of times — the beginning of the final three holes that decide it all.
The rerouting is perfect. One can picture visitors in years ahead wanting to play these final three. To stand where the best stood and experience what they experienced. And we’ll get to say, “I’m sorry. We save that layout for the Ryder Cup.” That’s the stuff of legends.