The 10th hole at Riviera Country Club, site of this week’s Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, California, is a par-4 at a mere 315 yards and it’s driveable…sort of.
It has an elongated green that’s protected by a bunker in front and one in the back. In recent years, it has become increasing difficult to get a shot to hold coming out of the front bunker. More and more they trickle down the downslope and into the back bunker.
So while blasting away with a driver used to be the sport of the hole, some have gone back to just laying up out to the left and then playing a wedge shot up the spine of the green. But even that simple, seemingly safe strategy has its perils.
Let Geoff Ogilvy describe it for you so that you can have some fun watching the hole over these three next days. Keep in mind that he is an Aussie with a typically fun-loving sense of humor with self-deprecation thrown in there for good measure. The good thing about this is that it’s almost entirely about what goes on in the head of an elite player as he sorts through his options.
First an overview of how Riviera is playing this year generally:
It’s tough but fun. Clearly one of the best courses we play, and set up pretty well, really. It’s firm and it’s a bit narrower than I’d prefer to see, but firm greens and fast and they are rolling really well for the greens here. You miss it above the hole, you’ve got no chance — which that’s when golf is at its best like that.
And then the 10th hole generally. It’s unusual to hear the word “joy” associated with a hole in spite of the fact that it produces so many bogey possibilites:
It’s a lot tougher than it used to be. It’s hard to criticize such a good hole. It’s a lot harder than it used to be, especially when the pins are at the back like today. I don’t think you can go to the middle section of the green anymore because there’s a lot of pitch on the green and how fast it is. It’s one of the top four or five holes we play all year on Tour. It’s a joy to play even when you’re putting a five on the card.
But you can now hit a pretty good shot, but with the greens so hard, you still end up in the back bunker. What about that?
I have to think when they try to get more out of a great hole, that’s all they are really trying to do. It’s everyone’s favorite hole, really, and they are just trying to get more out of it. It’s pretty good. The greens are a lot firmer than we are used to playing. They were just a bit softer a few years ago. Now it takes that big first bounce and goes in that bunker really easy.
It’s a really, really good hole and definitely getting harder.
Ogilvy has been coming to Riviera for years and it is that fountain of experience that he plumbs as he describes the cunning nature of the hole for elite players:
The best part about that hole is it makes us all make decisions we don’t like making. We all want to hit driver, it’s clearly the wrong play and we all still do it. Holes are great when it makes us make wrong decisions. That’s when golf gets fun to watch I think, and that’s clearly one of the best holes in the world at doing that, making us kind of — peer pressuring us into making that wrong decision. That’s how that hole does it to us.
So what was his strategy for 10 on Thursday? Turns out, laying up in the left rough, the only rational response to the severity of the green. That the most rational response to the hole, hitting it in the rough, is an anathema to solid golf everywhere else is just another reason for Ogilvy to admire the hole:
I laid up — now, these days. I don’t go for it anymore. I always knew it was the wrong — it just took me a while to like not goad myself into it. I actually think the left rough is the best place to hit it off the tee, generally. That slope off the bunker on the right is so severe on the green, the further you can hit your tee shot, like pin‑high, if you’re talking from the tee, up the green, the more up the green you can hit it, the better.
Even if you’re in that rough and you have to kind of go over the bunker and go past the trees a little bit. That’s clearly better than 50 yards short of green in the middle of the fairway. That’s a really horrible spot. Again golf gets interesting when the rough is maybe a better position than the fairway, which is, I think, cool.
On the other hand, the hole is so good because sometimes going for it is the most rational response:
Sometimes it does. It’s a legitimate play if you need to make two. Theoretically, you don’t make five when you lay it up. You only make five or six when you go for it but you don’t make two when you lay it up, either. So you give up the eagle or maybe the easy birdie, but you also get rid of the six when you lay it up.
So that’s your decision. I make a boring three or four, or I’ll make two through seven, or anything, if I hit driver — if you make two birdies on that hole all week, you’ll beat the field.
The 10th is the second hole in the playoff scheme. What would his choice be in a playoff on Sunday?
If the pin is anywhere near the back, I can’t see going for it. If the pin is on the front half the green, going for it is not that bad — shaving — it’s all right. But the back pins are just horrible. You hit driver long, lobbing it over that bunker, you have no chance. Depends on the pin.
You think this hole doesn’t have narcotic characteristics? Ogilvy describes when he finally decided not to go for it anymore:
I said that in about 2002. About eight years later, I actually started doing it.
I’ve been going for it most years every now and then. I’m 50/50 probably over my career, always knowing when I hit driver, it’s not that sensible. That’s why it’s fun.
Sometimes you go for shots you shouldn’t go for, but that’s kind of why you play golf, because it’s a bit of fun. Then when you go for it for a while and you make threes and fours, you think, going for is the right play. Then you make a six or a seven and takes you a couple of years to get the balls to go for it again.
But didn’t this used to be one of the guaranteed birdie holes on the course?
10 used to be not an automatic birdie, but the most birdieable hole on the course after the first maybe. Not anymore. Last year, you’d have to check, I don’t know, but I think our group made a five, a six and an eight to start the round, first hole of the tournament. I made the six [and went on to shoot 3-over 74 and finish T29].
10 is a hole to be respected. Today is the real tough pin, tucked in against the bunker there. 10 is not a gimmie anymore. You still want to make birdies because you’re only flicking a sand iron in there. But once you make some big numbers there, you realize — you appreciate your fours there a bit more.