It’s hard for most of the players in the Memorial Tournament to imagine there was a time the maddening par-3 16th at Muirfield Village Golf Club was a welcomed sight.
Yes, years ago, the short hole was a gentle challenge for the players in Jack Nicklaus’ annual bash in the Buckeye State. From the first tournament in 1974, the antepenultimate hole on the course designed and built by Nicklaus wasn’t much of a bother.
Then, with the 2013 Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village upcoming, the Golden Bear sunk his claws into the turf in 2010 and dug out a lake abutting the green on the left that teamed with three severe bunkers on the right that instantly turned the hole — 200 yards on the scorecard — into a monster with plenty of teeth.
The watery terror was in play starting with the 2011 edition of the Memorial. Since then, it was been ranked 1 or 2 as the toughest hole in the tournament all but two years, and in those years, it was the third most difficult hole. Since 2011, it has been the toughest hole in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2020.
In 10 years, there have been just two aces on the 16th in the tournament — Jason Dufner in 2015 and Rod Pampling in 2016. In the 2013 Presidents Cup, Ernie Els was the only player to birdie the hole in singles action as he knocked in a 25-footer to go 1 up on Steve Stricker in a match he won two holes later.
And last year, Phil Mickelson laid up on the hole. When it measured 173 yards. With his tee shot, he left himself 43 yards from the pin. The six-time major winner was moved to go this unique route by making five double bogeys on the hole in two weeks (the Workday Charity Open was held at Muirfield Village the week before last year’s Memorial).
“It just is a hard golf hole for me,” Mickelson said. “Obviously you can’t go left in the water, and when I go right, usually it’s a hotter shot like I pull it or it draws and it’s always on the downslope of the bunker, and I just can’t stop it oftentimes on the green. So I just laid up to where I have an angle to putt it up the green, so I took a 5 out of play and I was trying to make a 3 and had a 12-footer for it.”
He missed and made bogey.
The hole has been home to heroics — think the flop shot Tiger Woods holed en route to victory in 2012. Been home to some bizarre moments, too — remember Jon Rahm’s pitch-in birdie last year that turned into a bogey 4 when he was penalized for his ball moving slightly as he addressed the shot. Rahm learned of the penalty after he had won two holes later.
Now, going forward, the hole figures to be less penalizing.
During his complete overall of the course ahead of this year’s tournament, Nicklaus discovered the shallow green on the 16th actually pitched from front to back, and with the surface usually firm, players had a hard time holding the green with tee shots. Especially from 200 yards with wind at their backs.
“Remember everybody how hard that green’s been? It’s been like a rock,” Nicklaus said. “Nobody could stop it on the green before.
“So we took seven inches out of the center of the green and added seven inches to the back of the green and now the green sits to you.”
2020 PGA champion Collin Morikawa said there was no place to bail on the 16th, especially when it played downwind. Now the hole isn’t as much of a bear.
“You have to hit a good shot, don’t get me wrong, this is the 16th hole of a great golf course,” Morikawa said. “But to know that it might be a little more receptive, hopefully, helps. But with new greens? New greens normally get really firm really fast, so we’ll see what happens.”
And world No. 2 Justin Thomas said despite the changes, the 16th hasn’t turned into a cupcake. In the first round spread over two days because of storm delays, the hole ranked in a tie for the sixth hardest hole — there were 16 birdies and 23 bogeys and others to average 3.126 strokes per player.
And that was with the green soft.
“It’s still a really hard hole,” he said. “If anything the far right bunker just became a harder bunker shot. There’s a little bit bigger slope kind of going to the back part.
“I think it would be a lot better hole from the tee up. I just think it’s a hard green to hold, that back section, with a 6-iron or 7-iron and potentially a 5-iron if we get a different wind. So I think it’s still a really difficult hole and tee dependent and wind dependent changes it, but I think the right bunker shot has become more difficult because it all slopes away more.”