Risk-Reward of the 18th at Plainfield Sets Compelling Stage for Barclays Finale
By Will Leivenberg under FedEx Cup

Keegan Bradley on the difficult 18th at AAC a few weeks ago. He likes the finishing hole at Plainfield.

What do you call it when the world’s most talented golfers totally throw caution to the wind and pummel their golf balls over a treacherous gully?

How about—awesome?

This was the scene – and a bizarrely captivating one at that – on Tuesday at the tee box of the 18th hole at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J.  The newly shortened final hole at the site of this week’s Barclays Championship (and kickoff event of the FedExCup Playoffs, held last year at the Ridgewood Country Club in N.J.) is nearly 100 yards shorter, from 370 to an enticing 285.

The revamped hole had guys like Jhonattan Vegas, Chris Kirk, Andres Romero and even recently crowned major champion Keegan Bradley swinging out of their shoes, letting the big dog eat, grippin’ it and absolutely rippin’ it.

Talk about your classic risk-reward scenario. Lay up with the safe route or get aggressive and never look back.

Who were the conductors of this 18th hole symphony? Well, according to Larry Dorman at the New York Times, after last year’s Barclay’s playoff event Gil Hanse, a renown golf course architect, and the PGA Tour’s Vice President, Steve Wenzloff, reimagined how the final hole could become more of a spectacle.

In reality, they made it only more bewitching.

“We just said, ‘Why don’t we look at making this a reachable par 4?’ ” Wenzloff said. “We’ve got all the elements — the shape of the green complex, the angle of the hole, the playoff event where you’ve got guys coming down the stretch — some could be going home, others moving on to Deutsche Bank next week in Boston, so there could be a lot more excitement to it.”

When 120 of the most gifted golfers in the world play the deceptive 18th at Plainfield, they will know exactly who to thank – and who to curse – when they scribble in their eagles and birdies, as well as their double and triple bogeys.

Remember, this is no ordinary week for these guys.

They’re neck deep in the palpable pressure of the playoffs, which implement a cut at each of the four events; from 120 players to 70 to 50 to the final 30 at the Tour Championship. This week’s event delivers a $1.44 million paycheck to the winner, not too shabby for four days on the job. But then again, that is almost like chump-change when you think about the $10 million cash bonus to the winner of the FedEx Cup.

Between the pressure, prestige, and the payout, players will approach the 18th hole with a crucial decision, one that may decide their fate for the next few months of their lives.

Keegan Bradley, who is still in his post-major championship honeymoon phase, appreciated the challenge the 18th presents.

“I think it’s great. I think 70 percent of the field’s going to have a chance to go at it and drive it. I hate when they do drivable par 4s that are like an island green. You can legitimately go at this thing. The cool thing is you can definitely make a 2 there if you hit a good drive.”

Realistically, no matter what club you hold in your hand on the tee or how confident you feel in your swing, this hole can severely punish even the slightest mistake.  Dorman warned:

“Other than the obvious risks of missing the deep, heavily-sloping green short and left in a deep bunker near the false front or missing it long into an area of long pampas grass to the right, are the perils of finding oneself in deep rough close to one of the hole placements near the edges of the green.”

Just imagine how players will be altering their strategy throughout the week at the 18th. They will have to factor in everything from brute strength to their position in the field to stamina and mental toughness. It’s not like a drivable par-4 is unheard of on the PGA Tour, but by making it the 18th at such a significant event has revamped the tournament’s allure.

– Will

(Photo via New York Times)