CARMEL, Ind. -- "I think we're going to be hit with an R-O-B ruling," Gary Trivisonno's caddie said as he finally lugged his bag to the promontory above Lake Ball-Be-Gone. "Yeah. . . . running out of balls."
No sooner had the caddie spoke than another ball was hit off the 18th tee by a professional golfer, flew high and flew far -- but didn't fly straight -- and splashed into Lake Ball-Be-Gone. "I think that's the 40th ball to make it since I've been here," said a PGA official.
I became utterly fascinated with the 18th hole of Crooked Stick Golf Club, a marvelous Pete Dye creation, out here in the richest suburbs of Indianapolis. Part of it was when I saw a "12" posted on the 18th for Shawn McEntee and soon thereafter a "12" on the hole for Gary Hallberg. A "12" on any hole of a major golf tournament is akin to finding an honest man in City Hall.
Next I saw Jimmy Hallet pluck his ball out of the cup on 18 and fling it into Lake Ball-Be-Gone. This after a relatively serene "5" on the hole, which might as well be par except for the sadistic tendencies of architect Dye, and Hallet left talking about his sore arm and how that ridge in the 18th fairway drops to the left, toward the rough, which is where his drive rested. Leading to a second shot that can only get you closer -- but not to -- the 18th green.
But Hallet said more than Raymond Floyd, who could only grimace after stalking off the 18th, his tee shot to the right on 18, into Lake Ball-Be-Gone. And next through was Andy Magee, muttering to himself as he, too, stalked off the 18th, saying, "That hole there is the hardest hole in golf."
I might agree. While the sixth at Crooked Stick -- a picturesque par 3 with a Vermont postcard look to it -- is ranked as one of America's 100 best golf holes, the 18th is surely among America's 10 most sadistic golf holes. Listen to the befuddled mind of Jack Nicklaus as he talked after splashing his tee shot into Lake Ball-Be-Gone for the second consecutive day:
"I just stood up there [Friday] and set it up on the tee and I hit it for the left side. I tried to play a cut shot and I did . . . except it moved to the right more than I thought it would. I mean, I tried to set it up on the left side and I hit a good shot. And I thought I'd hit a good shot [Thursday], and that one went into the water, too. This one today was the same line as the one [Thursday]. It mustn't have been more than a yard from where the one went [Thursday] when it went into the water. It's playing as one difficult hole for me."
A certain perverse pleasure came over me as I heard these words from golfer after golfer. Professionals with knees shaking because of rough to the left of them and water -- mucho water -- to their right. No different from you or me, their drivers no more tensile than spaghetti with the vast reaches of Lake Ball-Be-Gone facing them.
"It's a frightening hole," Ian Woosnam said after his bogey on 18 (one of 121 bogeys or worse on the hole in two days, compared to 144 pars). "If you hit to the left, all you've done is hit it into spit. And hit it right . . ." and Lake Ball-Be-Gone gurgles down another Titleist. "If I'm one down Sunday night coming to that hole, I don't know what I'll do."
It's listed as a 445-yard par 4, but the wind was blowing in the golfers' faces Friday and mayhem was cresting on Lake Ball-Be-Gone. Even among those golfers hitting straight from the fourth (and farthest) tee for the PGA, most saw their balls fly over many deep ravines and make the fairway only by a yard or two. And for those whose tee balls sauntered to the right . . .
Splash. Hallberg's drive did make the fairway ("a perfect drive"), and he decided to traverse the length of Lake Ball-Be-Gone with his approach shot, some 215 yards dead over water, rather than lay up the left and terra firma. "I figure I need to make the shot so I make the cut," said Hallberg, who was two over par for the tourney as he swung his club.
The first time. Splash.
Now he was 4 over. He dropped in the same spot. Swung again. Splash.
Six over now. Another drop in the same spot. Another swing. Another splash.
What the heck, said Hallberg, "I figured I'd keep going for it. What's the difference with another one?" Another swing. Another splash.
"He was pretty calm about it all," said the PGA observer on the promontory of Lake Ball-Be-Gone. "He kept dropping another ball and kept swinging. He finally got the fifth one over."
By now, all the sadists in Indiana were up on the knoll above Lake Ball-Be-Gone. Far away could be seen golfers swinging on the tee and soon enough a parachute of a golf ball would be dropping over their shoulders and gently falling into Lake Ball-Be-Gone. Caddies would shrug their shoulders and silently reach into their bags for another ball. And maybe another and another.