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Why is the 18th Hole So Hard?

By: Golfshake Editor | Fri 15 Nov 2019

Despite a full round of golf being completed over 18 holes, each contributing equally to your overall score, how you finish can have an undue influence on your perception of the day. Recording a disastrous closing hole may cloud and overshadow everything if you did before - even if it was good. Such is the high psychological status of that closer, there comes an undoubted pressure that can play with your mind.

The 18th hole isn't always the toughest on a course, but it often is. When studying thousands of tracked rounds on the Golfshake Score Tracker, analysing hole-by-hole, we were struck by how often the 18th ranked as the hardest of the bunch.

How can that be right? Simply, in many cases, it may well be the longest or most challenging hole from a design perspective. That makes sense, but there are clearly other factors at play. Chief among them is that added pressure. Whether you are battling to post a low score in a medal, or hoping to beat your personal best, that extra subconscious tension can be prohibitive when it comes to making a smooth swing or holing a straight putt.

Additionally, it makes you question how much stamina plays a role. Walking for 18 holes can take its toll, particularly if you aren't the fittest or have the healthiest diet, making concentration more difficult. If you are feeling tired, mistakes are likely to happen, especially on that 18th, underlining the importance of remaining properly hydrated and nourished during a round to get the most from your game. There is a reason why the best in the world tirelessly pursue that 0.1% of improvement within their mind and body, as it can make all the difference at the most crucial moments.

The Belfry 18th

The 20 Hardest 18th Holes on Golfshake - 2018/2019

Parklands Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +4.03

Chobham Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.58

West Midlands Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.58

Warley Park Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.42

Cranham Golf Course

Average Score to Par: +3.36

Boldmere Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.33

Kilworth Springs Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.27

The Hertfordshire Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.26

Marriott Forest of Arden - Arden Course

Average Score to Par: +3.20

Boundary Lakes Golf Course

Average Score to Par +3.20

Droitwich Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.18

Vivary Golf Course

Average Score to Par: +3.15

West Malling Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.09

Hoebridge Golf Centre

Average Score to Par: +3.07

Stocksfield Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +3.03

Hurtmore Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +2.96

Macdonald Hill Valley - Emerald Course

Average Score to Par: +2.92

The Belfry - Brabazon Course

Average Score to Par: +2.83

Willow Valley Golf Club

Average Score to Par: +2.79

Carnoustie - Championship Course

Average Score to Par+ +2.77

Carnoustie 18th

Major Disasters

Whether it be the pressure of the situation, or something else, there have been many notable 18th collapses in golf. Jean van de Velde's tumultuous seven on the fearsome closer at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open Championship remains infamous, as the Frenchman squandered a three-shot lead. 

Several years later, the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot was another level altogether. Australia's Geoff Ogilvy won this unforgettable major, but the drama we saw is still hard to believe. Experienced Scot, Colin Montgomerie finally had his best chance of a glorious triumph in one of the game's most important events, but somehow made double bogey from a perfect spot on the fairway to miss out on a playoff by one shot. Agonising.

Then it was the turn of Phil Mickelson, a perennial contender in America's national championship, who needed a par to win. Driving way left through the trees by a hospitality pavilion, the left-hander attempted to reach the green in two, only advancing the ball 25 yards after it struck a tree. His third shot found a buried lie in a greenside bunker. A couple of scrambling attempts later, the reigning Masters champion threw away another opportunity to win the U.S. Open. 

Talk about an 18th hole disaster.

What about future great of the game, Lorena Ochoa, who had a chance to win the U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills in 2005, only to make a quadruple bogey after finding the water, rough and grandstand on her 18th to lose by four. 

Decades earlier, in 1961, Arnold Palmer stood on the 18th fairway at Augusta National with a one-shot lead. Finding a bunker with his approach, the legendary American's recovery shot flew the green, failing to get up and down from that position, losing to South Africa's Gary Player, who had earlier successfully escaped from that same bunker.

Personal Tales of Woe

It's understandable that golfers have fallen under the weight of a major, but it's something that regular, everyday golfers can relate to in their medals, competitive matches, and even games against friends when there is something on the line.

Occasionally, luck goes against you. Take a look at these tales from two of our Golfshake Ambassadors.

Rob Cross reflected: "Last season, I had fought my way through five or six Singles Match Play contests in our Club KO - "The Putter" - to get to the final, where I would meet a player who I regularly play social golf with. 

"Playing against a friend on the day, in honesty, I never really got going and found myself three down with five holes to play and almost resigned to a runners-up spot. However, (from somewhere) two birdies and two pars over the next four holes from me, saw us standing on the 18th tee A/S.  

"It's a brutal hole, 430-yard par 4 with trees and OB on the right, and trees down the left. The approach doesn’t ease up with OB, long and right of the green which is slightly raised. I stood on the tee and absolutely nailed driver right down the middle of the fairway. My opponent duly snap hooked his ball into the trees on the left. 

"As we walked down the hole, I let myself think, "I've won this!"...Just then we saw the snap hook had been spat out of the trees. A full shot and well executed swing ensued leaving my opponent some 40 yards short of the green. 

"I had 169 yards to the pin, on the right of the green. I pulled a 6 iron out and aimed at the middle of the green, a good swing followed but as I looked up saw that I had pushed the shot five or six yards right and it was heading to the greenside bunker. 

"However, in the middle of summer the ground was like concrete, my ball bounced over the bunker and rolled towards the OB markers. I played a provisional which was on the green but long and a tricky two putt for a bogey. My opponent was closer and had a putt for par.

"At this point my mind was totally scrambled, and I hurried to see if my ball was in or out of play. My heart sank as I walked over the bunker to see...It was 2 inches OUT! 

"We both two putted and he WON! 

"I have to admit I was devastated and will never again think about winning, golf is a very cruel game sometimes!"

How Unlucky Can You Get?!

Speaking of cruelty, it's hard to beat this from Matt Holbrook at Colne Valley's 18th.

“I was playing well, I got to the 18th tee, and I was four-under my handicap, I knew I was playing well, but didn’t realise it was that good. The 18th is a short par four, 350 yards uphill. I hit the fairway, hit the green, now facing a birdie putt. The green slopes from back to front, left to right. Pin at the front. I was 15-foot past, 20 to the right. I was faced with a big right to left downhill breaking putt.

"Without even giving it a second thought, my playing partner took the pin out and laid it on the green. From my angle, the flagstick wasn’t in my line of sight. It wasn’t in my vision. I hit the putt and it went past the hole, and started to roll slowly down towards the flag, he ran down to pick up the pin, but too late, and it still hit. We didn't know the rule, but it was a two shot penalty. I went from a birdie putt to facing a six. I missed the next putt due to frustration. Stroke Index 17. Four-putted with a two-shot penalty. I finished second on countback. To say I was frustrated is an understatement.”

So, there you have it, sometimes it's not even the most difficult holes that catch you out. From major championships to club medals and the everyday rounds of the Golfshake Community, for whatever reason, the 18th hole is often the biggest obstacle of them all. 

How tough is the final hole at your course, or do you have your own tale of woe that needs to be shared? Let us know!

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Tags: The Open Score Tracker PGA Tour Holes Hardest european tour Courses

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