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The U.S. Open’s shortest hole is the most treacherous, fun spot at massive Erin Hills

On a course hyped for its enormous scale, a short little par-3 has provided the most entertainment at the U.S. Open.

U.S. Open - Round Two
Rory looks down on the 9th green, maybe the most fun short burst on a massive U.S. Open course.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

While most of the coverage focuses on the length of Erin Hills, this year’s U.S. Open venue, the most fun hole to watch on the course may be its shortest.

Update! On Sunday, the hole is set up at a beefy 172 yards. There’s also a 20 mph crosswind whipping through the hole and affecting tee shots from this elevated tee box “way up in the air” as FOX analyst Paul Azinger termed it. The pin is also tuuuuucked way back there on the green, giving the players a small landing zone out on the left side to an already small green.

So far, it’s playing as the second-hardest hole on the course, averaging nasty 3.5 strokes. It should be a blast to watch the final groups and leaders come through there late in the day during the critical turn of the final round. They probably don’t appreciate it, but we hope the wind stays up.

Officially, this is the longest U.S. Open in its history. The scorecard circulated before the 117th championship measured a layout at 7,741 yards, which edges 2015’s Chambers Bay setup. Of course, the modern U.S. Open venue is one that gives the USGA a ton of flexibility to move tee boxes around and change that overall course yardage significantly — Friday’s setup is tipped out at 7,839.

The wind and roll on this course, however, aren’t necessarily making it play that long. And length doesn’t necessarily mean difficult at this level of the game. The 18th hole is set up at a burly 676 yards but playing under par and relatively easy. The most interesting hole to watch on the course, in my opinion, is the shortest on the scorecard.

The par-3 9th is a beautiful short hole, playing at 153 yards on Friday. It gets as short as 135 yards. It’s often a wedge shot from an elevated tee to a smaller green surrounded by grandstands that make it maybe the coolest scene on the course. Watch the ball from up on the hill come into the green, and then watch these world-class players try to putt their way around this dicey surface.

There have been some complaints on Twitter about Friday’s pin and how it’s too tough to get to on this smaller green. If your ball lands too far to the right side of the green, it’s almost certainly tumbling off and way down a path carved out between bunkers. You could, conceivably, hit an OK shot and end up miles from the hole.

Frank Nobilo demonstrates the severity of that swale on the right side with this tee-to-green video from earlier in the week:

But while some tweets started intimating that it was unfair, the good shots were being rewarded. We saw Rory McIlroy almost ace it with a wedge shot that dropped right on top of the flag and stuck. We saw Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson hit good shots to that top shelf and have their balls stay there for a makeable birdie putt. It’s just that in between that, we saw balls from Si Woo Kim and Adam Scott go bounding over, often into a deadly bunker, and we saw balls too short get the fate of Beef Johnston above.

On Friday, if you’re missing the green, it’s playing a full shot tougher than if you hit it, according to FOX Sports and golf stats guru Mark Broadie. (As the USGA demonstrated earlier this week, Erin Hills’ unique bunkers around this hole can be death.)

Those kind of results from shots that might not look terrible get people racing to conclusions on Twitter. But this is a short hole, so it should have a small green that demands a precise tee shot. Shots that are off should be punished. We’re just worked up into a lather before the U.S. Open ever begins because we expect the USGA to push things to the edge.

Now there may be a separate issue, which Geoff Shackelford raised, about the green being so small and sloped that there cannot be four separate hole locations. Shac and Matt Ginella break down that issue, and the brilliance of this hole overall, with a nice overview here:

This is just a minor strand in an almost 8,000-yard course. But it’s an awesome hole with a cool vista that’s producing great results. It’s been my favorite to watch on TV so far, and if you’re making it out to Erin Hills this weekend, you should absolutely post up for a time there.