Fans watching this year’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera might do a double take.
Tournament director Ben Kimball said at media day Monday that two of the most iconic holes likely will play differently for the world’s best amateurs.
One definite change is to the first hole, which will play as a long par 4 for the tournament. As a 503-yard, downhill par 5, the first hole annually ranks as one of the easiest holes on the PGA Tour. This year at the Genesis Open, it played to a 4.271 scoring average, serving up 247 birdies and only six bogeys or worse.
“I went back and forth in my mind about whether that was something we were going to do,” Kimball said in an interview on Fox Sports Radio. “The players hit it so far now, and it has such a nice, big, sprawling putting green, it felt like it made sense to have it as a par 4 since that’s how it’s truly playing now.”
Riviera and Bel-Air Country Club will be used as qualifying sites for the match-play portion of the USGA championship. The low 64 players after 36 holes advance.
“Being a match-play championship, seeing more birdies is a good thing, and we’re not going to get that out of hole 1 anymore,” Kimball said. “But there’s some other changes in the setup that we’re going to make that will yield those birdies somewhere else.”
One of those potential changes? Turning the 18th hole into a drivable par 4.
On Tour, the 18th plays as a 475-yard, dogleg-right par 4, but Kimball said there is a shorter, alternate tee that would be only 325 yards to a front pin position.
“You have to ask yourself the question: It’s one of the most iconic holes in golf and then you shorten it to almost a drivable par-4 option. Is that the right thing to do?” Kimball said. “I don’t necessarily know, but given that it’s match play, you have a little bit of flexibility to try and advance some things that you normally wouldn’t if it was the U.S. Open or Senior Open. Riviera provides a lot of flexibility in the setup. We’re excited about enhancing that flexibility throughout the course of the U.S. Amateur.”
Kimball added that the setup change likely would be made during one of the first two rounds of match play, when there are more players on the course and a greater chance of having matches come down to the 18th hole.
“I’m on the fence about it right now, 50-50,” Kimball said.