Tales of the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon

TROON, Scotland -- The problem with such a short, seemingly simple hole is getting yourself to believe and understand that it is more than just that. Such an easy shot awaits, especially for a seasoned player who could accomplish the feat blindfolded.

There is no menacing creek like the 12th at Augusta National. There is no water that surrounds the green like the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. There is no water at all, save for the Firth of Clyde, which borders the course and can be the source of fiendish winds.

The green sits just 123 yards away -- it might play less than 100 yards one day this week -- and would appear to offer a respite from the rigors of Royal Troon, where the 145th Open begins on Thursday. It is the shortest hole in the Open golf course rotation -- and among the shortest in any championship endeavor -- a mere pitching wedge or even a sand wedge shot for most of today's professionals.

But, of course, there is a story that accompanies the par-3 eighth at Royal Troon, a hole known as the Postage Stamp. Others refer to it as the "wee beastie.''

The par-3 eighth has an elevated tee shot over a gully to a 30-yard-long green that is just 10 yards wide. It is ringed by five bunkers and flanked on the left by a rough-covered hill with the sole purpose of sending balls veering into the sand.

Those obstacles are a mere annoyance to pros who should have no trouble finding a green from such a short distance. But what makes the hole so troublesome is the wind. On a calm day the hole is routine, but then again, how often are there such days in a Scottish summer?

"It's a special hole the way the short par-3s of this world are special,'' said Colin Montgomerie, who grew up on the course and will compete in The Open at Troon for the third time. "You play a hole like Oakmont's eighth at 300 yards, and the expectation is low. There's never been a decent par-3 over 200 yards, in my opinion.

"(At) 123 yards, the expectation raises dramatically. You are on that tee and you are a professional golfer. It's your job and you are expected to hit this green at 123 yards. You could throw it on, really. And that's why it's difficult.

"Whenever you are expected to win something or do something, it's always more difficult to achieve. And that's why the hole is fabulous, because you are expected to hit the green, and everyone knows you are.''

The hole got its name after Troon (it became Royal Troon in 1978) underwent several changes in 1909. Previously, the hole had been longer, requiring a blind tee shot over a large sand hill to the left of the present green.

When the course was shortened, bunkers were added, leading to the name coined in a 1922 Golf Illustrated story in which the described the eighth green as a "putting surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp.''

That same year, the Coffin Bunker was added to the front right of the green. It is tucked into a hill and was placed there to keep players from landing their ball short and letting it roll on. Rory McIlroy found the Coffin Bunker in a Tuesday practice round and said "it took me five or six goes to get out of it. That didn't go too well.'' During a practice round last week, Henrik Stenson suffered a similar fate before finally kicking his ball out.

Stories are aplenty. Twelve years ago -- the last time the Open was at Royal Troon -- Ernie Els aced the hole during the opening round on the way to a playoff loss against Todd Hamilton. In 1997, when Justin Leonard won here, Tiger Woods -- playing only his third major as a pro -- had gotten into contention with a third-round 64, only to have his chances undone by the Postage Stamp a day later.

Woods buried his tee shot in a bunker, blasted over the green, then needed a chip and 3 putts for a triple-bogey 6. The same year, Englishman Steve Bottomley took a 7 the first day and a 10 the second en route to missing the cut. "It's an easy hole, really,'' Bottomley said. "Somehow, I let it ruin my tournament.''

In the first Open played at Troon in 1923, defending champion Gene Sarazen missed the cut after shooting 85. Fifty years later, at age 71, the Squire returned to Troon, and added to his legend at the Postage Stamp.

During the first round, Sarazen aced the hole. The following day he found a greenside bunker, but holed it for a birdie 2. So he played the hole in a total of 3 strokes over two rounds.

"For many years, the Postage Stamp hole had haunted me; I feared it, so when I walked onto the tee and faced the wind, I must admit I was somewhat nervous," Sarazen later wrote. "I selected my 5-iron as I was determined not to be short.

"When the crowd roared and I realized the ball was in the hole, I felt there was no better way to close the books on my tournament play than to make a hole-in-one on the Postage Stamp and call it quits.''

Herman Tissies might have had similar thoughts, although for different reasons. The German amateur needed 15 strokes to play the Postage Stamp in 1950 when trying to qualify for The Open.

After hitting his tee shot into a bunker, Tissies then sent his next shot rolling across a green into another bunker. Same for this third. When it was over, Tissies had been in three bunkers, the first one twice. He hit five shots in one of them before finally reaching the green with his 12th shot -- from where he proceeded to 3-putt.

Montgomerie noted that with the prevailing wind, the first seven holes play downwind. Then you come to the eighth, and for the first time, you are into the wind.

"It doesn't matter what standard of golf you are, it's different, it's change," he said. "You haven't done this for two hours, then suddenly you have this shot into the wind and you're thinking. Self-doubt comes in, and hesitation. It's a great hole, great hole.

"It's drama. If you do happen to miss the green, well, game on, you know?''