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“Hitting a straight drive 300 yards and landing it softly isn’t easy.” Michael Belot says this while squinting down the 15th-hole fairway at Chicago’s Medinah Country Club, the venue for this month’s Ryder Cup. Belot, the tournament director, is predicting big things for the 15th. “This hole could swing a match that was going the whole opposite direction,” he says. “That was the intent.”
The recent redesign of this par-4 by famed course architect Rees Jones shortened its length by 100 yards, but also added a couple of merciless hazards: a bunker to the left of the fairway and, more ominous, a 2-acre pond on the right. To demonstrate just how tricky the new hole can be, Belot summons Mike Scully, the course’s top pro.
Scully, a former player with the Washington Redskins, is a monster of a man, with wraparound shades, slick gray-blond hair and a steel-grip handshake. He launches five consecutive bombs into the bright blue sky—none of which seem to have any interest in the green. “Right now,” he says, watching as another shot soars pondward, “the golf ball is not doing what I want it to do.”
Competitors in the upcoming Ryder Cup—the biannual team event pitting the best American golfers against their European rivals—will probably not be as nonchalant about the golf ball behaving in this manner. For them, Scully has some advice. “I’m going for it. That would be my mentality,” he says, folding his hulking frame back into his cart. “I don’t ever play for second. Never have.” —ROD O’CONNOR
ILLUSTRATIONS BY PETER OUMANSKI