How Presidents Cup put its best hole in middle of the action

Liberty National has been set up for this week’s Presidents Cup, which begins with Thursday’s opening session of alternate shot matches, for fireworks and more dramatic TV viewing.

The course, which has hosted two FedExCup PGA Tour events, was re-routed from its original design to make for more exciting match-play action.

One of the key changes for this week was making the original 18th hole, which is a challenging and picturesque par-4, the 14th hole that plays alongside the water toward the clubhouse with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline.

This change will virtually ensure that most of the matches will get to one of the course’s signature holes. Without the change, the original No. 18 likely would not come into play very often with many matches decided before the 18th.

That will make the tournament 18th a 193-yard, par-3 finishing hole for those matches that go the distance.

Perhaps the most significant change is the first hole for the tournament, which in the original design is No. 5, a difficult, 474-yard par-4 with water all the way down the left side of the fairway. This will be a nerve-wracking opening hole for players, who already will be feeling the nerves of the first tee with the large grandstands surrounding it.

“The drive is critical, so that’s going to be a fun hole to start on,’’ Phil Mickelson said.

“If I play alternate-shot, it’s unlikely that I will tee off on that hole,’’ joked Mickelson, whose driving accuracy is not known as his strength.

“I’m going to try and get my partner to hit it first, because it is quite tight down there,’’ Jason Day joked. “It’s quite a tight tee shot. With people all the way around you, it’s going to get really loud there really quickly. It will be nerve-wracking on the first tee, I guarantee it.”

Rickie Fowler issued a warning for the fans watching from the first hole.

“If I’m a spectator, I’m going to make sure that I’m not standing around 260 to 300 [yards away] up the right side,’’ he said. “With water left … there’s going to be quite a few balls that may tail right. They’ve definitely picked one of the harder tee shots on the golf course to start out the round.’’

Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas walk to the green.

Justin Thomas called it “a tough tee shot,’’ adding, “When your adrenaline is pumping and if it gets a little firmer, you can probably like burn a 2-iron down there, something like that, and have a short iron in. But if it’s into the wind or something like that, you’re probably going to have to hit driver or definitely 3-wood, and it’s a narrow fairway with water right there.

“For a newcomer like myself, if I’m hitting the first tee shot with the nerves going, that will probably be one of the harder tee shots I’ve had.’’

Fowler said he loves the setup, saying it’s “similar to what we’ve seen at some Ryder Cups, especially the Ryder Cups overseas.’’

“We’ve seen plenty of energy in those, so it’s going to be fun and interesting to see how crazy we can get this New York crowd and how many people we can get out here,’’ he said. “I think this will be kind of a glimpse to what we may see at Bethpage [for the 2024 Ryder cup]. I’m looking forward to it.’’

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