Size does matter on monster course
Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2009 6:01 pm
By: By NANCY ARMOUR, AP National Writer
CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — The fans stopped at the crosswalk on No. 3 and pulled out their course maps.
“It’s 633 yards,” one said.
“Wow,” the other said, pausing as he looked left and right, unable to see either tee or green. “This is a monster.”
And that’s not even the longest hole at Hazeltine National, home of this year’s PGA Championship.
“Looking forward to playing a major one day that does not promote itself as the longest ever,” Geoff Ogilvy said on Twitter.
Good luck with that.
Ever since the green jackets “Tiger proofed” Augusta National, lengthening a course has become the easiest way to make a major tougher. Sure, you can plant a few trees, let the rough grow as thick as shag carpet and roll the greens so they’re as slick as ice.
But if you really want to rein in Tiger, Phil, Bubba and the rest of the gang, though, the simplest thing to do is add yardage.
Lots of it.
Hazeltine measured what now seems like a quaint 7,360 yards the last time it hosted the PGA, just seven years ago. Now it’s a whopping 7,674 yards, the longest course in major championship history. An extra 314 yards might not seem like much, but consider that’s an entire par 3 hole.
“I hope Mr. Jones doesn’t take this offensively, but I think Mr. Jones went down to every tee box and looked down every fairway and turned around 180 degrees and just started walking,” 2002 champion Rich Beem said, referring to architect Rees Jones, who had a hand in the changes.
“This thing is just long. I mean, it’s just excessively long, and it’s nowhere near the same golf course that it was. But it’s the state of the modern game, I guess.”
And, let’s be honest, guys will still find ways to get birdies. They always do. Back when Whistling Straits started the supersize movement — 7,514 yards for the ’04 PGA — several players said they’d take even par for the week and wait in the clubhouse. Then Darren Clarke goes out and shoots a 65 on Thursday.
Most of Hazeltine National’s new length comes on the par 5s, three of which are 600 yards or longer. The thinking is that No. 7, at “only” 572 yards, will be the lone par 5 that players can still reach in two. Only Alvaro Quiros managed to reach the 15th hole (642 yards) with a driver and a 5-wood during a practice round Wednesday.
On Tuesday, marshals on No. 3 said someone reached the green in two — from the traps on the left side, no less.
“I don’t think the length is such a big deal from what it’s been made out to be,” defending champion Padraig Harrington said. “I think major golf courses need to have this length. Since Augusta lengthened the golf course, it’s become a better golf course. It has more options.”
And it can create more excitement for fans, Phil Mickelson said.
“My strategy or belief (is) that the tour, the tournaments, should make the hard holes harder and the easy holes easier, because people want to see birdies and they want to see bogeys,” Mickelson said. “And when you take a hard hole like (par-3) 13 and you move the tee back to where it’s 250 or 260 yards, you’re going to see a lot of bogeys and doubles.
“That gives the better players a chance to make up ground to separate themselves through making par.”
Of course, barring any dramatic weather, all this attention to the course will fade as soon as the first ball is hit Thursday.
Most eyes are on Woods, who won last week at Bridgestone. It was the fifth victory this season for the world’s No. 1 player, but not one of them is the kind he really likes. He’s won at least one major the last four seasons — two shy of Water Hagen’s record — but he’s running out of time.
Then again, he can play this course a little. He closed with four straight birdies seven years ago to finish one shot behind Beem. A victory this week would be his fifth at the PGA Championship, tying him with Jack Nicklaus and Hagen.
Don’t count out Harrington, though. He showed last weekend that he’s getting back to his old self with a spirited duel with Woods. And Mickelson would like nothing more than to end his year on a high note after a turbulent summer in which both his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I’m fresh, ready to go,” Mickelson said. “I’m working hard on my game because I’m excited to get back into it.”