Aug 05, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Stars of the game march down the fairways, and thousands follow them, looking for any glimpse of their golfing heroes on a grand and historic stage.
It’s Oak Hill, it’s the PGA Championship – and it’s just Monday morning.
In the suburbs of Rochester, forces are gathering at the grand old Donald Ross masterpiece for a memorable final major of the 2013 season. And they’re welcomed on Monday by bright sunshine and pleasant temperatures, which should not vary too much during the week, though some rain might show up early in the tournament.
Through the major season, the cast of characters remains basically the same, with old champions present at Augusta and unknown qualifiers filling the fields at both Opens, plus 20 club professionals that get to live their dream here at the PGA.
Always, though, the starring role is saved for the course itself. Oak Hill’s East course has seen it all – the PGA and U.S. Open three times each, a Ryder Cup, two U.S. Amateurs, a U.S. Senior Open and a Senior PGA. Every great golfer of the last 75 years has given Oak Hill a try.
And what will the current pros find in the 2013 edition of the PGA? Well, here’s a hole-by-hole description of Oak Hill, both its challenges and opportunities…
1st Hole – Once a real bear, now it’s as gentle a 460-yard start as you could want. So long as you can keep that tee shot in the shadow of Oak Hill’s clubhouse out of the Kentucky bluegrass rough, it should bound 20 to 30 extra yards just short of Allen’s Creek, leaving a wedge approach. A green with subtle breaks, but honest.
2nd Hole – The whole key on this 401-yard hole that wanders left will be the green. Just about everyone will drive with iron or fairway metal to find short grass and avoid sand. Then the trick is to keep the ball below any hole location on a typical Ross crowned green with one of the most severe tilts on the course. Played right, a real birdie chance early.
3rd Hole – This, on the other hand, is not a birdie hole. at 214 yards, it’s all the par-three you want. Go long, and the chip down the hill is brutal. Land short, and a false front will propel the ball down 20 yards or more. Much better to be in the sand if you miss the green. Simple here – find the green, accept par every time. Anything less is a bonus.
4th Hole – The shorter of the two par-fives, but it still traverses 570 yards and bends twice before reaching a tiered green that, again, is toughest on top. The tee shot dictates the game plan – either try to go over two gaping bunkers on the right to try and get home in two, or go left of them, lay up and still have a good birdie chance.
5th Hole – Nothing tough here, just 428 yards that includes Allen’s Creek close-up off the tee to the right, heavy rough and a bunker to the left, and an approach over that same creek to a green with a shaved bank, so anything short could get wet. Accuracy first, caution second. Better to be long on the second shot, even if it means a difficult two-putt. It beats the soggy alternative.
6th Hole – Just as at 5, they’ve shaved the bank on this 175-yard beauty. The green has distinct tiers. When the hole is right, a bunker must be carried. When it’s left, balls can feed off the slope close (like that ’89 U.S. Open and its four aces), but just a few feet too far left, and it’s a slow, painful trip to Allen’s Creek. You could get anything from 1 to 6 here.
7th Hole – Maybe the toughest par-four on the front. Stretching out 461 yards, Allen’s Creek again intrudes on the right, and a 20-yard-wide fairway means going left isn’t much fun, either. More difficult is the second shot, for the green is tiny and, again, crowned. Going long is not recommended. Most days, par is quite welcome here.
8th Hole – All a player really needs to do on this 428-yard hole is avoid a drive that drifts left into a pair of fairway traps. Otherwise, there’s room to rip it within wedge range and put it close. As with the 1st hole, the green’s breaks are subtle and not immediately obvious, and must be respected, but this is the best chance for a red number since the 4th.
9th Hole – They turn going 452 yards to a fairway that slopes left toward rough. Better to go there, though, than to hit one right into a valley where all a player can do is chip out. The same warning applies up at the green, where it’s far better to miss it right, and be uphill, than to go left and face a tiny chance at recovery.
10th Hole – To kick off the back nine, it’s an underrated 429-yard gem. Whether a driver or something less is used, the fairway is narrow (again) and could kick a ball toward bunkers or rough. Then, though a short iron is used for the approach, the tiered green forces a player to either be safe below the cup, or aggressive for a birdie and risk something much worse.
11th Hole – What was once a tame par-three is now 226 yards, usually into the wind. With a mid-iron or even a hybrid, golfers will try and avoid four bunkers that surround the green. However, the putting surface is not as tilted as the 3rd, so anything that hits the green offers reasonable birdie chances, and recoveries for par shouldn’t be too taxing, either.
12th Hole – Just 372 yards, but not even the longest pros can drive this green because it sits atop a steep hillside. Yet it’s still advantageous to go long because the fairway widens beyond the landing area for irons. Oh, and this is also one of Oak Hill’s best greens, narrow and very quick for anyone who gets above the cup.
13th Hole – Will it happen? Will someone reach this 598-yard par-five in two? It’s never been done in tournament play because Allen’s Creek shows up at the 300-yard mark, forcing most everyone to hit short of it, and then lay up before ascending the “Hill of Fame” to a small, severe green amid a beautiful natural amphitheater next to the clubhouse where thousands will roar.
14th Hole – Every great course has, or should have, a hole like this. Just 323 yards, and the temptation will come for most of the field to drive the green, for laying up short leaves you a blind approach over three bunkers straight uphill to another tiny green. Like with other holes at Oak Hill, it’s much better to be below the hole. Could prove a major turning point on Sunday.
15th Hole – There’s little choice on this last par three, covering 181 yards. It’s hit the green, no matter where the hole is cut, and the narrowness of the putting surface creates real drama. Left are bunkers, so it could be easy to bury a tee shot. Right is a pond. And fans can vote on where they want to put the hole Sunday. Wild guess – they’ll want it next to the drink.
16th Hole – The last birdie chance. At 439 yards, the players get a break because the fairway has some actual room to it, and will also roll for a while if struck pure. Then the green is one of Oak Hill’s most generous and straightforward. In majors past, winners got key birdies here, almost as if they knew that nothing good awaited them at the end.
17th Hole – For the members and other mortals, a par five. For the players this week, a little par four of 509 yards. Go right, and your approach is blocked by trees, even in the fairway. Go left, and there’s healthy rough and no chance to get home. And then the green has multiple tiers and breaks. Par here all four days and you’re way ahead of the field.
18th Hole – Now the finale is stretched out to 497 yards. Bunkers right and rough left, and then a long approach that is all carry to a narrow green protected by a steep incline. Short or long is almost a certain bogey. Of course, you can do what Shaun Micheel did 10 years ago and hit a seven-iron to two inches to clinch the Wanamaker. That would work.
Tomorrow: Sizing up the main contenders