The 94th PGA Championship will take place this week in South Carolina, at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course located on a 10-mile barrier island that was host to the 1991 Ryder Cup’s “War by the Shore.” In fact, the Ocean course is 2.5 miles long and only 500 yards wide. This course is said to have more Oceanside holes than any other in the North America. Besides the ocean as its primary feature, the famous Pete Dye layout weaves in and out of natural marshes and lagoons. For you TV viewers Kiawah promises some spectacular vistas.
The PGA Championship scorecard shows the Ocean Course playing a robust 7,676 yards, the longest venue in major championship history. Although more than 60 teeing grounds will afford Kerry Haigh, the man in charge of tournaments for the PGA, many options. The back nine at Kiawah is set to play 3,936 yards if Haigh follows the scorecard.
The 12th Hole is evidence of Kiawah’s versatility. It is 412 yards long, but look for the PGA to make it less than 300 yards one day during the championship. This will entice some players to try and drive the narrow green which is bordered by water on the right and protected by a deep swale in front.
The Senior PGA was played at the Ocean Course in 2007. Four of the final five holes were among the toughest that the players faced. When the Ryder Cup was played here in ’91, Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated scored the event Pete Dye 14 ½ and Rest of the World 13 ½.
Raymond Floyd who played on the U.S. team said, “If you had to play this course with a scorecard, I don’t see how you could finish.”
I had the privilege of walking and playing 18 holes with Dye at the Ocean Course last March during the PGA Championship Media Day. It’s definitely a test that could be very flunkable if the Atlantic winds howl. The Ocean Course it has been softened over the years and history always dictates that some player will find a way to conquer the beast.
Kiawah features a ton of bunkers, none of which will be played as bunkers. In late June the PGA of America made the decision to treat all sand (except in water hazards) as “through the green.” Our Rules Committee noted that because of the unique topography and the number of natural sandy areas on the course, there would be no bunkers. This means players can take practice swings in the bunkers and ground their clubs in all sandy areas outside of the water hazards.
This will be the first time in golf’s major championship history that this has been done. We are clearly trying to avoid the same situation that took place in 2010 at Whistling Straits when Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole and wound up being penalized, thus missing a playoff for the PGA Championship.
Rule 33-8b allows the PGA to do this. It states that a local rule can modify a rule of golf “if abnormal conditions interfere with proper playing conditions of the game.” So, for the PGA Championship, the silica material in the bunkers will not be considered sand. However, players will not be able to take relief from a plugged lie in the sand or a foot print.
The PGA Championship is marketed as “Glory’s Last Shot” because it is the final major of the year and players will have to wait until The Masters next April to have another crack at a title of this magnitude. Many in golf consider the PGA to be the fourth of the four majors behind The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
“If you polled every PGA Tour player to identify, beside the other majors, a tournament they would rather win than the PGA, you wouldn’t find one,” says Geoff Ogilvy, two-time U.S. Open champ. “The PGA is clearly in the top four. And it should be happy to be part of the elite group. Trying to move up is not a battle really worth fighting.”
Year in and year out, the PGA has the strongest field in golf. This year the top 108 players in the World Rankings will be at Kiawah. One unique component to the PGA field is the 20 PGA club professionals who earned a spot based on their finish in June’s PGA Professional National Championship.
The PGA has provided some of the most exciting finishes among the major championships. In recent years, Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a 2011 playoff at the Atlanta Athletic Club. In 2010, it was Martin Kaymer beating Bubba Watson in a playoff at Whistling Straits. Y.E. Yang became the first Asian born PGA Champion when he took out Tiger Woods at Hazeltine. It was the only major that Woods has ever lost when leading after 54 holes.
Jack Nicklaus won five PGA Championships. Walter Hagen also won the PGA five times including four in a row from 1924-27. His win in 1924 came at French Lick. Tiger Woods is a four-time champion. Of course, John Daly hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy on Hoosier soil in 1991 at Crooked Stick. This tournament was a match play event until 1958 when Lionel Hebert won. His brother, Jay, grabbed the PGA title two years later in 1960.
This is a Ryder Cup year, so adding to the drama this week will be the fact that the top eight point winners after Sunday night earn an automatic spot on Captain Davis Love III’s team in September at Medinah. As is the case with all majors during a Ryder Cup year, the points are doubled this week. This week’s PGA Champion will almost certainly secure a spot on the team.
Besides the $1.4 million first place pay out, there is a lot at stake this week at Kiawah. Over the last couple of decades the PGA has produced some unheralded and surprising winners including Daly, Mark Brooks, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Yang and Bradley.
I have been bad at predictions this year. Kiawah will be a stiff test and I don’t see a fluke winner. That doesn’t mean that an unknown player won’t put solid rounds together and win. But, with everything at stake including a Ryder Cup berth, I like experience.
Tiger has played well in the majors this year and he is primed to finish one off. Rory McIlroy says that he discovered something in his swing in the last couple of weeks. Steve Stricker finished Sunday’s WGC event with four birdies in the last five holes. A year ago, Stricker was #5 on Tour in putting and this year was #85 heading into last week. I liked what I saw from him late Sunday at Firestone. He’s my man.