Editor’s note: This is part four of a four part series previewing the 2015 PGA Championship by Matt Craig and Torey Fox. Torey will be on-site at Whistling Straights for the week and Matt as always will be glued to his TV.
All photographs in this post were taken by Torey Fox himself
Fairways, Targets key to PGA Success
I’m not going to shock anyone with my assessment of Whistling Straits after today’s second day of practice rounds.
The Straits Course? It’s hard.
Despite my earth-shattering analysis, 156 of the world’s best will attempt to make this course look much easier when they begin play early Thursday up here in Kohler, Wisconsin for the 97th PGA Championship.
To me, the Straits course in general is a blend of an American and European-style course. The tee boxes, fairways, and greens are plush and cut beautifully, giving it an American golf course feel. However, the man-made hills, hundreds of bunkers, and backdrop of Lake Michigan make this Wisconsin-destination look similar to some of the courses you see for the Open Championship or Ryder Cup when played in Europe.
The biggest thing that you will notice beginning on Thursday is the rolling hills and undulation. I guarantee that the television cameras will not do Whistling Straits justice, but trust me, there are very few places on the course where the ground and surrounding area feels very flat. Plus, each hole is seemingly sectioned off by hills and bunkers. If you’re physically at the course, you’ll be able to see what’s to the front and side of you, but you probably won’t be able to see what’s behind you because you will look into the side of a hill or even Lake Michigan.
This may appear as a negative on paper, but in actuality it is not. This layout gives each hole a defined character and its own stadium-like feel, typically absent from most professional golf courses. For most of the holes, fans will be looking down on their favorite golfers because of the elevation which is certain to add yet another layer of pressure to this major championship.
As for the strategy behind going low on the Straits course, you cannot afford to stray off the beaten path. The course, while playing long at 7500 yards, is about targets. Off the tee, there is very little room for error due in large part to the proximity of the bunkers and the fans. To me, the ropes are only about 10-15 yards off of each fairway and sometimes, they literally run through bunkers and walking paths. It’s very conceivable that a golfer could go right or left off the tee by an “ok” margin, but actually end up in hazards or walking areas that are technically outside the ropes.
Simply put, any missed tee shot at Whistling Straits will force a golfer to change his scoring strategy. A second or third shot out of a bunker will not result in a birdie. With the uphill and downhill lies and the potential of playing balls out of footprints, a golfer will have to bite the bullet and try to salvage par when forced to play from the sand more times than not.
Lastly, let me stress that fatigue is definitely going to be a factor when determining a PGA Champion this Sunday. Whistling Straits is hilly, it’s long, and it’s very spread out. Yes, golfers are well-trained and won’t have to face brutally hot temperatures, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a tough hike and that’s assuming you don’t have to crawl down into bunkers, climb up hills, or have to lug it back to re-tee on multiple occasions. This golf course makes you work physically and mentally and at some point this weekend, its going to catch up to every player.
In all, Whistling Straits will separate the best from the very best this weekend. Yes, all professional golf courses do that, especially major championship courses, but I think there is something different about this one in particular. It’s common enough that it won’t scare anybody, but its unique enough that it could snatch a trophy away at the last second.
Personally, I think guys will be able to score, especially if they are driving the ball well. The greens didn’t look impossible per se, so expect some roars from the crowd as putts drop.
When it comes down to it though, the intimidation factor at this course comes from the center of the fairway…back. I’m excited to see who can overcome that intimidation and ultimately hoist the Wanamaker Trophy Sunday night.