Sep
14
2011
Behind the Scenes at the BMW Championship, Pre-Tourney Edition
By Stephanie Wei under Behind the Scenes

Ugh, another one of these exasperating bunkers!

Hello from Cog Hill! This is my first time at the tournament, but it made a great impression right away — it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day when I arrived in the Chicago area Tuesday. You know, 75-80 degrees, clear skies, no humidity. Then I pulled up to the golf course and, to my delight, discovered media parking was conveniently located near the clubhouse (which has become a major factor when assessing “WUP’s favorite tour stops.” Just kidding…kinda). Two for two so far!

Unfortunately, Wednesday’s been a different story with the weather. We expected temperatures to cool down, but I wasn’t expecting the rain, especially since it was clear and sunny this morning. Anyway, enough about the weather.

Here are some highlights/tidbits from Tuesday and Wednesday…

*As I’ve mentioned in the past, Tuesday is my favorite day of the week when covering a tournament and perfect for scoping out unfamiliar territory. Unfortunately, first thing that came to mind about the BMW was the complaints on Rees Jones’ redesign. (Refresher, exhibit A: “I am going to echo what Zach Johnson told me,” (Stewart) Cink told a few reporters after his second-round 73. “That on a scale of one to 10, this course is a minus-3.”) So I wanted to see the course for myself. I walked Nos. 1-4 with Ryan Palmer and Chad Campbell during their practice round and then caught Steve Marino, Spencer Levin and David Toms on No. 9.

Just my observations from the brief glimpse and picking a few brains…on the first hole, right away I noticed the severity of the plentiful fairway bunkers. Basically, you’re screwed if you drive it in one because you probably won’t be able to hit enough club to reach the green since the par-4s are so long. Greens are also surrounded by a generous number of bunkers.

*Might just be me, but the tee shots didn’t fit my eye — it’s different for everyone, obviously. The holes were pretty straightaway, but the angles from the tee boxes seemed awkward from where I was standing. Which makes the course even more demanding (or annoying) off the tee because the fairways are pretty tight (though the rough isn’t thick, you have to set yourself up in the right position for your approach).

*Greens are severe and partitioned so you have to hit it in the right spot. Steve Stricker mentioned in his presser that some pin locations were unattainable when the course is playing firm and fast. They were rather receptive yesterday, and with the rain today and the forecast for the rest of the week, conditions will be mild.

*Penal. You WILL be punished if you hit the ball in a poor spot, so the “rescue shot” doesn’t come into play.

*One-dimensional — gotta play the ball in the air, not a lot of room for imagination and shot-making.

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I chatted with Hunter Mahan on Tuesday afternoon. Per the request of Dave Tindall, here are some highlights (and quotes)…

*As you may have heard, the course is in great shape — better than last year when there was a heat wave. Asked about this year’s pristine conditions, Hunter, who hadn’t played the course yet, said, “I don’t think the course condition was the issue last year, but…we’ll see how it is…”

*”(The redesign) is kind of odd. Unfortunately, I don’t think it became a major championship golf course overnight with the changes they made. It’s a good golf course and it’s fun to play, but there are no bailouts. Everything is surrounded by bunkers, so you have to work on your bunker game.

*”Last year I didn’t feel like I chipped any — I was just hitting bunker shots. You kind of have to focus your attention on that because you’re going to be in a lot of them. The sand is really grainy…and kind of funky. There are just no bailouts anywhere. There are no run-ups. They cut some things off.

“No one minds bunker fairways but you kind of want to be able to stand in it and hit a shot out of it. It’s kind of a challenge to hit out of them and it’s a one-shot penalty. It’s just kinda silly.”

*Great news is from what I saw at The Barclays, Hunter’s bunker game is pretty excellent. He agreed: “I feel confident on my bunker game so that’s good.”

*Hunter, who is 18th in FEC points and has locked his spot in the Tour Championship, has a go-for-broke outlook on the week: “With the way the points are, you have to get a top ten or you’re not really going to move up that much. I was 30th, 20th in the last two tournaments and I wasn’t moving backward but I wasn’t moving forward. I feel like if you’re outside the top ten in points, you gotta play more aggressive and try to make birdies. It doesn’t do you any good to make pars. If you’re making bogey, it’s not going to be that bad…you just need to make a bunch of birdies.

“I feel like my mindset for the next two weeks is to make as many birdies as I can and be aggressive when it’s there because it doesn’t do you any good to finish 20th. There’s nothing to lose. You want to be aggressive and give yourself a chance. Playing safe, making pars . It just doesn’t help you at all.”

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PGA champ Keegan Bradley, who missed the last two cuts, will safely make it to the Tour Championship, but he’s looking forward to this week after a much-needed break. On missing the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a home game for him: “It was brutal, but I think I needed another couple of days off. I got to go home a little early and recharge…which was awesome.”

*As we know, he likes long and tough courses and doesn’t mind Rees Jones’ redesigns — i.e. Atlanta Athletic Club. “I loved (Cog Hill),” said Bradley. “I think it’s great. The greens are perfect. There are some funky shots, but it’s an old school course so that’s kinda how they are. I thought it was pretty good. It’s in real good shape.”

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And finally, some stray shots…

*On Tuesday Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Marc Leishman, Keegan Bradley, among others, attended the Autobahn Driving Experience and raced BMW cars at the track. Check out Ben Everill’s Twitter feed for behind-the-wheel videos and pictures. Also, apparently Jimmy Walker crashed his BMW, but didn’t suffer any injuries.

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*Olympian Grant Li of the USA Table Tennis National Team was on-site to challenge several PGA Tour players on Wednesday. In other words, Li gave the guys a whupping. Here’s a video of Jason Day having a hit with Li. Fredrik Jacobson, the best ping pong player on tour, managed to win the first set against Li (who was just warming up) before getting romped.

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*Entourage star Adrian Grenier, better known as “Vinny Chase,” was on-site Wednesday and played in the pro-am with Kyle Stanley.

That’s all for now. Oh, for a breakdown of FedExCup scenarios, go here.