Jul
28
2016
Behind-the-scenes preview of the 2016 PGA Championship
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

I am about to throw both my iPhone and Macbook against the wall or out of a moving car. Talk about a bad stretch to have all your technology start acting up. But this is not the time and place for me to vent about my #firstworldproblems. Well, I just kind of did. Again, I digress.

Alright, this is going to be a ton of information that I’ll be throwing out at you, but I wanted to get it all out there. I mean, I didn’t spend 12-14 hours a day at Baltusrol in the blistering heat the last three days to not share the info I collected — I’ve done plenty of that already this year! Let’s get this golf geek party started.


 

JUST FOR FUN

Too bad Nicolas Colsaerts didn’t particularly enjoy the PGA Tour… he’s called “The Dude” for a reason. He’s chill. (If you haven’t already, check out the interview/banter re: Long Drive Contest.)


 

BALTSUROL GOLF CLUB’S LOWER COURSE

I’m not going to get into too much detail of the historical significance of Baltusrol Golf Club’s Lower Course and the pedigree of champions its produced, but of course, we’ll touch on the basics that will make you sound like you know what you’re talking about if you want to impress your friends, boss and/or significant other. Baltusrol was designed by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast in 1925, but has been tinkered by Robert Trent Jones prior to the 1954 U.S. Open and more recently, by his son Rees Jones.

This week’s PGA Championship will mark the ninth major championship hosted by Baltusrol, which has been the site of seven U.S. Opens, two of which Jack Nicklaus captured, and of course, the 2005 PGA Championship, which Phil Mickelson claimed for his second major title. Mickelson famously tapped the plaque commemorating Nicklaus’ 1-iron on the 18th hole and then went on to make an unlikely birdie after finding deep rough on his approach.

I don’t know what the course looks like on TV and it’s definitely a classic course, but it’s not a track that you’d describe as having a ton of character. It’s one long par-4 after the next, throw in a long par-3 in between every now and again, then back to more long-pars before the pros finish with two par-5s, which are — you guessed it — long, especially no. 17, measuring at 650 yards, but reachable-in-two for the bombers who hit two quality golf shots.

While it may not be the most intriguing layout in the world, it is a tough and fair — which is a word used by every single pro I’ve spoken to when describing Baltusrol — test of golf. In other words, the average Tour player will not have much of anything negative to say about the track. They have acknowledged that many of the holes do look similar, but they appreciate that good golf shots are rewarded.

The Tour players also appreciate that the PGA doesn’t care about protecting par and generally don’t have any complaints about the course set-up. While Mickelson shot four-under to win in ’05, expect the winning score to be much, much lower this year. Many are predicting at least 8-10 shots better and several are throwing around 16- or 17-under. It also depends on the weather and if the thunderstorms and heavy rains (like the monsoon that blew through on Monday evening) will hold off through the weekend.

And the experience of playing the course probably wouldn’t be described as “fun,” it’s certainly a grind, with the length, but the fairways are relatively generous and the greens are pretty large. The rough is graduated and it is thick in certain places, but if you miss it outside the ropes, then that grass has all been patted down. Point is, if you hit an errant drive, make sure to miss it more than 10 yards off the fairway. (In a few YouTube videos, I’ve compiled my Snaps from Tuesday and Wednesday and I show the rough and it is honestly way less gnarly than it was when we played it a month ago for media day!)

While some were concerned with Jason Day seeing the golf course for the first time on Wednesday, it doesn’t seem like it would be as big of a deal as it might elsewhere. Baltusrol is a grind, but it’s straightforward and pretty much right in front of you. While the greens are guarded by bunkers, they’re generally to the side, so there’s room to run the ball up the front.

The key word just about everyone has uttered this week: “Bombers” — as in, big-hitters, like Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, J.B. Holmes, Tony Finau, Day, etc. Obviously, length is an advantage at *any* course and helps whenever you tee it up, but it seems to be a premium at Balty and while accuracy is also important, it’s not as big of a deal because the rough isn’t that thick and even if you do get a bad lie off the tee, bombers will likely be able to run the ball up with a short-iron to the green.

While it hasn’t been *as* emphasized as “bombers,” a solid putting week is a must because depending on the weather, there’s the possibility it’ll turn into a putting contest. Because of the heavy rains on Monday, the course played noticeably easier and way softer on Tuesday.

My picks? Favorite to win: Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.

I know, that’s not exactly rocket science, but Rory was striping the ball from what I saw in his practice round Tuesday. DJ finished T2 last week at the Canadian Open, despite putting woes. He hits the crap out of his driver and also extremely accurate, which gives him a huge advantage anywhere he tees it up.

Dark horses: Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedker, Tony Finau, J.B. Holmes.


What the players are saying about Baltusrol…

*Open Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson

I think it’s going to be a lot of 3-woods. It’s a course that you definitely want to play off the fairway. Off the tee, I think yardage-wise, it fits very well. It’s going to be a lot of 3-woods and 4-woods and the odd driver here and there.

It’s going to be aired a lot, and if it behaves like it normally does, I think that can put me in good position. It’s a course with a lot of par 4s and some of them a bit longer, and that should play into my strengths, which is mid- to long-irons. So I think it’s a good course for me…

…I played the front nine mid morning today, and as I said, there’s a lot of par 4s, a lot of emphasis on hitting fairways and greens. The greens are, with a gradient, with a slope on them, quite tricky if you get on the high side. Position your iron play and leave yourself uphill putts as much as possible and stay out of the rough and you’re going to have a good week.

*Danny Lee

This is worth a watch, but I apologize in advance if it’s hard to hear Danny. I am running a low-tech operation here! He is so funny without trying — kind of like Stenson in a way. He chats about his prank war with Rickie Fowler and the Olympics and trying to win “some medal,” among other topics.

“If you hit a good shot, you definitely get rewarded. Unlike at Oakmont, you hit a good drive, you roll into the rough. Fairways are sloped 45 degree side slope. You hit a good iron shot, you definitely get rewarded. It’s nothing like Oakmont or links golf. If you hit a good shot, it doesn’t screw you over.”

*Bill Haas

“It’s a great golf course.  You know, it just kind of par-4s you to death.  There’s only two par-5s on the last two, and the par3s are all 200 yards and good holes.  It’s not a course you can just  I don’t think you can run away with a bunch of birdies.  Now, I do think you can shoot 4 or 5under if you really play well, but you’d have to do some good things around here to shoot that.  You have to really drive the ball well.  Seems like if you’re off the fairway, the rough is penal enough that you’re not going to see many guys making birdies from off the fairway.”

“I think off the tee here.  I think the greens are big enough that iron play is not as important as off the tee in the fairway and then obviously making some putts…

“Every course is a bomber’s course.  That’s an advantage.  Certainly that helps them, but I think hitting the fairway, so I shorter hitter that hits fairways I think can play this course just as well.”

*Ernie Els

The best.

“I think premium, they’ve got pretty good driving holes.  You’ve got to go left to right and right to left really.  We keep saying it, but you’ve got to do it this week.  First is straight away, second is a draw, third is a draw, four is straight away, and then you’ve got five is a fade, six is a fade.  So you’ve got to move the ball.”

“The greens are quite big, but I think driving is really a premium…

“It’s not crazy rough.  It’s not as bad as U.S. Opens, but you’ve got to  to score you’re going to have to put it in the fairway.

*Dustin Johnson

“My first time playing Baltusrol was yesterday. And I like the golf course. I think it’s in really good shape. I feel like it sets up well for me. I mean, it’s pretty long. You’ve got to drive it straight. It’s definitely a premium on hitting the fairways. The rough’s pretty deep and thick. But I like the shape to the holes, the big greens with a lot of slope on them. This is a golf course that I like.

“I hit a lot of drivers. It’s par 70, but it’s quite long. I feel like I wear out my 8- and 9-iron on the par 4s. And then the par 3s are fairly long, too. I hit a lot of 5-irons it feels like.”

*Sergio Garcia

“At the end of the day, the most important thing, the way the course is playing and the way the rough is, driving the ball well is going to be important, because it’s going to give you a little extra going into some of these difficult greens.

So if I can manage to drive the ball well, then I can give myself some options, some looks at birdies, and you know, hopefully play the tough holes well.”

*Rory McIlroy 

“I think the PGA do a great job in choosing their venues. I feel like a lot of the courses that I’ve played in PGA Championships have been very fair. Everything is straight out in front of you. You don’t really need to trick it up much.

“So it’s a fair golf course. This week especially, I feel like everything’s — as I said, everything is straight out in front of you. There’s no real hidden secrets to it. And I feel that’s what really let’s me excel. I feel like I can play my game in PGA Championships. I can hit driver off the tee the most time, and from there, if I drive it well, I feel like I have a big advantage…

(Ed. note: Do I sense a dig at the USGA?)

“I think two big things this week. Driving, you’ve got to drive the ball well. It’s a long golf course for a par 70, and the two par 5s coming at the end of the course. You’ve got to drive the ball in the fairway, and pretty long, as well. Looking at the scorecard there, there’s a lot of par 4s that are sort of up in the 480-, 500-yard mark. You’ve got to drive it well.

“I think the greens are so big, as well. You’re going to see a lot of guys hit a lot of greens. I think lag putting is going to be a big thing. If you have good speed on the greens, I think that’s going to be a big help. So I think most weeks, if you drive it well and putt well, you’re going to do okay.”

*Kevin Na

“The bombers are going to have an advantage…”


 

 Sergio Garcia on winning a major (aka getting that monkey off his back)

Q. Given the number of majors you’ve played and how close you’ve got, the number of Top-10s and your consistency during your career, isn’t it crazy that you have not actually won one; is it hard for you to understand, as well? How do you resolve that in your own mind?
SERGIO GARCÍA: No, not anymore. Like I said before, maybe five or ten years ago, it would have. But not anymore. I understand how difficult it is to win every week. I always said it; it doesn’t matter if it’s a major. It doesn’t matter where it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the US, in Asia, in Europe, in Africa. It is tough to win.

Nowadays, there’s the level of play from guys coming up and everything, it’s so much higher than it used to be. So that is great for the game of golf, and you know, the only thing I can do is just, like I said, keep giving myself chances and just wait for it.

Hopefully it will happen. If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to change my life. I’m not going to go in a cave and you know kind of stay there until I die because I didn’t win a major or anything like that. It’s not that serious.

But it would be — I’m not going to lie; it would be nice to get at least one. But it’s not the end of the world.

 


BEEF GETS DEEP

“As a personality and stuff, just be yourself, man. Because like the more I’ve been myself, the more comfortable I’ve felt out on the golf course. The more I’ve just had fun and be me, the better I’ve played.

“So you’ve just got to be comfortable in who you are, what you do. Don’t be ashamed to be different or anything, you know, that’s you. And no matter who you are, where you are, where you’re from, people should embrace that, you know.

“Just feel comfortable and enjoy your golf, man, or whatever you do.”

Legend.