Jury Still Out on Whistling Straits

By John HawkinsAugust 14, 2010, 2:26 am
2010 PGA ChampionshipSHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Forget everything you might have heard about this week’s PGA Championship being played in the middle of Nowhere. It’s actually 20 or 30 miles outside Nowhere’s northernmost suburb, and as irony would have it, beautifully ensconced in the heart of America’s Dairyland. As you travel the one-lane roads that lead to Whistling Straits, it’s like someone dropped you in the middle of an old John Mellencamp video.

Optically, the golf course is even more stunning on site than it looks on TV, which doesn’t do justice to the elevation changes and jagged terrain. Competitively, Pete Dye’s visual masterpiece hasn’t proven to be nearly the ogre many thought it would be. 'These Guys Are Good,' especially in sticky, motionless summer air, which has rendered the greens soft and vulnerable. The early leaderboard has produced a nice mix of big hitters and control players, and for the most part, tour pros seem to like the place.
Tiger Woods
Whistling Straits is hosting the PGA Championship for the second time. (Getty Images)
This is no small feat in a world where half the population despises everything. While chatting with Jim Furyk during Thursday’s fog delay, he acknowledged that he was a fan of Whistling Straits, even if the venue’s characteristics don’t necessarily favor his style of play. Because most of the fairways are abnormally spacious, those who are deadly accurate with the driver find their greatest asset neutralized. A 15 handicap could lose 10 balls on the front nine alone. If you have some idea where you’re hitting it, however, you will find your ball in a spots that allows for an aggressive approach.

Not that you care, but I’ve played Whistling Straits four times on two separate visits, the first with owner Herb Kohler on an absolutely perfect August day; the second time a few years later in October, when we were greeted by snow flurries on the walk down the first fairway. To say the course is a pussycat in a light breeze would be a stretch, but in a three-club wind and temperatures in the 30s, it becomes a four-letter word for unplayable.

It is easy to understand why the PGA of America has adopted Whistling Straits as its northern version of Valhalla – a course with decent credentials, not stellar, but a frequent host to big events nonetheless. Kohler is a man with an intense passion for the game and considerable influence among its decision makers. Just as significantly, his project was conceived and constructed in the second half of the 1990s, when the PGA and USGA simultaneously began searching for new places to stage their flagship tournaments.

Whistling Straits was on the short list of potential U.S. Open candidates, but the PGA moved swiftly and decisively in luring Kohler, who had to choose one major or the other – that’s how the game works. At the time, there was no telling whether Dye’s lakefront beauty was even suitable for holding a major. The property you see now was a complete and unabashed vision of Dye’s imagination, shaped and bulldozed beyond recognition, and thus, the ground was extremely unsettled in its infancy.

Not that it mattered. In the 1990s, as is the case now, it’s not whether you have a great finishing hole or an architect of widespread critical acclaim, but enough room for parking and a massive merchandise tent. You need ample space for hospitality tents and whatever other revenue sources you can conjure, because pro golf is a business thinly disguised as a sport. That’s not a sin, just a fact.

The funny thing is, Whistling Straits is not a great spectator venue. A number of patrons suffered broken legs while walking in the dry fescue when the PGA Championship debuted here in 2004. The mounding and sheer size of the course eliminate the roar factor so prominent at, say, Augusta National – the folks sitting near the 15th green hear the reaction to an eagle on the 13th as if it were happening 10 feet away. Such factors contribute to an ideal major-championship atmosphere, which makes the experience of attending such an event all the more exhilarating.

Is ambiance a necessity? Of course not, and if Whistling Straits is a lot more sprawling than cozy, golf tournaments in the Midwest generate a positive energy and excitement you just don’t find in other parts of the country. These people love their golf and glow with pride in the national spotlight. Hazeltine, Medinah, Valhalla, Whistling Straits – nine of the last 12 PGAs have been held in the central portion of the United States, including each of the last five. If the U.S. Open overdoses on venues near New York City, Glory’s Last Shot has migrated to the Midwest.

Some venues are better than others, however, which takes us back to the one we’re at now. I’ve talked to several caddies who spend their summers looping at Whistling Straits, all of whom quickly note its spectacular visual appeal but aren’t terribly fond of the design nuances. Dye has never built courses to win popularity contests, but this particular creation, perhaps more than any other, was accorded “spectacular” status long before it proved worthy of such praise.

I’m just saying the jury’s still out. And might be for a while.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

Any serious golfer who walks the grounds at Oakmont or Shinnecock is likely to notice the medley of nuances that add up to a brilliant layout – a sensible, simplistic brilliance that emphasizes strategically sound golf. I’m not sure Whistling Straits has that gear, and from a wide-angle perspective, it leaves me to believe this week’s PGA won’t fully showcase the wide variety of skills characteristic of the world’s best players.

Louis Oosterhuizen won the British Open going away, and though he was a no-name winner, his exceptional play left no doubt as to the identity of the best player that week. St. Andrews is the ultimate competitive canvas – carve 18 holes in a sandlot and see who ends up with the lowest score. Graeme McDowell’s U.S. Open triumph came about partially through the mistakes of others, but he was the best down the stretch, clearly the most fit for the task of handling the elements that define the challenge of completing a successful final round.

As someone lucky enough to be here, on someone else’s dime, no less, who wins doesn’t matter as much as how he does it. From there, I’m not asking for a whole lot. Just a memorable performance full of great shotmaking, a hero emerging from a plot drenched in mesmerizing suspense. You can marvel the incredible landscape. I’m searching for a competitive landmark.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.