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.
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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm