Hazeltine long but doesnt discount short hitter

By Rex HoggardAugust 10, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 PGA ChampionshipKerry Haigh is a measured man by passport. Born in Doncaster, England, taught the ways of the ancient game as an accomplished junior who competed against the likes of Nick Faldo, Haigh is not prone to hyperbole.
 
So when he was asked his thoughts on Hazeltine National, site of this weeks PGA Championship, the PGA of Americas top setup man did not gush nor apologize: Its always been a long golf course, he said simply.
 
Long indeed. One of the longest tracks in major championship history at 7,674 yards received a B-12 shot of even more real estate when Open Doctor Rees Jones wedged what essentially is an additional par 4 (319 yards) into the layout for this years PGA.
 
Tiger Woods practices at Hazeltine Monday
Tiger Woods practices Monday at Hazeltine National. (Getty Images).
With three par 5s that will measure over 600 yards and a par 3, the unlucky 13th, that can be played at 248 yards, Hazeltine National has the required documentation to easily qualify as a big hitters ball park.
 
That, however, is where the knee-jerk classifications end.
 
While the card may scream bombers paradise history suggests the monster nestled amid the Minnesota farm country is a position golf course in bomb-and-gouge clothing.
 
Rich Beem, who would never be confused for one of the circuits long-hitting types, won the last major played at Hazeltine, the 2002 PGA, and Luke Donald, one of the Tours best fairways and greens players, took individual gold when the course hosted the 1999 NCAA Championship.
 
Its a typical Midwest course, Donald said. Lot of long irons out there, but its all right there in front of you.
 
If player anecdotes are any indication, Midwest must mean something approaching mundane. Hazeltine National lacks the visual cache and history of a Bethpage Black or Turnberry, site of the seasons other major championships, but narrows the quality gap with a no-nonsense layout that rewards solid play.
 
Asked his lasting impressions of the Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, one longtime Tour caddie of a top 10 Tour player mulled his answer for five minutes before admitting, I dont have any.
 
Moments, more so than memorable views, seem to stand out at Hazeltine National, like the towering 3-iron Tiger Woods holed during the delayed second round at the layouts par-4 16th in 2002.
 
That shot Tiger hit out of that bunker, it was one of the greatest shots of all time, said David Toms, who was paired with Woods at the 02 PGA. I thought hed hit something out just short of the green and he just nails it.
 
Beems impromptu victory shuffle on the 18th green is also a lasting image, but when the golf world gathers this week for Glorys Last Shot the signature logo should be a mileage marker considering the distance players will travel to claim the Wanamaker Trophy.
 
Among the biggest changes the club has made since 02 was an additional 43 yards added to the par-4 12th and 44 yards to the 13th, which will likely play from the tips (248 yards) and the forward tees (about 204 yards) during the championship.
 
The 18th has also been stretched to 475 yards and the tee has been moved back and into a small valley which will make the closing tee shot more demanding.
 
But all the additional real estate is window dressing to the great equalizer ' Mother Nature.
 
Thanks to nearly two months of no rain, Hazeltine National has a longer list of possible contenders than the yardage on the scorecard may suggest.
 
If you can get some roll and the golf course plays fast there are lot of guys who can compete, said Toms, the 2001 PGA champion and among the Tours shorter hitters. But if its soft that will eliminate half the field.
 
Haigh, ever the pragmatist, agrees that the weather, more so than his setup philosophy, will dictate the outcome, but the Englishman offers, at his measured best, some cautionary advice: There are lots of scoring opportunities but also plenty of trouble to be had as well.
 
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