Oak Hill Set to Test the Best

By Associated PressMay 21, 2008, 4:00 pm
PGA of AmericaROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Jeff Sluman, by his count, has played Oak Hill some 500 times, which should make him a surefire favorite entering this weekends Senior PGA Championship, right?
 
Think again.
 
Sluman isnt 25 any more, and Oak Hills renown and majestic tree-lined East Course has aged much better, maintaining its long-standing reputation as a place that can wear down anyone: the young, the experienced, the good and even the well-practiced.
 
Its just one of those courses that you think you can get, but you never do, said the 50-year-old Sluman, who grew up in Rochester and is a course member. I think that it doesnt lull you to sleep, but it just constantly puts pressure on every aspect of your game.
 
Sluman recounted being amused by Phil Mickelsons first impressions after Lefty opened the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill with a 4-under 66.
 
I cant get the quote perfect, but when Phil was here, he thought the course was pretty easy, Sluman said, before noting that Mickelson finished outside the top 20 (tied for 23rd). Oak Hill always has a way of getting back at you.
 
Then, as if on cue, the walls of the media tent shuddered after being buffeted by a heavy wind that should make Oak Hills 7,001-yard, par-70 tight and well-protected course an even nastier challenge for the field of 156 competing for the $2 million purse, of which $360,000 goes to the winner.
 
Add in a good chance of rain and a forecast high of 52'unseasonably cold even for upstate New York in May'for the first round Thursday, and it leaves some wondering what they might have got themselves into.
 
When I played here back in the 80s or whenever, it was a brutal golf course: And I could hit the ball pretty high and drive the ball very straight, said Greg Norman who, at 53, is making his Senior PGA Championship debut. So when you come to a golf course thats as tough as Oak Hill its going to be probably more mentally demanding now than it was back when we actually played the game very, very well.
 
Established at its current site in 1926, Oak Hill has hosted two PGA Championships, three U.S. Opens and the Ryder Cup in 1995. Out of the five combined majors played at Oak Hill, only 10 players have finished under par. And its a course thats earned its credentials, boasting such champions as Jack Nicklaus (1980 U.S. Open) and Lee Trevino (1968 U.S. Open).
 
Its a Donald Ross-designed course that Tiger Woods described as the best, fairest and toughest championship golf course Ive ever played. And that was after he finished the 2003 PGA Championship with an eye-popping 12-over 292.
 
And its a course that current Champions Tour money leader Bernhard Langer believes will hold up forever.
 
No matter how long the guys will hit it off the tee, it doesnt matter, said Langer, whos playing Oak Hill for the fourth time of his career. This course is very, very difficult.
 
Dont let the relatively short length or the fact that the course features only two par-5 holes fool you. Neither of the par-5s are reachable in two shots. And then there are the tight fairways lined by trees and dense rough'measuring 5 inches in some places'that demand both accuracy and length, followed by fast, sloped greens that can turn into adventures for anyone finding themselves above the hole.
 
Its everything, Langer said. Theres not one hole where I stand on the tee and I feel I have to make birdie here otherwise I lose half a shot to the field. Its a very tough test.
 
Langer, who counts two victories this season, is considered part of a group of favorites that includes Jay Haas, Tom Watson, Loren Roberts and Denis Watson, whos revived his game since winning last years Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C. Watson now counts four victories over the past year'one more than he won on the PGA Tour'and currently ranks third on the money list after finishing in a tie for fifth at the Regions Charity Classic last weekend.
 
For Sluman, 13th on the money list, he has only one objective entering this tournament'and thats to make the cut, something hes failed to do the two other times hes played Oak Hill as a professional.
 
I certainly feel I can play the golf course well, and if things go OK, you never know, Sluman said. You just have to wait until Sunday.
 
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