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.
Getty Images

Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

Getty Images

Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

Getty Images

5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

Getty Images

Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”