For so long, it seemed, the PGA Championship struggled for an identity that set it apart from the other majors.
Then, at the turn of the century, the players came up with an answer.
They made it the most exciting major championship in golf.
In ’99, we crept closer to our televisions for a better look with Tiger Woods holding off Sergio Garcia at Medinah. In 2000, we were riveted watching Woods beat Bob May in a playoff at Valhalla. In ’02, it was Rich Beem holding off Woods, who closed with four consecutive birdies at Hazeltine. In ’03, Shaun Micheel hit that spectacular final shot to win at Oak Hill and in ’04 Vijay Singh won in a playoff at Whistling Straits . . . The theme carried into last year, with Y.E. Yang’s memorable finish in upsetting Woods at Hazeltine.
Through it all, there’s a common denominator. There’s Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s managing director of championships, the man in charge of course setups.
In a Quick Round, Haigh talks about course setup and the PGA Championship’s return to Whistling Straits in two weeks:
The PGA Championship has a reputation as the fairest major championship. What’s your philosophy in course setups?
We look at the golf course playing the way the architect intended it to play. For us, it involves not being a part of the story, letting the golf course and players who are the PGA Championship be the stars of the show.
From a philosophical standpoint, it’s about making the course as challenging and as fair as it can be so the players are challenged both mentally and physically, so they are able to show their skills. As a general philosophy, that is our aim. Every day, every round, you have to be very careful and consider all the factors that will come into play.
With the PGA Championship just two weeks away, how is Whistling Straits shaping up?
Overall, the course is in excellent condition, though we had an awful lot of rain over the past weekend, but we’ve got a few days of drying weather.
A lot of rain isn’t good for the way you want those fescue grasses to look and play, is it? Even the fairways are fescue at Whistling Straits. Aren’t they supposed to have a brownish hue and play firm and fast? Will we see that?
There are fescue grasses on the fairways. They continue to mature and improve. Ideally, they are meant to play a little firm, but obviously Mother Nature has a big bearing on how the course plays, as it always does. With the 4 or 5 inches of rain we had last weekend, they wouldn’t be as firm as we would like, but we have two weeks to go and we are optimistic the weather will pick up and dry out. The course plays better with a little bounce in it, but you don’t want it bone hard.
Will we be looking at penal, chop-out rough or the kind of rough that will entice players to try to go at the greens?
As it was in ’04, the intent is to allow the players to play out of the fescue rough. It is quite long, and again, a lot depends on how much it dries, or how wet it is down in the roots. In ’04, it did dry out a little bit, which helped it play well and allowed the players to play shots out of it, but with very little control over how the ball would react from it. That’s certainly our aim in the planning again. The rough will be 4 to 6 inches, depending how dry it is down in the base of it.
Architect Pete Dye and Whistling Straits founder Herb Kohler changed the 18th hole, creating a risk-reward element to the final hole that wasn’t there in ’04. This 500-yard par 4 now opens up left with a shortcut to the dogleg, but it’s a high-risk play with a nearly 300-yard carry over bunkers to a narrowing fairway. There are multiple tees. Will you bring that new element of the design into play?
We certainly are not opposed to what they’ve done. Pete’s created that avenue down which players could go if they so choose, but to get there, it’s a significant carry. That (part of the fairway) is pretty narrow and has challenges on both sides if you were to miss. In all honesty, it’s a high-risk shot. But we’ll see in the practice rounds, how players do.
As I understand it, depending on the wind, a player could have as much a 5-iron or 6-iron into the green playing safe on the right but only a wedge taking the short cut because there’s a downhill kick. You can dictate how tempting an option the shortcut is by choosing the forward tee boxes, correct?
There are two tees down there that we are planning on using, both are lower tees. It is somewhere near a 300-yard carry from the back of the first tee and probably 270 or 265 from the front of the second tee. So much of Whistling Straits depends on the wind and the strength of the wind. In truth, it’s the wind that makes it so challenging, along with everything else.
The wind’s not so predictable off Lake Michigan, is it?
The wind has been known to change directions, not only day to day but in the same day. I’ve been there when the wind switches from off the lake to into the lake. So that, as much as anything, will be the biggest factor on how the golf course plays and how each hole plays. We will do our best to listen to the weather forecast each morning and go out and set up accordingly.
There’s another big change from ’04 at the sixth hole, a short and drive-able par 4. Dye moved the bunker in front of that green so it now runs up into the middle of the green. Will you use forward trees to tempt players to try to drive the green?
In 04, we played it as a drive-able par 4 on two, if not three, of the days, if I remember rightly. Certainly, the bunker that is now there, and almost in the middle of the green, is a very interesting addition to the hole. It’s an extremely deep and extremely penal bunker if you are in it. It certainly makes you think on the tee how you want to play. Last time there, the hole clearly played differently with left-hand hole locations as opposed to the right-hand hole locations. We plan to split it up a couple times. The left-hand side is more appealing for players to go for the green. How players will play it pretty much is determined on where the hole locations are.