What a difference a day makes.
After another day at Oak Hill the consensus, talking with players, caddies, volunteers, and other media was resounding: This PGA Championship is setting up to be very, very interesting.
The winds were blowing 15-25 mph consistently through the late-morning and afternoon at Oak Hill. Watching the players move through their practice rounds- it was clear the course was giving some more than they anticipated. I counted around three dozen times where players hit shots, paused, looked at their caddies or team members walking alongside, and utter some synonym of the word ‘wow’.
It first dawned on me watching tee shots off #8 around 10 a.m. We had been on the course for a couple hours, but the wind, if there is any, gets really interesting at that corner of the property. You’re tucked away a bit, so you don’t feel the breeze, but tee shots on this 429 yard par 4 ballooned. We watched about 16 players come through, and only about 20% hit the fairway on their first attempt.
Plenty fired second tee shots- often with a lower-flighted 3-wood.
But think about it this way: A 429 yard par 4 is not difficult to PGA Tour player standards. These guys are simply built different. That said, when your ‘easy’ holes are playing that difficult with a little bit of wind- it’s not hard to imagine a low scoring affair this weekend.
That leads to another point about Oak Hill course setup. Par 3s will be crucial in deciding the winner. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that whoever finds themselves in the top-5 on the back nine late-Sunday will have played the par 3s level or better.
Both #3 and #11 stand out as two holes that will make-or-break this PGA Championship for some players. They’re playing 230- and 245 yards respectively. On Monday, Matt Fitzpatrick joked that he hit a 3-wood into #3, which is elevated and protected by a series of the most intimidating bunkers on the course. On #11, which was playing a bit into that breeze today, players were missing short 20+ yards with regularity.
Tomorrow we’ll have a closer look at #15. There’s no good miss here, and even though it’s shorter- that doesn’t make it any less challenging. It’s one of the holes that was given a refresh since the last PGA Championship was held at Oak Hill.
What does it mean for Oak Hill?
There’s been a lot of discussion among golf media over the last two days about where Oak Hill sits in the future PGA Championship rotation. It seems now there’s growing consensus that Oak Hill could be on the outside-looking-in as the PGA tries to build its own brand, and introduce more courses from the southwest and southeast into the rotation.
This PGA Championship feels a lot like a US Open tryout. For the last few decades, the PGA Championship host rotation has been a list of ‘former’ US Open venues. Taking everything into account it feels, right now, like Oak Hill is on a trajectory toward scratching ‘former’ from its distinction.
Just look at the facts. The rough is thick, heavy, and punitive. Guys were struggling with it on Monday and Tuesday. Add more dew, growth, and sunlight over the next three days- and this weekend will be fascinating to watch. The green complexes and surrounds are some of the most challenging of any course these guys play. And most importantly, the greens have teeth. Even if players navigate everything else perfectly- there will surely be costly three putts.
And there’s still plenty of meat left on the bone. The rough could be longer and even heavier. The greens could be sped up even more. Especially if it were going to host a major one month later than it currently does. And those green surrounds aren’t going anywhere. They’re only made more difficult by longer rough and faster greens.
Final takeaway: If the weather is perfect this week, there’s a slight chance Oak Hill stays in the PGA Championship rotation. If there’s any kind of weather though, this becomes a preview of future US Opens with a tough course made even tougher by rain and/or wind.
Quick News & Notes
- Tee times have been released. There are some notable groupings in the mix. We’ll have a more in-depth look at that on Wednesday. But for now check the rundown out here.
- It looks like Jordan Spieth is playing. He was out practicing on Tuesday, and was announced as part of the 8:22 a.m. grouping for Thursday with Viktor Hovland and Shane Lowry.