- Clubbing Down
Early look at US PGA venue Oak HillWill TideyJuly 26, 2013
The majors come thick and fast this time of the year. In just two weeks' time, and with Phil Mickelson's Muirfield miracle still fresh in our minds, the world's best will be given "glory's last shot" at the US PGA Championship.
The venue for this year's PGA is Oak Hill Country Club, in Rochester, New York. It's an historic track that hosted its first major in 1956, when the US Open swung by with Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer in the field. Since then, two more US Opens, a US PGA and a Ryder Cup have added to its lore.
As ever with a PGA venue, it's going to make the players graft hard for par. Designed by legendary architect Donald Ross, Oak Hill's East Course was dubbed a "brutal test" by Tiger Woods after he lost out to Shaun Micheel at the 2003 US PGA Championship.
"The key is don't miss it one foot in the rough," Woods said. "And that's what I did a lot of times. I missed a chip barely in the rough and that's the worst part to be in."
The rough at Oak Hill was formidable in 2003. Phil Mickelson said it was "some of the toughest" he'd seen. It was made harder by the staff using rakes to thicken it - putting a premium on finding the narrow fairways and not going through the back of the greens.
Despite its punishing setup, the top players can't help but respect Oak Hill and what it stands for. Ernie Els called it "the best, fairest and toughest championship course I've ever played in all my years as a professional."
Woods agreed. "It's right there in front of you, he said. "It's just very tough."
Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1980 US Open at Oak Hill, unsurprisingly picked out Mickelson and Woods as possible winners next month, but stressed the nature of the course gives a lot of players a chance.
"Nobody has ever really chewed it apart, and it's one you've got to play smart on, but you've got to control your golf ball and you've also got to putt, because the greens are not easy greens." Nicklaus said.
Accuracy and nerve. It's a combination that points to very best and the most experienced, but Micheel's unlikely triumph in 2003 - ranked 169 in the world - can only encourage the hopes of those still without a major in their locker.
Could Lee Westwood rebound from his Open anti-climax with immediate redemption? Despite missing the cut at Oak Hill in 2003, Westwood believes the course will play to his strengths.
"It's your typical old American-style tradition golf course, tree-lined and some undulations," Westwood said. "The greens will be very fast - they will no doubt grow the rough up on the sides of the fairways. But I am driving the ball well and it should suit me."
One interesting note is the PGA of America have asked golf fans to vote on the pin placement they want at the par-three 15th, for the final round. Fans have four choices, with all of them bringing a different test.
My bet is they choose the most difficult, which would go some way to vindicating the PGA doing the same around the rest of the course. The players might not like it, but watching them work hard for birdies is surely what the majors is all about.
What Mickelson did at Muirfield was all the more special for it. If somebody performs a similar feat at Oak Hill it may be even more remarkable.
Oak Hill in numbers
Distance - 7,163 yards; Par - 70; Longest hole - 598-yard, par-five 13th; Shortest hole - 175-yard, par-three 6th
Major winners at Oak Hill
Cary Middlecoff (+1), 1956 US Open; Lee Trevino (-5), 1968 US Open; Jack Nicklaus (-6), 1980 US PGA Championship; Curtis Strange (-2), 1989 US Open; Shaun Micheel (-4), 2003 US PGA Championship
US PGA odds (bet365)
Tiger Woods, 6-1; Phil Mickelson, 12-1; Adam Scott, 16-1; Justin Rose, 20-1; Lee Westwood, 22-1