Straits could be scary tough
HAVEN, Wis. -- The landscape is the same. So is the weather. It's as if Herb Kohler bought a chunk of Ireland, flew it across the ocean, and inserted it between the farms north of Milwaukee and south of Green Bay.
Instead he imported the mystical Pete Dye, turned him loose on 560 acres, trucked in 800,000 cubic yards of dirt, and came up with what today's players are calling the hardest course they've every played.
"The toughest par-77 in the world," said Darren Clarke, the Northern Irishman. "I didn't realize there could be that many par-6 holes on one golf course."
"It shows what you can do with money, imagination and bulldozers," said Charles Howell III.
It also shows that what you see is not what the players will get in terms of bounces.
"It does not play like a links-style course," said tournament favorite Phil Mickelson. "There are not any run-up shots into the greens. You have to play it in the air and fly shots on."
There are no island greens, but Lake Michigan borders two miles of the course. And at almost 7,600 yards, even the big hitters will be needing 3-irons into the par 3s and some of the par 4s.
"This is a big golf course," said Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly. So big that Tiger Woods needed 3-wood to reach the 18th green during a Tuesday practice round. Playing partner Mark O'Meara need a full lob wedge for his third shot on the same hole.
"Double-D went up there and just smoked one," Woods said of David Duval. "Didn't get it to the fairway."
The finishing hole, which measures 500 yards, and the 223-yard par-3 17th, will invoke the most criticism.
Besides its length and uneven lies, the cloverleaf green at the 18th will get its share of abuse --- verbal and physical. You'll see stymied players using wedges rather than putters.
As for 17, the complaint box is already loaded over the pile of dirt that Dye shaped into what Stuart Appleby described as a "huge zit" in the front right corner of the green. The bunkers stacked between the lake and the putting surface are so deep that Rocco Mediate deliberately played from one to another during a practice round.
Will this be the PGA's answer to Carnoustie? It will depend on the weather. The forecast improves throughout the week, with light winds and temperatures in the 70s by the weekend.
"I tell you if I was an 18-handicapper I wouldn't want to play here," Woods said.
It is the type of test that will make the best players in the world feel like an 18-handicapper at times.
"You might see a club pro shoot in triple digits," said one tour pro. Out of respect there is no official over/under on Duval, who shot 82-82 in his return at Shinnecock.
The fear factor is reminiscent to when the Stadium course opened 30 years ago, with the designer achieving what he was intending. The game is a mental test as well as a physical one, and Dye provides a test shot-after-shot to the point where a marginal shot can result in a double bogey
"I think these boys, hit it as far and as straight as they do," Dye said. "They shouldn't have any trouble, really."
Dye's definition of trouble is different than Lee Westwood's.
"I've been told before I got here that there were 10 really difficult holes and eight impossible ones," said the Englishman. "I'm just trying to work out which the 10 difficult holes were."
There's a difference between American players skipping the British Open en masse and one player withdrawing from the PGA Championship to spend summer vacation with his family.
It's called perspective.
Nick Price, a two-time winner of the Wanamaker Trophy, pulled out of the PGA at Whistling Straits -- the second straight year he has withdrawn from the tournament that cemented his career.
At 47 he doesn't have many majors left. But what's one more major when the kids still want you around?
"This is a hard one in a way, and a very, very easy one in a way," Price said from Baja, Calif., where he's relaxing with the family before the kids return to school next week. "Missing a major is a tough decision, but when I think back, what I remember vividly were the holidays we took with my family," Price said. "My son is 13, and in two years he's not going to want to be on vacation with his family. He'll want to be with his friends."
That son, Gregory, the oldest of Price's three children, was born the week of the 1991 PGA, creating the opening that gave birth to John Daly's career, and the karma that helped produce PGA victories for Price in 1992 and 1994.
It's easier to skip the PGA with three majors and a spot in the Hall of Fame, but Price shouldn't feel guilty -- or be painted as a hero. He did what any good father would do in that situation. He put his family first.
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.
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