There are beasts to tame every week on the PGA Tour. Some come from within while a few times a year, most likely in a major championship; the golf courses themselves rear up in stern defense.
This week, in Wisconsin of all places, demons of all kinds will be on display for the PGA Championship is upon us, and in a setting that is equally tranquil, beguiling, and treacherous at the same time one man will be left standing with the Wannamaker trophy come Sunday. He might be feted less a victor, and more of a survivor. It is certainly not a place where you can “find your game”, you best be prepared when you arrive to give it your all.
When Pete Dye unveiled Whistling Straits (Straights Course) in 1998 he knew that another beast had been borne from his mind. Built along two miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline, just down the road from Kohler, Wisconsin, the end result was a dramatic, tumbling flurry of golf holes unlike what had ever been seen in America to that time.
Proof of its greatness came in the form of its selection to host the 2004 PGA Championship just a couple years into its infancy. It has been a staple of many Top 100 Golf Course lists since. In 2015 it will serve as the host for the PGA Championship again and will once more be on the world’s stage in 2020 when the Ryder Cup comes its way.
Working with Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., chairman and president of Kohler Co. (owner of Whistling Straits), Dye came up with a 7500 yard beauty with touches of Irish Seaside Links running throughout. Straits has fescue fairways and massive sand dune bunkers. The course layout weaves fourteen holes in nearly uninterrupted sequence along two miles of lakefront. Eight holes hug the shoreline where the Straits Course plays from just above beach level, then rises nearly 80-feet to bluffs and elevated berms that provide panoramic views of the watery horizon.
Dye, who knows a thing or two about dramatic coastline courses, having built the Ocean Course at Kiawah, South Carolina, and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, loved what he saw in the site for The Straights. “This is as dramatic a site as anything I’ve ever encountered,” Dye said. “I’ve never seen anything that resembles this.”
In the 2004 PGA Championship Vijay Singh prevailed in a three hole playoff with Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco. The winning score of 8 under par was much lower than what was expected but then again, Mother Nature cooperated quite nicely that week. As we have already seen this year from previous “waterside” majors at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, the blending of land and water can lead to unexpected results. The winners of those majors, Graeme McDowell and Louis Ousthuizen have to be taken into account this week as those with a chance to win.
Singh and Leonard are in the field this week but only Leonard is showing any type of decent game of late. If you look a little further down the list from that 86th PGA a few other names are of certain interest as possible contenders this week. Ernie Els tied for 4th in 2004 and with his return to form in 2010 he has to be considered among the top picks.
Great ball strikers seem to do well at The Straights course so keep an eye on guys like Stephen Ames, Wisconsin’s own Steve Stricker, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, and even Zach Johnson. This could be the place where they ascend to Major Champion status or in Johnson’s case, build his career grand slam portfolio.
The monstrous par fives will likely yield little advantage to the big bangers but a guy like Bubba Watson could be a step up with his length when facing the punishing par fours at the 92nd PGA Championship while the par three holes might just be the breaking point for every player in the field.
Starting fairly easily with hole #3, “O’Man” the one shotters progress in drama and toughness leading to hole #17, “Pinched Nerve,” that is sure to cause a few in its time.
Players will need to tread wisely as this will be no course that gives up a 59. 65 was the low round shot in the 2004 and if the winds whips up this week along Lake Michigan that may be a hard score to achieve.
If the wind stays down this week this championship will be all about pretty vistas and a slew of players with a chance to win. If the hearty breezes arrive and the course reveals its plentiful teeth then it could be a whole lot of fun – for the spectators, not the players.