By John Huggan
MEDINAH, Ill. -- The contrast is both obvious and welcome. Where last week's Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta featured fairways as narrow as 16 yards in places -- and so all the tedium that typically follows such lack of imagination -- this Ryder Cup is almost bereft of rough. As presented by U.S. captain Davis Love, Medinah No. 3 will encourage a delightful two-part scenario rarely seen these days on the PGA Tour. Not only will the 24 players feel able to go with driver from almost every tee, the risky recovery shot -- the most exciting aspect of golf at the highest level -- will nearly always be available to those who do stray slightly from the straight and wide.
Medinah Country Club. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images
Throw in the added spice of match play golf -- a format that has always fostered enterprise and inspired shot-making -- and this 39th playing of the game's most anticipated biennial battle has the chance to be one of the most memorable ever.
"This is the style of golf I like to watch and I like to play," explains Love. "I've never been a fan of driving it in the rough and chipping it out and playing a wedge game. If we were playing a PGA Championship this week, Kerry Haigh (managing director of tournaments at the PGA of America) wouldn't like it. But match play and the Ryder Cup is a whole different animal. I want it to be fun for the players and I want it to be fun for the fans. I'm not looking for 'easy' but I am looking for 'fun.'"
Tellingly, both big and short hitters have nodded approval for Love's appealing philosophy.
"The golf course is set up really nicely," says Dustin Johnson, the fourth-longest driver on the PGA Tour. "I plan on being really aggressive."
"The course really helps the 'bombers,'" agrees another Johnson, Zach, whose average drive expires 28.9 yards behind that of his namesake. "But what's good for me is that, when I miss a fairway by maybe two or three yards, I still have a shot to the green and a chance to make birdie. Normally, that's where the heaviest rough is and I'm relying on my wedge game to save par."
The Europeans have also been making noises of approval, regarding both the setup and the quality of the putting surfaces.
"There's not too many tricks to the course," feels Chicago-resident Luke Donald. "But the greens are fast and slopey, so if you want to make a lot of birdies you have to be putting from the right places."
"I think there's going to be a lot of birdies out there," claims former Open champion Paul Lawrie, who played the 1999 PGA Championship, his first U.S. major, at Medinah. "I think you'll see a lot of chip-ins, too, because there is not rough around the greens."
"The course is very open, but it isn't necessarily easy," says Germany's Martin Kaymer, confirming Love's assessment. "Yes, you can hit the ball into the rough, if you can call it that. But you still need to place your ball on the correct side of the fairways; there are a lot of trees in the way."
As for which side will gain advantage from Love's obvious strategy, opinions are, as one would expect, divided. Certainly, it is a course set-up rarely seen on tour outside of Augusta National or Pinehurst.
"I've played over here pretty much all year and I haven't seen a course that's got no rough and no rough around the greens," pointed out world No. 4 Lee Westwood. "So this isn't a course that either team is particularly used to. I can't see how it suits one team or the other. I reckon the last time I played a course that had been set up like this was The Belfry in 2002 -- and we set that up for ourselves."
The last word, however, goes to Love, who is clearly hoping the lack of long grass -- and the not-too fast greens -- will provide a decisive advantage for his men.
"When we go over there (to Europe) for the Ryder Cup, the fairways tend to taper in at 280 or 290 (yards) and there's a lot of deep rough," he says with a smile. "I'm not real clever, but I've done just the opposite."
Which, at first glance, makes perfect sense. Just how perfect, of course, remains to be seen.