The Loop

Diaz: Course Criticism Misses The Mark

August 10, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The PGA of America got hammered hard for setting up Oakland Hills too severely during the first two rounds, but as is so often the case when the mob mentality takes over, the criticism proved overblown.

Yes, the Donald Ross classic played overly hard. The greens got too firm and too fast during the first two rounds considering the extreme undulations of the greens, as did the fairways considering their narrow width and hilliness.

The complaints came fast and furious, but they were shortsighted and unfair.

Basically, Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America's managing director of championships whose setups this decade have been invariably sensible and well received by the players, got fooled by Mother Nature.

With the golf course in ideal shape at the start of the week, rain that was forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday never came. Instead, the sun shone and on Thursday steady winds in the 25-mph range dried out the surfaces beyond the ideal, taking the course right to the edge of playable.

Haigh was hamstrung by a perfect storm. Before Friday's round he chose, again sensibly, not to significantly alter the playing condition of the golf course to avoid any players on either side of the starting times in the first two rounds (early-late or late-early), from getting an unfair advantage. That's standard policy.

But before Saturday's third round, he did make big changes by putting extra water on the greens and fairways and choosing some more accessible pin positions, and the course played close to ideal on a day when only about a third of the field was able to complete 18 holes because of rain and lightening.

The scoring average dropped from 75.8 to 73.2. More important, the course yielded to excellent play, most notably by Andres Romero, who shot a course-record-tying 65, and Camilo Villegas, who was four under through 14 holes before the weather suspension.

What shouldn't be forgotten in all this is that Oakland Hills' length, deep bunkers and greens make it one of the two or three most difficult classic American courses in the major championship rota, along with Oakmont, Winged Foot and perhaps Pinehurst No. 2. It has played hard for every championship it has ever held, and with the "updating" the course underwent (i.e., reaction to modern equipment) by Rees Jones, it was sure to play as hard or harder than ever. But Oakland Hills 2008 was not Shinnecock 2004 -- not even close. Thursday and Friday the old course was a bare-knuckled brute. Saturday Haigh was able to put some gloves on it too, in effect reestablishing the equivalent of the Marquis of Queensbury rules to make it a fairer and more entertaining fight.

"Yeah, I was very happy with it," said Haigh after Friday's play. "It certainly allowed the players to play, and to probably be a little more aggressive. â¿¿ We are looking forward to a great championship Sunday."

I'm guessing a good dozen scores in the 60s will be achieved if the championship gets completed Sunday, and that the winner will finish under par for the 72 holes. All will be well that ends well.

-- Jaime Diaz