August 09, 2009

Under The Weather

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If Hazeltine's ground stays soft, the 7,674-yard layout will play even longer.

CHASKA, Minn. -- So here are the numbers: five inches of rain Friday night and Saturday night soaked Hazeltine National Golf Club, where there are 110 bunkers -- and all 110 were washed out. On Monday, the grounds crew was still working on replacing the sand and reshaping the bunkers to get ready for Thursday's first round of the PGA Championship.

Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America's managing director for championships, said Monday that Hazeltine is far along in the recovery process.

"It's spectacular, it's unbelievable how good it is," said Haigh, who is in charge of the course setup at Hazeltine. "Obviously it's soft."

A draining system has helped, one that was built to prevent the 8th and 17th fairways from being small lakes, as they did in the 2002 PGA Championship. There was still standing water this weekend at that location, so Hazeltine was closed Saturday and reopened on Sunday, but only using cart paths.

If there is anything that should be emphasized on Day One of tournament week, the 7,674-yard layout will play even longer if it's soft; and the greens are supposed to be major championship caliber (meaning fast), depending on how they're affected by the weather.

For the players who began showing up here Monday, there is some encouraging news about the course. To begin with, the rough was cut Sunday, to 3.5 - 4.5 inches, said Haigh, who also put notices in the locker room that weather conditions may call for forward tees at three holes to be used. Those include the 572-yard par five 7th, the 248-par three 13th and the 352-yard par four 14th.

The new tee at the 7th, designed by Rees Jones, trims the hole to 540 yards.

"The intent of the change with the new tee is that players would otherwise be hitting longer irons in there than in 2002," he said.

Haigh said the PGA of America isn't deciding whether to cut the rough again or allow it to grow.

"We'll monitor it and see how it plays," he said.

Haigh also said the average fairway width is around 32 yards to 34 yards, the narrowest around 23 yards at the 452-yard 10th, a dogleg left. He said that the 7th "hopefully will be reachable," but both the 606-yard 11th and the 642-yard 15th may not be -- the 15th being the longest par five in the history of the PGA Championship. On Monday, the 15th played even longer, into the face of a breeze from the northwest.

Beem's winning score seven years ago was 10-under 278, and Hazeltine is some 319 yards longer now, but Haigh wouldn't predict what a winning score might be.

"It's whatever the golf course and the player allow," he said. "We've set it up so the player is fairly challenged by the golf course. We're not concerned what the score is, whether it's two under or 18 under."