June 25, 2007

Singhing His Praises

Hard working Vijay Singh was the last man standing at the PGA Championship

Pete Dye came from behind to win the 86th PGA. That's my lead and I'm sticking to it.

Dye won it over Vijay Singh up there in Somewhere, Wisconsin, when Whistling Straits finally got the wind it needed off Lake Michigan on the last day of the year's last major. This enabled the layout to do what Pete and the PGA and Herb Kohler, the rich guy owner, had hoped it would do, which was confuse and punch out the world's best players.

Pete has long been known as the Bela Lugosi of golf course designers, and Whistling Straits might have retired the trophy for him.

My basic fear is that Whistling Straits will now become a trend÷like all of those TPC courses did. There are rich guys everywhere, other Herb Kohlers, who may decide they want their own "links-style course."

"Here, Pete. Do me one of those Whistling things. With the dunes and the caverns and all that stuff. What? You need a lake? Well, let's just build one of those deals."

Never has there been a course where so many adjectives can be stacked into one pile so quickly. Start with intimidating, then go with all of the following: magnificent, shocking, terrifying, infuriating, grotesque, unique, stunning, bewildering and mystifying. Did I leave out unbelievable?

But let's clear up something right here. Whistling Straits is NOT a links. Your basic links is a course built on land reclaimed from the sea. This course was designed by Pete on land reclaimed from an anti-aircraft range.

Flatland at that. Land on which something like 4,000 bulldozers moved something like 480 million tons of dirt and created Bela Lugosi's theme park of towering dunes, dotting bunkers, cavernous wastelands and mammoth bent greens. It measured as the longest course in major-championship history (7,514 yards), but it didn't play that long÷unless you topped your tee shot. The fescue fairways rolled like I-95 on a day with no trucks, and the last 100 yards of any particular hole were usually on the green.

Whistling Straits got in its licks on Sunday when it showed the field what it might have endured if the wind had blown all four days. It dragged the winning score back to 280, which was the highest total since 1990 at Shoal Creek. It came up with a winner, Vijay, who not only failed to make a birdie over the final 18, but whose 76 was noteworthy for two reasons.

One, the 76 with which Vijay luckily tied Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco, his two playoff victims, was the highest final-round by a winner since the PGA of America switched its championship from match play to stroke play in 1958. But even more important to us history junkies, Vijay's 76 was the highest last-round score by the winner of any major since÷whoa÷1938.

Yeah, that long ago. Since a chap named Reg Whitcombe shot a 78 as he survived the lashing gales of Sandwich÷a storm that blew down the exhibition tent÷to win the '38 British Open.

This may or may not be an embarrassment for Vijay÷you never know what Vijay's thinking, and you certainly never know what he's saying since he never says anything÷to the press anyhow. But it undoubtedly was a happy circumstance for commode king Herb Kohler, the man who hired Pete Dye to surgically enhance the forlorn beach he owned.

Herb was a frustrated fellow for three days during the calm when all kinds of people posted low scores. Jeff Coston, a club pro, even shot a four-under 68 one day. You could almost hear Herb addressing the PGA officers who'd promised him doomsday scoring, Herb yelling, "But you swore to me that nobody ..."

There were only three celebs in the field who could have kept Pete Dye from winning this PGA. But Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods all failed in their own curious ways.

Lefty and Ernie stayed in contention almost all the way despite their inconsistency. They'd look masterful on one hole and like saps on another, straying shots into baroque areas of rough and dunes and bunkers. And they did this even when the wind wasn't a factor. This was evidence that Whistling Straits demanded tee shots in the fairway more than anything else.

In the end, despite all of their sloppy play, Els finished only one shot out of the playoff, and Phil finished two back. Mickelson therefore ended his remarkable year in majors with a tie for sixth in the PGA to go along with his Masters win, his second in the U.S. Open and his third in the British.

Ordinarily, Phil's 1-2-3-6 record in the majors would recommend him for Player of the Year, but TV has already given it to Singh because Vijay won four Buicks and Houstons that don't matter.

Tiger was another deal. Once again, he was never in contention, thanks to his misbehaving tee shots. He lost his 10th major in a row. That makes it an official slump.

It also gives new meaning to '05. If Tiger can only lose the first three majors of next year, he can get to 13 and top the worst slump of Jack Nicklaus' career.

To comment, send e-mails to: jenkins@golfdigest.com.