Friday, August 18, 2006

PGA Gets It Right More Than the Rest

Sure, the PGA may not be the most prestigious of the 4 majors. It's certainly not the oldest (British). It's usually not the toughest test in golf either (US OPEN). And, it probably doesn't have the sex appeal of say the MASTERS with its tradition and heritage (always played at the same course, which is a good one BTW). 20 or 30 years ago the PGA was likely the 4th of the 4 majors. TV coverage was poor. Courses selected as the major venue were not great. Let's face it, TIGER wasn't around back then either. And golf wasn't the spectator or player sport that it is today with millions of Americans now playing the sport from coast to coast.

But when it comes to major - championship golf, I ask you which of the four majors is the best today? Rosaforte provides the best argument I've seen for the PGA. It is the last chance each season for a major victory. We have to wait until next April for another shot. I also strongly agree that the PGA has the best balance (along with the MASTERS) of a tough but fair course. The US OPEN has become a circus show the past few years, especially at Shinnecock in 2004. Winged Foot wasn't much better this year. They are so hell-bent at making that championship the toughest test in golf (riding the edge of what's fair if you will) that they've gone too far and actually crossed the line. The last fair US OPEN was at Olympia Fields. What's wrong with a winning score being under par anyway? You can have a tough test and a fair test at the same time. They've lost touch with reality. Phil said it best about the US OPEN this year at Winged Foot in one of his press conferences. To paraphrase, the USGA tries to find the toughest 72 pin locations period. They used to have 6 easy, 6 challenging, and 6 pins to avoid each round. No longer is that the case. The PGA is the role model for this set-up. Kerry Haigh is the modern master of that.

Did I mention it annually has the strongest field, the most on the line (player of the year, Ryder or President's Cup bids, and the best trophy of them all?

If it's good enough for Tiger it's good enough for me. "The PGA gets it right," said Woods. "They go to great venues, and you have great tournaments. I ask why can't all championships be that way?"

On a more personal note, is there a better PGA track than Medinah? This is the 2nd run at #3. Who will ever forget the 1999 tournament with Tiger and Sergio? This year is shaping up to be the same with another strong finish involving the best in the world. Sure, I have a slight bias having grown up in suburban Chicago (the best sports' town in the land BTW). I mean come on, name one city that loves its teams more than the windy city. You can't beat its cuisine either.

But, back to golf and Medinah. At over 7500 yards, this is a great course. Don't just take my word, ask the pros or listen to what they have to say. With 3/4 par 3's over water and one of the best finishing stretches in the game, Medinah #3 provides one of, if not the best, venue for this great tourney. It can be set-up to be impossible with its length, thicker rough, and slicker greens. But, the PGA wouldn't want it that way. And, neither would I. The golf 'purests' will argue that this is an embarrassement for the course. No major should yield so many scores under par. I can almost hear them now as they choke on their cigars while watching the Mets and Yankees. Two of the worst majors of all-time took place in New York (2004 and 2006 US OPENS). Both of those were travesties, in my opinion. They were like playing the local putt putt without the clown faces and windmills. Again, if it's good enough for Tiger it's good enough for me. We're told that majors are supposed to be survival tests of the fittest, but the PGA proves year in and year out that you can determine the best player that week by just letting them play without having to watch grown men toil for what - a par? Someone will win the 2006 (88th PGA) instead of losing it like Phil did earlier in the summer at Winged Foot. And when it's all said and done, that person will likely be TW.

Some advice for future majors which WILL be played there (no doubt). You can't control mother nature (rain, wind, snow, soft conditions), the PGA can control the following:

1) Grow the rough out a little thicker and deeper - at least another inch thick. The course could use a little more protection. Don't cut it the Saturday before the championship starts. Cut it the Saturday after the US OPEN and let it grow all summer. Bad shots should NOT be so easlily rewarded. I note Mickelson's 2nd shot into 18 during the 2nd round from 164. To keep it below the hole with SPIN noless is a sign that the rough could be more penal. Bring it up to a 1/2 - stroke penalty, or higher.

2) Speed-up the greens. Make them firmer. Cut it shorter. You get the idea. The course looks great with the A1-A4 bent-grass greens. It's in supreme condition. But, the greens are a little slow this week for a major even with the rain they've had in Chicago. It's a delicate balance. Don't trick them out like Shinnecock in 2004 or Winged Foot this year. No need for a circus show. But, if they ran a little faster on the stimp - meter it would be good. It was like throwing darts out there this week. Make 'em work a little harder around the greens.

3) Finally, convert the PAR-5 5th hole into a long 4-PAR. Par 71 on this course at over 7500 yards would really be a tougher test of golf. Don't get me wrong, seeing the greatest players bunched up at the top is great, but a little more separation would be nice. Again, I'm not saying we need to make the track play like a video game, but #5 is playing too easy this week as a PAR-5 at only 534 yards. How does a 520 - yard PAR 4 sound? Tough.

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