The Ocean Course will be wickedly tough for the PGA Championship

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The PGA Championship kicks off this week at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. Stretched to its full length of 7,876 yards, the course will rank as the longest ever played on the PGA Tour. When the wind howls as it did in 2012, the scoring average was over 78. What kind of message is the PGA of America sending when they play their championship on a course that’s pushing 8,000 yards?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): In my view, the message is this: something needs to be done to curb the distance the golf ball is being hit by professionals.  Otherwise, within the decade, courses will routinely have to be over 8,000 yards, or the cutline after 36 holes will be around 20 under par.  “So what?”, you may say.  Well personally, I have no interest in watching birdie-fest golf tournaments… I like seeing players challenged, rather than handed a driver, a wedge, and a putter and shooting 64.  I also think that 8,000-yard distances will be too expensive for course owners and developers to build and maintain, which may make the proprietors of many tournaments throw up their hands and say, “sorry, we’ll pass on hosting our tournament from now on.”

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I highly doubt they’ll be tipping it out at 7876 on any day of the Championship, although that would be interesting to see. For obvious reasons going the distance would favour long hitters even more (just one skill), and I’d like to think Kerry Haigh (long time respected course setup man) and team has more creativity and interest in testing everyone’s overall game/skillset. If they do tip it out, I’m not sure what to think of it, is it a message to the rules makers that they need to control distance, or does it mean we can find courses to test these players? I hope its neither and they’re playing this Major simply because the Ocean course is an iconic, and historic place to properly test the best players in the world.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: This a great course from every set of tees. Lots of variety, beauty and it’s challenging. I hope the wind does blow – the course doesn’t need it, but it would be fun watching the best players using technology that is ill-suited to that design. The subtle message conveyed by the PGA is “Let’s play longer courses so everyone needs to ride a cart. It’s good for Club revenues” particularly in the rare case where the Head Pro still has the cart concession.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): The message they are sending is that this is a Major Championship and they don’t want guys to go low!  There is no way that they play the course at that full length if there is any sort of wind.  The 17th hole is almost unplayable if they play it over 200 yards into a 2-club wind.  I’m excited to watch this week, I think the players will find a way to still score well despite the length.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The august blazers are saying that the debate over the ball and club faces is over, and they have lost. Playing in onshore blasts to Dye-abolical greens can be like watching a UFC debacle. Most of us see enough horrible wind-blown shots playing with our hacker friends. The PGA is saying that they have little sway over the game or the PGA Tour, but they are in control one week a year.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The Ocean Course is a terrific layout to showcase the PGA Championship and will be a really demanding test for the players, regardless of yardage. I doubt the PGA of America gave much thought to the symbolism of 8,000 yards since they’ll never play it that long. That’s a media talking point. But also scary to think we could get there someday.

Lots of great storylines coming out of Kiawah Island in addition to the course itself: Rory McIlroy, who won the PGA Championship here in 2012, back in the headlines with a recent win and chasing his fifth major; Jordan Spieth looking to complete his personal grand slam: Bryson DeChambeau, the longest hitter on Tour, playing the longest course on Tour; World #1 Dustin Johnson, who has been quiet so far in 2021, playing a home game in South Carolina; Rickie Fowler playing on a special exemption; and many others. Which player will you be most interested to watch? (or root for)

Deeks: McIlroy and Spieth are neck-and-neck in my personal popularity sweepstakes.  I’d love to see both of them tied at the top on Sunday evening.  I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how Rory manages the winds off the ocean, with his high ball flight… but then again, the guy grew up on seaside links, so why would it be a problem?  But I’ll stand by my pick from last week.  I don’t like him, but I think Patrick Reed is due for another major.

Loughry: Of the players listed, I think I’m most interested in what Spieth will do this week, I also think he’d be the bigger story. If he can scramble well or straighten out that driver, I expect him to be contending. A second morbid watch will be watching Ricki, I just want to see if he makes the cut.

Schurman: Long courses don’t always suit the long hitters. Quite often the shorter hitters who spend their entire career trying to squeak out pars because they are missing greens with mid to long clubs by relying on a stellar short game perform well. On the other hand, the longer hitters who are accustomed to hitting a lot of GIR with short irons are now faced with less used mid-irons. Does the word “grinder” come to mind? I have three players I’ll enjoy watching: Abraham Ancer who is 3rd in Driving Accuracy and 13th in Scrambling; Webb Simpson, who is 23rd in Driving and 1st in Scrambling; and Rory who is one of the best long iron players. If we are picking winners, I’d be remiss if I stray from Patrick Cantlay, my dark horse is Cameron Champ and my heart says, Corey Conners. BTW Fowler is not a Past Champion and shouldn’t have a special invite.

Rule: Rory and Jordan. Both would be great stories if they were to win, especially Jordan completing the career Grand Slam when people were writing him off less than a year ago.  And for Rory, he could return to being the best player in the world if he can repeat a Kiawah PGA win.  It’s great to see so many top players peaking for this major championship.

Quinn: It will be interesting to watch the bombers take on the ridiculously long shots. But if the wind does blow, it will be the ball strikers who handle it. Rory is one of the longest and a great striker when he’s on a course he loves — and this obviously is one. If he has a good opening round driving the ball, he will be tough. And so should Canuck Conners, now acknowledged as one of the best strikers in the game. If he can do some putting ….

Mumford: As I said last week, a McIlroy – Spieth playoff with Jordan nabbing his personal Grand Slam would be my ideal finish. However, I think the most intriguing storyline is the same one we’ve been following for the past year. No, not the pandemic. I’m talking about Bryson DeChambeau, the Most Interesting Man in Golf, and his added bulk and distance. Kiawah Island is long but it’s also tricky. Remember, it’s a Pete Dye design. BDC should have a huge advantage but if he can’t keep the driver in play, he won’t find a lot of good lies in the salt marsh and massive waste bunkers.

The PGA of America will allow the use of range finders at the PGA Championship, even though some believe it will slow down play. Good move or not?

Deeks: I do believe range finders slow things down a bit in an average, amateur foursome.  But in a professional setting, a range finder may negate the need for caddies to pace things off, and thereby take less time to hand the player his club.  If that’s correct, then I’m all for it.  Just as long as it’s a player, not a machine, that’s hitting the ball.

Loughry: I personally don’t like it, and I’m a tech guy. I just think doing the math is part of the contest, and so is having a slight penalty for hitting a shot astray. Now its just ZAP, and you have the number. And to be honest, the yardage books are so incredibly detailed today, they are better than a laser. Will this speed up play? I highly doubt it. Good move? I know it’s seen as the “4th Major”, should they be experimenting with it? Well, let me put it this way, I don’t think this will elevate it to any new status level.

Schurman: My range finder is only calibrated to 6,000 yards. From where I drive the ball it wouldn’t help me much on an 8,000-yard course. Please do not show the players using them on TV. The public is already confused when they see a 150-yard marker.

Rule: I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to caddies and their responsibilities, so I don’t like the use of range finders.  However, I really don’t get the argument that it slows down play.  I guess I’m indifferent and it won’t impact my enjoyment of the event.

Quinn: It is interesting that the caddies were not consulted and more interesting that the majority of caddies say it will not speed up play. They are great for the vast majority of amateurs to see how far they have to go — even though the vast majority have no idea how far they hit their clubs. That slows play. The pro caddies may sight the distance to the pin, but (unlike for the rank amateurs) that is very rarely the target. Elite caddies and players calibrate shots on a different plane than mere mortals. It might boost range finder sales, maybe.

Mumford: Bad move and totally unnecessary. Caddies use them all the time in practice rounds to do their prep. By Thursday morning they know the precise yardage to the front of every green from every blade of grass on the property. If they need to haul the range finder out during the tournament, they haven’t done their homework and they’re in trouble.



The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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