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Culp's Corner

PGA Championship Preview

by Josh Culp

It may have a new timeslot on the schedule, but there is still a shot at glory this week at the 101st PGA Championship. 

The PGA TOUR heads to Long Island this week to play one of the top public courses in the country. It's the Black Course at Bethpage State Park. 

The winner will take home the Wanamaker Trophy which is a 34-pound beast of a trophy that measures 29 1/4 inches tall. They will also get more than their fair share of the prize pool. Last year, the winner received $1.98 million of the $11 million up for grabs. I have yet to see the 2019 purse released. 

The field is full at 156 golfers and the cut-line rules are the normal Top 70 and ties. If there is a tie at the end of 72 holes then we'll see a three-hole aggregate playoff (Holes No. 1, 17, and 18). 

Don't forget to check out Dave Tindall's preview which puts a spotlight on the Euro talent in the field. 

The Course

The Black Course at Bethpage State Park will play host to this week's big event. It's an A.W. Tillinghast design that's been restored over the years by the Rees Jones crew since 1997. Notable events it has hosted include the 2002 U.S. Open, 2009 U.S. Open, 2012 Barclays, and 2016 Barclays. It will also play host to the 2024 Ryder Cup. 

Other Tillinghast designs include Winged Foot, Baltusrol, and Ridgewood. He was a big fan of blind tee shots and blind approaches. 

The course will be prepped to play as a par 70 that maxes out at 7,459 yards. Weather and course conditions will dictate the actual setup each day but even if you bring in a few tee boxes, this course is long. Three of the par 3s will play over 205 yards and seven of the par 4s will play over 460 yards. You better bring your driver and get dialed in with your mid-to-long irons this week. 

Off the tee, golfers will see relatively narrow driving lanes. You aren't forced to hit drivers but if you club down then you'll be attacking the greens with long irons or hybrids/woods. In previous events here, we've seen the first cut of rough be very playable but anything too far offline will find the thick stuff, making it tough to hold the greens which are mostly elevated. The rough was still a little spotty in late April but a steady dose of rain in the lead-up should have the course playing lush and long. There is fescue when you go way offline but that won't be at full force in mid-May. 

That will be a common theme this week. Elevated greens that are guarded by bunkers. A lot of TOUR courses make it easy to recover from the rough because you can use the fairways to roll it onto the greens. That's not really the case at Bethpage Black as you need to attack aerially or get extremely lucky with the greenside bunkers.

If you don't hit it long and high then you better be tidy in the bunkers. Even if you do hit it long and high, you'll probably find plenty of sand. During the 2016 Barclay, the 79 golfers that made the cut averaged 9.5 attempts out of the greenside bunkers for the week! Jonas Blixt took top honors with 19 sandy attempts! For comparison to the first major at Augusta National, the cut-makers averaged 5.6 bunker attempts for the week with the highest being 11 (Tony Finau & Si Woo Kim). During the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage, 60 golfers made the cut and they averaged 7.5 sandy attempts. Only one of them avoided all the greenside bunkers for the week. Who was that golfer? Lucas Glover who happened to be the winner. Ball-striking and/or course management will be key. 

What should we expect for scoring conditions? We've seen field average of 74.9, 72.9, 71.7, and 71.7 in four past events. The first two were USGA setups and wacky weather so we should probably assume those are on the high side. The last two were during the Barclays which is played as a par 71 but without a tricked-up setup. Personally, I'm expecting a similar scoring average this week of around 71.7 which would put the score at +1.7 relative to par. If you've watched recent PGA Championships you might say that's too tough but in actuality, 8 of the last 14 PGA Championships yielded a field scoring average of +1.9 or tougher. The PGA of America does not try to trick up the course but they will let the players struggle if that is what the course and weather dictate. 

For grasses, golfers will see ryegrass/poa annua fairways, ryegrass/bluegrass rough, and poa annua on the putting surfaces. Although poa annua gets a bad reputation for being real bumpy. That's not really the case, especially up in the Northeast where a lot of elite courses choose poa annua as their putting surface of choice. In past editions, golfers have said these are some of the truest greens they putt on all year. They will be ramped up to championship speeds that sit in the 12.5 to 14 foot range on the stimp. Very fast. 

 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Gary Woodland (2016 Barclays): "The golf course, for me, I can hit a lot of drivers. It sets up good for the driver for me and the holes I don't hit driver, I'm hitting 3-wood. Sets up perfect for the draw and the 3-wood."

Brandt Snedeker (2012 Barclays): "You just can't hit greens out there, I don't care what anybody says, the greens are pretty much unplayable for the most part.  You can't hit them.  Just really, really tough test."

Tiger Woods (2009 U.S. Open): "they had to make it this easy. You know, with the golf course playing as long as it is, a lot of guys were hitting long irons and hybrids and utilities and a whole bunch of different things into the greens."

José Maria Olazábal (2002 U.S. Open): "As you said, there is a lot of long par 4s here. In order to stop the ball on those greens, you're going to need to hit shorter irons onto the green, and I think that's why the long hitters will have an advantage this week. They do have an advantage every week, obviously. But this golf course, being so long, even though they have only two par 5s."

Jason Day (2016 Barclays): "This week is not only going to be more physical, but it's going to test the mental strength that you have and see how far you can actually push yourself. Sometimes go through the motions of actually trying to grind things out."

Paul Casey (2009 U.S. Open): It’s a ball-striker’s golf course. Length will certainly be an advantage. You could call that a driver’s golf course. It’s a ball-striker’s golf course because you have to hit the irons well. It’s not just about the driver. Driver’s only half the battle.

Overview: It's a course where long and high will be a huge advantage but at the same time it's so difficult that even some of the shorter hitters can put their name in the mix if they are scrambling their butts off. 

 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Muirfield Village (Memorial Tournament)
TPC Boston (Playoff Event)
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo Championship)
East Lake (TOUR Championship)
Innisbrook's Copperhead Course (Valspar Championship)
PGA National (Honda Classic)

At first glance I was a little perplexed at why the Florida courses may have popped here. After a deeper dive I really think it's due to the amount of shots coming from the greenside bunkers. Most of the Florida courses are heavily defended by bunkers and that's the case here at Bethpage, as well. They are also grind-it-out type of layouts which is the mentality you need at Bethpage. 

Overall, we see mostly classical, tree-lined layouts on the East Coast. Courses like Quail and TPC Boston also allow a lot of drivers to be hit, if you like that angle. 

 

The Weather

Thursday: A 30% chance of showers in the morning. High of 64 degrees with winds around 10 MPH in the AM that fade away in the PM.  

Friday: Chance of showers lingers around 30% all day with a high of just 64 degrees. Winds start out light and pick up to the 10-to-16 MPH range in the PM. 

Weekend: The threat of rain never leaves but we do see a bit more sunshine forecast on the weekend with highs reaching the upper-60s. Winds remain relatively calm but we'll check again tomorrow. 

 

The area has seen A LOT of rain over the last month so we should see a soft course this week. That being said, the forecast for the actual event looks pretty good. 

For tee-time waves, the late Thursday starters look to have the best of it right now, but that could easily flip over the next few days so keep an eye out on that situation. With winds under 20 MPH all week I don't think we'll see anything too dramatic in the tee-time splits. 

 

Josh Culp
Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.