Long shots are favored to go distance at Kemper

May 28, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

POTOMAC -- When the Kemper Open moved from Congressional Country Club in Bethesda to the Tournament Players Club at Avenel five years ago, more than merely the ZIP code changed.

The event went from a course for monstrously long hitters such as Greg Norman to one for long shots such as Billy Andrade. Inaugural champion Tom Kite called Avenel "a thinking man's course."

It will still take a lot of thought to win the $1.1 million Kemper Open, which begins today. But for the first time since the tournament left Congressional, it will also take some extra distance off the tee.

"The guys who are the longer hitters are going to have an `D advantage," said Andrade, who won the tournament last year more on placement and putting than on raw power. "It's just playing flat-out harder."

And longer. Two holes have been lengthened drastically, with some 40 yards added to the now 520-yard sixth hole. A par-5 once reachable in two by nearly everyone, it will be within reach of only a few.

Which might explain why more of the tour's master blasters are here this year than ever before. While nine of the top 10 money-winners aren't playing Avenel, eight of the tour's top 10 long drivers are.

That group doesn't include Norman, who hasn't played enough rounds this year to qualify, or Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, who'll be making his PGA Tour debut.

"By playing longer, it puts the driver in our hands," said John Daly.

Though the actual yardage change is barely noticeable -- 6,904 last year, 7,005 this year -- there are other reasons the course is playing longer. The maturity of zoysia fairways will provide better lies, but will also give less roll.

On top of that, the steady rain this spring has enabled the rough to grow and, for the first time since the tournament moved from Congressional, errant shots will be penalized more. The greens have been cut and are playing faster.

The players in this year's 156-man field have found Avenel to be longer, and more challenging, than ever before. A course that was once scoffed at, as well as avoided, has found grudging respect.

"Last year at No. 15 I hit driver and wedge," Andrade said after a practice round Tuesday. "Today I hit driver and 3-iron."

"The course played about 8,000 yards and my game felt it played like 8,000 yards," said Rypien, who shot an 11-over 82 in yesterday's pro-am.

The history of this tournament since it came to Avenel has been for its champions to be accurate off the tee, hit wonderful mid-range iron shots and putt well. Look at the list: Kite, Morris Hatalsky, Tom Byrum, Gil Morgan, Andrade.

Hatalsky, who beat Kite in a playoff in 1988, said: "There are a lot of places where second shots are very penal. You have to have good iron play or a tremendous short game."

Not that long hitters haven't done well at Avenel. Norman, who won at Congressional in 1984 and 1986, has been in contention here twice in the three years he has played. In his first try last year, Daly came in tied for 16th at 13-under-par.

Both will have to play a little better today than they did in yesterday's pro-am, when Norman finished at 5-over 76 and Daly shot 12-over 83.

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