Mystery course awaits contenders for PGA title Nicklaus-designed layout attracts star-filled field

August 08, 1996|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Steve Jones stopped presses when he won the U.S. Open. Even Tom Lehman was a 40-to-1 pick with English bookmakers when he won the British Open. But nothing should be too surprising at this week's PGA Championship.

Golf's deepest field and an unknown course make anything seem possible at Valhalla Golf Club. Ernie Els, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson rate among the favorites in the PGA Tour's fourth major, but Louisville fans should not rule out anyone from John Adams to Fuzzy Zoeller when the $2 million event begins today.

After all, the Kentucky Derby favorite hasn't won since 1979. Why should things be any different in a sport as unpredictable as golf?

"There are a lot of guys in this field that could win this week," Davis Love III said. "Nobody really knows this course, except Fuzzy Zoeller, and he lives here. That takes away the advantage veteran players usually have. It definitely brings the field closer together."

Many players have compared the Jack Nicklaus-designed Valhalla to Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, and Glen Abbey outside Toronto. But it wasn't a Nicklaus course that Love mentioned discussing Valhalla. It was Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind.

Remember Crooked Stick? That's the course a non-winner from Arkansas named John Daly overpowered in 1991 to win the PGA.

"This is a little bit different than we're used to, and I've heard other players say it doesn't quite have the feel of a major championship," said Tom Kite, who is playing in his 23rd PGA. "But I think that's just because it's new and nobody knows what to expect. It's a little bit of a guessing game."

Valhalla, a 10-year-old course noteworthy for its absence of homesites, is a par-72, 7,144-yard layout. It is visually appealing, with the front and back nines providing marked contrasts. Most of the holes on the front are open, with a creek in play on many holes and others winding around an old quarry. The back nine is laid out through trees.

As is his practice, Nicklaus has provided players with large landing areas but demanded that they hit precise iron shots to greens surrounded by trouble. He has even succumbed to the island-green temptation at the 350-yard 13th, which is considered Valhalla's signature hole.

Valhalla's greens are large and severely undulating, with most divided into quadrants by a series of shelves and swales. Even Ben Crenshaw has been impressed by the tricky nature of the greens.

"The greens here have a lot of movement," the master putter said. "You have to look at the guy winning who hits to the right side of the green, who avoids all the swinging putts and hard chips."

The field includes 81 of the top 100 in the Sony world rankings.

PGA Championship

When: Today through Sunday

Where: Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Ky.

Course: A 7,144-yard, par-72 Jack Nicklaus design opened in 1986.

Course record: 66 by Nicklaus in 1986 and Larry Mize in 1987.

Defending champion: Steve Elkington, who beat Colin Montgomerie in a playoff.

TV: Today-tomorrow, TBS, noon-6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, TBS, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; CBS, 1: 30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Pub Date: 8/08/96

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