Whistling success linked to margin of error

PGA Championship made into daunting test by wind, bunkers, length


August 10, 2004|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

HAVEN, Wis. - Shigeki Maruyama dragged his weary body up the steep hill behind the 18th hole. When he reached the top, the Japanese golfer let out a sigh that is universal in any language.

"Oi, yoi, yoi," Maruyama said before slumping back on a nearby bench.

A practice round proved to be a sobering experience for Maruyama and virtually every other player who toured Whistling Straits yesterday. With the PGA Championship set to begin Thursday, the players are bracing for a course that could make Shinnecock Hills look like a cakewalk.

They know they are walking into a hurricane. The only question is whether it becomes a Category 5.

Darren Clarke joked that the par should be 77, not 72.

"I didn't realize there was that many par-6s on one course," he said. "You usually have one or two holes every week where you could make lots of high numbers. Here, I think there's about 10 where you can take lots of high numbers. It's going to be a very, very, very difficult test."

Lee Westwood had a similar take.

"I was told before I got here there were 10 really difficult holes and eight impossible ones," he said. "I'm just trying to figure out which the 10 difficult holes were."

They all looked impossible to Westwood. The combination of 7,514 yards, unpredictable swirling winds, 1,400 bunkers and difficult greens is daunting. On top of that, the players have only a few days to learn the course.

For many of them, it brought back memories of cramming for a final exam without having read the textbook.

"It's hard to play this course for the first time," said Jim Furyk. "There's so much going on with this course. The greens are quite severe. It's going to take some time to get comfortable, before you know where you want to go."

Fred Funk thinks the best strategy is to go out there with blinders. The former Maryland coach said a player has to get over "the intimidation factor," because many of the bunkers and other obstacles aren't necessarily in play.

"When you go to the traditional courses like Oak Hill and Medinah, rolling hills and tree-lined, that's what we are used to looking at," Funk said. "Here, you've got to get over the distraction factor of this golf course and just concentrate on where you really need to hit it."

Funk, though, did use a word that likely won't be heard much this week. He thought the course could be "fun."

Others weren't quite so sure that would be the case. Furyk anticipates "a grueling week."

"It would be surprising if [course designer Pete Dye] wanted this to be fun for us," Furyk said. "It's going to be penalizing and tough. There's not much margin for error."

Dye retorted that Whistling Straits will be like "popcorn."

Then Dye slyly added, "Sometimes people choke on popcorn. Wait and see."

The players haven't gone into panic mode just yet. They are waiting to see how the PGA of America sets up the course Thursday.

"Could they make this course unplayable? Absolutely," Furyk said. "Could they make this playable? Absolutely. There's a lot of leeway in the setup. It's up to the PGA."

NOTE: Mark Evenson, the teaching professional at Suburban Club, qualified earlier in the summer by finishing 11th in the National Club Professional Championship.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

PGA Championship

When: Thursday-Sunday

Site: Whistling Straits, Haven, Wis.

Length: 7,514 yards

Par: 36-36-72

Format: 72 holes, stroke play

Purse: $6 million (winner's share $1,080,000)

Defending champion: Shaun Micheel

Field: 156 professionals, including 25 club pros

TV: Thursday, 2 p.m., TNT; Friday, 2 p.m., TNT; Saturday, 11 a.m., TNT; 2 p.m., chs. 13, 9; Sunday, 11 a.m., TNT; 2 p.m., chs. 13, 9

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