'Toughest' major course lies in wait for USPGA

Andy Farrell,Wisconsin
Wednesday 11 August 2004 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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No doubt the "I survived Whistling Straits" badges and tee-shirts are already in production. Spectators at the 86th USPGA Championship, who do not just sit in a grandstand all day, will certainly deserve them. Such is the rugged nature of the terrain that it could be the toughest walking course.

Whether the players inside the ropes are attempting little more than survival will depend largely on the weather. The word coming into the tournament was that this could be the toughest course ever for a major. Shaun Micheel, the defending champion who played at the venue earlier in the summer, said the winning score could be "double digits over par".

Whistling Straits is barely six years old and being seen by most of the players for the first time. Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke arrived on Saturday to give themselves more preparation time than usual. "It's the first time I've seen a par-77 course," said Clarke. "I didn't realise how many par-sixes there were."

Westwood said: "I'd been told there are 10 difficult holes and eight impossible ones. I'm still trying to work out which the 10 difficult holes are."

Sand dunes tower over the fairways, hollows fall in to ravines, Lake Michigan sweeps out to the horizon and around 1,000 bunkers pop up everywhere, most of them tiny waste areas well off line.

A so-called links created by machine rather than nature - over 13,000 truckloads of sand were deposited on the former army training base - it is like nothing anyone has seen before.

Certainly not in Scotland, there being some mythic resemblance according to the local media, nor Ireland, which has a strong influence here - the second course is named the "Irish" and the Tricolour flies alongside the Stars and Stripes and the Wisconsin flag above the clubhouse.

It is the creation of Pete Dye, who turned a swamp into the Stadium course at Sawgrass, and Herb Kohler, the president of the Kohler Company, which owns the course but normally specialises in bathroom fittings and fixtures.

They will be hoping it is not a busted flush - there will either be many more majors here or none at all - but Dye is known for challenging the modern players with his "Dyeabolical" courses. Length is a prime factor with the course measuring, 7,514 yards, the most ever at a major, and three of the par-fours at least 500 yards.

The finishing stretch is something else. The 15th is a par-four of 518 yards, the 16th a par-five of 569 yards, a three-shotter for sure, the 17th is a 223-yard par-three on the edge of the lake and the 18th is a par-four of 500 yards with a clover-shaped green.

Of the 17th, Clarke said: "If you are on the left half of the green then you have duck-hooked it. And if you miss it on the left, you could end up with the ball in your pocket." If player and ball have not gone over the side of cliff, that is.

At the 18th, Tiger Woods hit three approach shots before finding the green and only then with a three-wood. "If the wind doesn't blow, you will see some good scores," Woods said. "But if it blows every day, level par will be a good target for the week."

It was cool and windy yesterday, but conditions were kinder when Padraig Harrington played on Monday afternoon. "On a warm day with just a breeze, it is very playable," said the Irishman. "It's an interesting test. But if it got very windy, or wet or cold, it could be brutal. The weather is going to be a huge factor in how the players enjoy the course."

The PGA of America will study the weather forecasts before deciding whether to move up any of the tees or use easier pin placements on the greens, as well as keeping the speed of the greens slower than usual.

"You are going to have to be a good ball-striker, who can hit the ball a long way and control your ball flight in the wind," said Harrington. "But with these greens it is still going to be target golf."

"It is not a true links," Woods agreed. "The ball does not run up from short of the green, it just plugs in the upslopes so it is links-style golf but it is also target-style."

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