As if playing Pinehurst No. 2 and pretty much having the stars and planets align to have the round of your life on that golf course wasn’t enough (more on that some other time — a lot more), the PGA Championship looks like it’s being played 30 minutes down the road. The PGA is at Oakland Hills in Michigan, a Donald Ross design that resembles No. 2 in a lot of ways, which makes watching the fourth and often forgotten major championship a lot more interesting.
What a joy it is to know No. 2 — and I knew it pretty well even before playing it — and watch the PGA. I’ve had the pleasure of covering two U.S. Opens in Pinehurst, and while I was in high school, I walked the course a ton as a volunteer during the two Tour Championhips and the U.S. Senior Open. I’ve been over just about every inch of that course, except for the greens (until yesterday at the U.S. Amateur’s Media Day), only without my clubs (until yesterday).
But I digress. (Believe, there will be A LOT more about my greatest day in golf in this space some other time. Seriously, when it was over, I was so happy I could’ve cried. I was fortunate enough to keep notes. Lucky you.)
There are differences between Oakland Hills, dubbed by Ben Hogan as “The Monster”, and No. 2, of course. There is a lot of deep rough around the greens, whereas the USGA sets up Pinehurst with shaved areas around the greens to give players the option of putting back up to the surface.
But there are a lot of similarities between the two as well. Like No. 2, Oakland Hills’ greens are its greatest weapon and defense, and their undulating, crowned shapes provide some amazingly creative shots from the best players in the world. Like Sergio Garcia said after his sturdy 1-under round of 69 on Thursday: “It’s all about the greens here.”
And like No. 2, there is little water on Oakland Hills, especially if you take away the approach on the 16th hole. It’s just not in play.
But the rough is. The PGA looks like an Open at No. 2, with graduated rough and narrow fairways. (You don’t know just how narrow a 23-yard wide landing area is until you’re on the tee looking at that tiny sliver, believe me.) And the deep rough, similar to what the amateurs will face in two weeks if they stray wide of the first two cuts, is deadly. Players can only advance the ball about 100 yards with any sort of control.
And Oakland Hills is loooooooooonnggg. Playing near 7,400 yards to a par 70 with a couple of massive par 4s, hellacious par 3s and birdieable par 5s — one on each side — is almost perfectly in line with No. 2’s setup. Long par 4s mean long iron approach shots, which means you can’t go right at pins because you can’t hold the severe greens. And then you’re dead because you’re faced with near-impossible up-and-downs. If there isn’t any rain this week, over par may win here, too.
So even though Oakland Hills is up there in Michigan dodging weather delays as if it were June in North Carolina, if you’ve been to No. 2 in any way or fashion, you know what the players at the PGA are up against. And that’s kinda fun to watch.