By most measures the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is the United States’ toughest test of golf. It stretches over 7,600 yards. The course rating approaches 80, and if someone ever asks you the slope rating, just say, “a billion.” That’s an accepted figure. With numbers like that you hardly need the Atlantic Ocean breezes or the countless water hazards, but Pete Dye isn’t known for his player-friendly layouts so there are plenty of red stakes at Kiawah and acres of sand as well. If you are interested in seeing the best players in the World tested, this is the place you want to see them play. The only question is, will a somewhat soggy Ocean Course live up to its expectations?
My only memory of Kiawah is the 1991 Ryder Cup, which came to known as “The War By the Shore.” Caught up in the aftermath of the 1st Gulf War, tired of losing the Ryder Cup to the European Team, the event and the fans got a bit out of control in hindsight. But, as I watched as a young golf fan I remember everything feeling appropriate. The flag waving, the unfathomable pressure, it made me a Ryder Cup fan for life. In the background was this impossible, wind-swept golf landscape. I remember hearing that the players were lucky it was a match-play event because the medal scores would have been a bit embarrassing. It wasn’t out of the question for a player to turn in 42 and be right in his match. That was balata balls and Ryder Cup pressure, though. I think these guys will break 80–no problem, but I have an expectation that the course is going to be very difficult. I hear long and soft and I think Congressional and McIlroy. It makes me ill.
1. Tiger’s Year: Woods is the only 3-time winner out there. He leads the FedEx Cup race, he’s atop the Ryder Cup standings, and these are very old-school Tiger Woods stats. But, Tiger’s weekend scoring in the majors has been nothing like it was when he was dominating, and there’s still a question if he really trusts that driver. On this course, Tiger will be forced to pull the driver out of the bag. Where will it fly in the wind? Tiger said this week that he still believes he has a good 40 majors left to catch Jack. That may be true mathematically, but not practically. Tiger used to grade his seasons only on these events, but some new perspective has him already pleased with 2012. I still don’t think Tiger has a shot at getting #15 until next April and if he comes up short again, his critics will have another major-less season to highlight.
2. The weather. You get the feeling that the weather at Kiawah will be almost as unpredictable as it is at the Open Championship. I’m guessing it’s going to be humid. Other than that? Not a clue. I’ve seen everything from thunderstorms every day, to calm conditions, to people calling for 30 mph gusts on Friday and Saturday afternoon. If the wind blows 30 mph, they could put the tees at 6,800 yds and these guys would get eaten alive. The only thing working in the player’s favor is the wide driving areas and receptive turf. This event has the feel of one that will have a “good-side” and “bad-side” to the draw. If the wind predictions for Friday afternoon are accurate, the late/early guys will be loving their good fortune.
3. Paspalum Grass. Paspalum is a strain of bent grass invented by Carl Spackler. Ok, that’s not true, but the grass is something that is rarely (if ever) seen on the PGA Tour. The players have talked about how it “grabs” the ball around the green. With shaved runoff areas, soft greens and paspalum the consensus is…you better have one hell of a short game to survive this event. Translation: Bad news for Lee Westwood.
4. The Closing Three Holes. The 16th is just a 581 yd par-5. No Big Deal. Into the wind, this hole will be a monster, but expect at least one round where the PGA temps the players to go for this green in two. That opens up a whole other realm of trouble. The 17th hole (pictured above) measures 223 yards. If the wind is blowing you are going to see tour pros bailing out like a bunch of 20-handicaps. It’ll be awesome. The course closes with a 500-yd par 4. So you know, just a little easy par there to finish up. There’s often debate over whether a great course needs a great finishing hole–well Kiawah closes with three beasts. It’ll make someone look bad. I guarantee it. Which brings me to…
5. The Choke Factor. Johnny Miller once said the 17th hole was so hard it could “make you choke when you were playing a practice round by yourself.” The hole was the site of one of the great double-buckles in golf history. Mark Calcavecchia was 4-up with four holes to go against Colin Montgomerie and was already leaking oil when they got to the 17th tee–his lead was down to two holes. Montgomerie hit first and dunked one in the water. Then Calcavecchia stepped up and hit a cold shank into the water that never got more than 5 ft off the ground. After they both dropped, Calc had a 2-footer for double and the win, but missed that as well. When Calc lost 18, he was inconsolable. He thought he’d cost the team the match, but as it turned out, the closing holes would take out a few more victims and the US would squeak out a 1-point win. If you enjoy watching train wrecks, here’s the Calc meltdown. Now, the pressure won’t be like this at the PGA, but the way that tournaments get lost these days, so to speak, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few guys throw up on themselves on the way in.
The Definitive Top-10:
- Matt Kuchar
- Keegan Bradley
- Rory McIlroy
- Paddy Harrington
- Tiger Woods
- Martin Laird
- Jason Dufner
- John Daly
- Louis Oosthuizen
- Jim Furyk