The fourth and final Major of the year, the PGA Championship, tees off at Whistling Straits on Thursday and for four days the attention of the golfing fraternity will be fully focussed on Wisconsin as the world’s finest attempt to claim their share of the $10 million purse. This isn’t the only incentive for the field though; winning here gives privileges to secure careers for at least another five years and that alone is enough to ensure that this event is always hotly contested. A quick look at the betting suggests that there is a bit of value to be found if you ignore Jordan Spieth but we’ll get into that on Wednesday. For now, let’s focus on the course and what it will take to win here.
Situated in Wisconsin, Whistling Straits could be located anywhere in the UK and Peter Dye has managed to succeed where all others have failed and create a proper links course in the US. Once you get past that, the first thing that you notice about the course is how long it is. Measuring just over 7,500 yards, the par 72 layout is daunting to say the least but as we’ll see, distance off the tee is not the only way to go low here. The countless bunkers are going to be almost impossible to miss completely but being able to keep the amount of time spent in the sand to a minimum could mean the difference between winning and losing, especially when it looks like the leaderboard could be choked at the top. Last time the event was held here in 2010 we saw a hotly contested final day and so avoiding those bunkers and the pressure that comes with them will be vitally important. In 2010 we also saw how the course rewards aggressive play. Almost everyone in the field will realise this and know that when the wind gets up, hitting those long irons will be tricky.
With the course playing so long it’s obvious that being able to hit the ball long will provide a bit of an advantage, but distance off the tee is certainly not the only stat that matters. With the deep bunkers and fescue lying in wait to punish wayward tee shots, accuracy off the tee is even more important. Bombing it down the fairway will help but only if it lands right. Otherwise accurate tee shots will suffice.
As with most of Peter Dye’s designs, aggressive iron play will be rewarded but knowing when to go for it and when to hold back will ensure bogeys are avoided and birdies are made. Keep a lookout for players who have participated here before and who manage the course well. Taking advantage of the long holes is going to be the most effective way to make birdies and get to the top so look out for players who rank highly in the Par 5 performance stats. Combine this with sand save stats, as there are literally hundreds of bunkers to be found scattering the course and getting out of those before too much damage is done will be invaluable.
Finally, hitting greens in regulation may prove difficult on more than a few holes so be on the hunt for players who can scramble. A soft touch around the greens could keep the bogeys to a minimum and in events that are as closely contested as this looks to be, that’s vital.
Favourites or Outsiders?
Winning at Whistling Straits is going to prove difficult and whoever finishes on top will have to play competitive golf from start to finish. There’s little to no room for error here and it’s likely that there will be a different leader every day. This doesn’t seem to be the kind of course that allows one to run away with a victory. Having said that, you can’t ignore the fact that Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy both have the ability do just that in any tournament and may be difficult to beat. I have a feeling punters are going to be divided on this one. There will be those who look to Spieth and McIlroy’s form and feel that they can’t be beaten. There will be those who realise that anything can happen over four days and who will look for more value. I’m still not sure where my opinion lies, perhaps in a combination of both. Catch tomorrow’s article for concrete tips and insight.