Winged Foot Meets Bethpage - Players Prepped For Brutal Andrew Green PGA Championship Test
Some of the game's biggest names discuss the challenge awaiting them at this year's PGA Championship
The stage is set for the 2023 PGA Championship and it promises to be a war of attrition as much as anything else, with players comparing Oak Hill's East Course to two notoriously difficult American venues.
Located in the north-east of New York, Andrew Green led a restoration project to modernise this Donald Ross design and ensure Oak Hill remains relevant in today's landscape of professional golf. More than 600 trees have been removed since Jason Dufner lifted the Wanamaker Trophy in 2013, meaning it's going to look very different this year.
The end result is a 7,400-yard brute, equipped with long rough, penal bunkers, and tricky green complexes that have some of the best players in the world drawing parallels with Winged Foot and Bethpage Black, while Robert MacIntyre described it as "the hardest golf course I've ever played."
Ahead of the second men's Major of the year, the game's biggest names were asked about the challenge facing them this week. Here are some of the best responses...
Rory McIlroy: 'Discipline a huge factor'
The Northern Irishman cut an unusually subdued figure in his pre-tournament press conference as he swerved any and all questions pertaining to LIV Golf. When talking about Oak Hill, though, he had plenty to say.
"It's certainly a lot different than the course we played for the 2013 championship. I think Andrew Green has done a phenomenal job. I guess sort of restoring it back to probably the way Donald Ross wanted the golf course to play and to set up. I think he's done a great job there.
"I look at a golf course like this and I think it's quite similar to what we faced at Winged Foot in 2020 in terms of long golf course: long rough, pretty narrow fairways, but there's a lot of openings into the greens. You can run the ball up. The fairways are pretty firm and those aprons are certainly running.
"There's two different trains of thought of how to play that. It's playing from the fairway and being able to get a little closer to those tight corners, or you can just get it up there as far as possible and try and run it up the front of the green, which basically most greens allow you to do.
"You've got to keep it out of those fairway bunkers. They're very, very penal. What Andrew Green has done with the green complexes and sort of spread them out and you see all these extra sections, back rights and back lefts, if someone can keep their discipline and not start firing at those pins and know that middles of the greens is a pretty good leave on most holes. It's a long golf course, and par and length is going to be an advantage.
"But I think even more of an advantage is making sure that you're hitting into these greens from the fairways. It's a combination of everything, but I think discipline is going to be a huge factor this week."
Jon Rahm: 'Similar vibe to Bethpage'
Jon Rahm is hoping to build on his stunning Masters victory in April and complete the third leg of the career grand slam but is in no doubt about the size of the challenge awaiting him this week. The World No. 1 thinks short game, rather than distance off the tee, is going to be crucial.
"I hadn't played it before so I didn't know what to expect. Obviously I saw the 2013 PGA, some back highlights, and obviously knew it was a challenging golf course. But you can tell with this redo they wanted to make it a little extra difficult.
"I get a very similar vibe and feel around the golf course that you could get at Bethpage or Winged Foot, since we're so close to both those courses. Tough course. Whoever is setting up the golf course is going to have a lot of fun, because there's a lot of opportunities on holes with pin locations and tee boxes, so you can make this golf course as difficult as you want.
"I would say whoever did the redo has done a good job. It's challenging, but it's one of those where if you hit the shots you're supposed to hit, put it in the fairway, go to the centre of the green, nothing crazy should be happening.
"It's a tough golf course, but I do agree what he [McIlroy] meant in the sense of having a really good short game week, which is the same thing Phil [Mickelson] and Bryson [DeChambeau] did at Winged Foot. It will give you obviously a massive opportunity. Everybody will miss fairways, everybody will miss greens, so if you can get those up-and-downs, obviously it's not only a confidence booster, but it's something that will keep the round going."
Justin Thomas: 'The thickest blades of grass'
Justin Thomas said Oak Hill reminded him a little of Southern Hills, the venue for his 2022 PGA Championship comeback victory. Should he defend his title, he'll become just the sixth player to win three or more PGA Championships. Here's what he had to say about the course this week...
"I love the way the courses look up here, just the definition of the fairway to the rough and the cutting of the bunkers, and I love the square -- the kind of sharp edges on the greens. This place reminds me a little bit of a Winged Foot just in terms of the greens. Not the severity of the greens, they're not like Winged Foot - nothing is - but just the designs of them and some of the pin locations and how the fairways kind of canter against the slopes or whatever you want to call it. Yeah, it's a really good golf course.
"It's tough. The thickest blades of grass. It's very, very thick. I felt like I had a lot of lies chipping and hitting irons that I had a pretty good idea how it was going to come out, and it didn't. So I think that's going to be something that a lot of people will have to guess correctly or adjust to as the week goes on.
"I love old-school golf courses. I think they can create a lot of definition to holes. It just seems like nowadays you can't really please anybody but it is very tough. There's going to be holes you need to play on one side or the other and just kind of be smart when you get in trouble and not turn bogeys or pars into doubles and triples."
Scottie Scheffler: 'Really good Major set-up'
Scottie Scheffler heaped praise on the course set-up, acknowledging the fact it's going to play really tough when the gun goes off, but also describing the test as fair for all 156 competitors.
"It's pretty difficult. There's only two par-5s and both of them are 600 yards. We played yesterday and I hit the fairway on four, and I had to hit like a 50-yard hook around the trees to get to the green with a 3-wood.
"That was kind of a telltale sign, especially if you're playing No. 3, which is a 3-iron to a green that looks like you can barely keep a 7-iron on it. It's definitely a really hard course, but there's a few holes where there's some opportunities and then there's a few holes where you've kind of got to strap in and try and make pars.
"It's a really good major championship set-up. The rough is very penal. The fairways are really firm, so they're hard to hit. We should get, I think, a few different types of weather this week. It'll be the usual challenges: thick rough, deep bunkers. Just try and stay patient out there and play a few good rounds."
A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform producing football reports, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1. However, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing and now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.
Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.
As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.
What's in Andy's bag?
Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)
3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)
Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)
Irons: Callaway Apex Pro '19 (4-PW)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)
Putter: TaylorMade Spider X
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
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