Medinah course that ticks all the boxes
RYDER CUP: THE CHALLENGE PHILIP REIDgives an insight into what lies ahead for the players as they set out on their Ryder Cup journey
IT HAS been quite obvious over the three practice days that players – but especially those who bomb the ball off the tee – have found their course of choice. Little, or no, rough! Pristine fairways! Pure greens! What’s not to like?
This course, which has been tweaked by course architect Rees Jones since Tiger Woods won the 2006 US PGA here, ticks all the boxes in terms of the challenge for this 39th Ryder Cup.
The biggest change has been to the par four 15th hole, which – when the forward tee is used – will become a driveable tee-shot to a green guarded by water (very much in play) down the right.
Although it measures 391 yards (358 metres) off the back tee, it is likely to be played off the forward tee (at 280 yards) on a number of occasions. The small, shallow nature of the green adds to the challenge and brings the water into play.
“It’s a great hole, perfect driveable par four because it’s risk-reward and it gives you the option, a big landing area to lay up,” said USA “rookie” Webb Simpson of the hole.
It was interesting to watch the different strategies – off different tees – during the practice days as players ranged from three-woods up to drivers off the front tee in going for the green.
Indeed, the finishing stretch of holes will likely provide the defining moments of this match. The 15th is followed by the par four 16th – remembered for Sergio Garica’s run and leap after hitting from the base of an oak tree in his pursuit of Tiger Woods in the 1999 US PGA – that will offer bogeys as much as birdies, while the par three 17th is one of three short holes that play across water from tee to green.
Garcia, forever associated with that shot which heralded his arrival on the world stage, confessed that he preferred the course before the recent changes.
“Personally, I liked it better in ’99. I thought it was a better course. I guess this is the way it’s going.
“The course is playing different with pretty much no rough, so there’s not a lot of thinking when you get on the tee. You can pretty much hit it nice and hard,” said the Spaniard.
For all that, the general consensus is that there will be a plethora of birdies as USA captain Davis Love seeks to keep the crowds noisy.
“It’s a course that is very challenging, extremely difficult with green contours . . . the set-up will allow for some birdies and I think that’ll be exciting to watch, exciting to compete in that (matchplay) format,” said Phil Mickelson.
MEDINAH: Hole-by-hole guide
1 433 Yards 396 Metres Par 4
The first decision for the players: driver or three-wood? Although the driver will leave a shorter approach, there is the risk of a hanging lie; a fairway wood or hybrid will likely find a flatter lie. Relatively easy opener.
2 192 Yards 176 Metres Par 3
The first of the stunning short holes, the tee shot must carry the water – with no bailout on the left side – to a banked green with bunkers right and back. Any shot even slightly tugged left will result in a walk to the drop zone.
3 412 Yards 377 Metres Par 4
The addition of bunkering down the right adds to the challenge. Players will want to avoid the left-hand side of the fairway where overhanging tress can interfere with the approach shot to a green which slopes back to front and is guarded by bunkers on both sides.
4 463 Yards 423 Metres Par 4
A tee shot up the right of this fairway is the preferred option, leaving an uphill approach to a green that slopes from back to front. The putting surface is among the fastest on the course and the key is to keep the ball below the hole.
5 536 Yards 490 Metres Par 5
A perfect risk-and-reward hole, this is the shortest of the par fives. The tee shot should find the right/centre of the fairway with an approach of no more than a three or four-iron to the elevated green. Expect lots of birdies – and even some eagles!
6 509 Yards 465 Metres Par 4
The addition of a new back tee has toughened an already strong hole. Players will seek to fade the ball off the three fairway bunkers down the left but must also avoid the trees down the right. The preferred approach is from the left/centre to an undulating green protected by four large bunkers.
7 617 Yards 564 Metres Par 5
This dogleg hole – which swings left to right – will require a drive towards the bunker on the elbow down the left. Most players will opt to lay-up, leaving a final approach from 100 to 120 yards. Anything closer brings a left-side fairway bunker into play. Elevated green has subtle breaks.
8 201 Yards 184 Metres Par 3
A seemingly straight-forward short hole, the real difficulty is around the green which is protected by a large bunker on the left and two deep bunkers on the right. The putting surface slopes severely from left to right.
9 432 Yards 395 Metres Par 4
A challenging tee-shot on a hole that doglegs severely from right to left. Most players will opt to use a hybrid or fairway wood off the tee, hugging the right side to leave an uphill approach to a green heavily guarded by bunkers.
10 578 Yards 529 Metres Par 5
The definitive par five, which will appeal to bombers and to the strategist alike. The bigger hitters will be tempted to loosen the shoulders and attempt to get home in two. The alternative is to use a three-wood off the tee to take the fairway bunkers out of play. The green slopes from back to front.
11 440 Yards 402 Metres Par 4
A beautifully shaped dogleg from right to left, the addition of a fairway bunker on the elbow has put a greater emphasis on the tee shot. The play is a three-wood or hybrid that leaves the player with a short iron into the smallest green on the golf course.
12 476 Yards 435 Metres Par 4
This magnificent par four asks questions from tee to green. A slight dogleg, players will seek to hug the right side of the fairway as a big oak tree guards the approach to the left of the green. The challenge on the approach shot is accentuated by a pond to the right of the green.
13 245 Yards 224 Metres Par 3
A foreboding tee shot over the water – with swirling winds – leaves very little room for error on this par three, considered the signature hole on the course. The shot, for the most part, is across the lake to a green guarded by three bunkers to the front and left. Finding the green is only half the battle, as the green slopes sharply from right to left.
14 609 Yards 557 Metres Par 5
A hole which the bombers will love, as they have the chance to get the ball to the top of the hill on this tree-lined fairway and leave them with a chance to reach the green in two with a long-iron or fairway wood into a green guarded by no fewer than six bunkers.
15 391 Yards 358 Metres Par 4
This hole has been transformed by designer Rees Jones. Statistically the easiest hole in the 2006 US PGA championship, Jones has turned the hole into a short par with water running from the landing area to the green. if – or, rather, when – the tee is moved forward, it will become a drivable par four that should prove one of the more exciting holes on the finishing stretch.
16 482 Yards 441 Metres Par 4
This is where Sergio Garcia played his near-impossible recovery shot from beside an oak tree (since removed) in his chase of Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA. A new tee box has brought driver into play off the tee and, consequently, a tough approach shot to an elevated green heavily bunkered.
17 193 Yards 176 Metres Par 3
No place to hide on this par three which – like the 13th – requires a committed tee-shot over water to a green fronted by the lake and with large bunkers on either side. Those who manage to find the green will be rewarded with a relatively flat putting surface. The real danger is on the tee-shot.
18 449 Yards 411 Metres Par 4
A number of fairway bunkers have been added by course architect Rees Jones to add further bite to an already tough finishing hole. The green has been raised and is flanked by a number of deep bunkers. There is also a collection area back-right which will leave players with an extremely difficult up and down.