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Fairways Not Wider for Ryder

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -– Despite what you may have heard, the fairways at Valhalla Golf Club have not been widened to favor the U.S. team in the Ryder Cup. It is the rough that has been widened for that purpose.

The intermediate rough, that is. Valhalla’s first cut of bristle –- which, at an inch-and-a-half deep, is not even an annoyance to tour players -- is anywhere from 12 to 60 feet wide in spots. Granted, those spots are 300-plus yards from the tee, fueling suspicion that U.S. captain Paul Azinger wanted to loosen up the setup for his team’s big hitters. (Also fueling that suspicion was Azinger’s admission that that is exactly what he wanted.)The deep rough, furthermore, isn’t lose-your-ball deep. It’s about 3.5 inches.
But the fairways themselves, I just learned from Valhalla course superintendent Mark Wilson, will be narrower than they were when Tiger Woods and Bob May wrestled for the 2000 PGA Championship. “I’ve been narrowing the fairways for 15 years,” Wilson said, “and we’ve got them where we want them.”

The theory, of course, is that Europe’s golfers are straight-hitters who thrive on short, tight golf courses with minimal greenside rough and slow greens. So Valhalla will be a long, wide-open course with areas of deep greenside rough and greens that run to 12 on the Stimpmeter. “Americans always seem to favor faster greens,” Wilson said.

Captain Azinger concedes –- always with a wry smile -– that he did not ask European captain Nick Faldo for his input. “I think both sides really like the way the course is set up,” Azinger said today. “I’m giving the players an opportunity to play.” He added, “It’s a stressful enough week without being handcuffed off the tee because the rough is four and a half inches deep.”

Wilson couldn’t address the stress issue, but Valhalla’s greenskeeper said he was happy to keep clipping and trimming. “I was just asked if the setup favored one team,” he said this afternoon. “Not really. But we tried to produce conditions that the Americans like.”

And what conditions are those?

“Everybody will be able to hit driver.”

Because the fairways are wider?

“No. Actually ….” [See above.]

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by Kevin Cunningham