BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Lee Westwood was the first to complain about Oakland Hills, the host course for the 90th PGA Championship, but his comments were easily dismissed because he had shot an opening round 77.
But after the second round Friday, even the guys near the lead began to suggest this so-called "Monster" has become a cartoonish exaggeration of major championship golf.
"I don't think it's fair," said Ken Duke, who shot 73 Friday. "I tell you what, the greens were firming up a lot. They have got to do something to get some water on them."
"The greens are a joke," Steve Flesch said after scrambling for an even-par 70, one of the best rounds of the day. "And the raking — the thing that bothers me the most, honestly, is that they're raking the rough toward us on the tee."
Phil Mickelson complained more subtly after hanging on for a 73. He seemed to smile in disbelief as he walked off the 17th hole, where he made bogey, a common score on the par-3 with the most undulating green on the course. Players could aim only at the left part of the green Friday, away from the flag, and hope for a long two-putt. Several tee shots repelled off the green as if it were a trampoline.
"I thought this year's U.S. Open setup was great," Mickelson said.
And what about this week's setup?
"Not so much, yeah, not so much," the world No. 2 replied before refusing to go into details. "I've got to play this thing two more times and I don't really want to go into whether or not it's fair or what have you. Everybody's got to play it."
Ben Hogan called Oakland Hills a Monster in 1951, but that was before golf's notorious Dr. Frankenstein, Rees Jones, son of RTJ Sr., renovated Oakland Hills in 2006, adding 346 yards (7,395 total, par 70), pinching fairways and toughening up bunkers.
The turning point, insiders here say, was the 2002 U.S. Amateur, when the South Course, then just under 7,000 yards, gave up red numbers in bunches, including several 67s and a 66.
The members wouldn't have it. And so a course that was already hard got even harder.
Seven players broke 70 in the first round, and six more did so in the second. By contrast, there were 36 sub-par scores through the first two rounds of the 2007 PGA at Southern Hills. There were a total of three birdies on the 17th and 18th holes combined Friday. None of the 20 club pros in the field made the cut.
Flesch was in a chipper mood after his best scrambling round in years left him just four behind the leader, fellow Kentuckian J.B. Holmes. But Flesch is compulsively honest, and even in the glow of his amazing round he had to wonder aloud if the PGA of America had succumbed to a game of one-upmanship among golf's governing bodies.
"Majors are supposed to be difficult, but they're not supposed to be just absolute root canals, and that's how they're getting, all of them," he said. "If we're worried about attracting people to come play golf, if they see how miserable we are out there, why would they go, I want to play that game! It's fun to watch guys make birdies and do good. They smile. The PGA is committed to growing the game; is this how they want golf portrayed?"
Players have voiced three main concerns with the course this week, and Flesch calmly hit on all three of them:
• The rough
"I saw one guy on one end of the hose and another guy on the other, and they're walking from the green back toward the tee, from the fairway to 10 yards out, dragging the rough back. I mean you don't need to do that. The rough is already four inches deep and it's so thick. Somehow they've figured out how to grow two blades of grass out of one."
• The greens
"They only need to be 10 1/2, 11 on the Stimpmeter. They don't need to be 13, and they don't need to be brown." Asked how he played the 17th hole, Flesch said, "I might have hit the best shot of 156 guys there today. I hit 4-iron straight up into the air, landed literally eight yards on the green, eight, ten yards short of the hole, and went right over the green into the back."
• The added length
"The last hole is 500 yards long and it's a par 4," Flesch said. "To me that's the biggest injustice to the players. I'm hitting it as far now as I ever have. If you combined my driver distance with my 5-iron distance from 10 years ago, I'm maybe 10, 15 yards longer. They're extending par 4s 40 or 50 yards. I mean, 18 would be a great hole if guys were hitting 5-, 6-, 7-irons, not a 3- or a 4-iron to a green that can't receive that shot."
Flesch said he was forced to aim at a greenside bunker on 18 and hope for the best. He got up and down for par just as he had on 17, but said afterward, "When guys are aiming at bunkers from the fairway to make pars, that's a problem."
Said Brandt Snedeker, who has shot a pair of 71s: "Brutal. Absolutely brutal."
Rocco Mediate (73-74) went with: "The golf course is so nasty right now. Just nasty."
Like the "Monster" tag, such descriptions are often worn as a sort of badge of honor by the members, but pars and bogeys give fans little to cheer about. Flesch said the only noise he heard Friday was a grunt from "somebody getting hit by a golf ball."
Another byproduct of the course's excruciating difficulty, he added, is the somewhat random collection of names atop the leaderboard. By and large they are better than average scramblers (Jeev Milkha Singh) who happen to be having a good week, Flesch said — not what the tournament needs to fill the Tiger Woods void.
"The thing that bums me out is I don't know how many of our top 15, 20 guys got chased out of here this weekend," Flesch said. "I'm not discounting any guy up there, but do you think that's the leaderboard the PGA of America wants up there when they're fighting the Olympics? They need Phil, they need Sergio. How are ratings going to be this weekend? People are going to look at Charlie Wi, myself — I'm not saying anybody doesn't deserve to be up there, but people are going to turn around and go, 'Well I've never heard of any of these guys, let's see what's going on with the Olympics.' The PGA has got to be careful — they're getting what they're asking for, is what I'm saying."