BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Jay Haas knew something was different when he got to the 387-yard sixth hole Friday at Oakland Hills and looked at the pristine turf.
“There was not a single divot,” Haas said.
Players typically hit an iron, but not in the second round of the PGA Championship. In what is quickly becoming a trend at the majors, the tee was moved forward to make the hole play only 300 yards and give players the option of trying to drive the green.
“I think they just cut us a break,” Brandt Snedeker said. “I think they were feeling bad for us.”
There weren’t many deep discussions over club selection. It was simply a matter of where to hit it.
The answer: Don’t miss it right.
That’s what Angel Cabrera did, which turned a potential birdie into a bogey as he was battling for the lead. One of the biggest hitters in golf, Cabrera’s tee shot wound up in the thick rough parallel to the front of the green, with a deep bunker between him and the green and a large slope when he got to the putting surface.
Except he never got there. Trying to play the perfect pitch, he came up short and went in the sand, blasted out to 5 feet and missed his par putt. Cabrera wound up with a 72 and was still in good shape at 2-over 142.
Most everyone else simply tried to bash it left of the green, which left a simple angle to the hole between two humps. J.B. Holmes was an exception. He hit it onto the green and two-putted for birdie on his way to a 68.
“It popped in my head to lay it down in the fairway and hit a shot down there,” Holmes said. “If the pin was easier, you might have saw a bit more of that. But where they put the pin, it’s pretty much impossible. You have to try to get up where you can chip on.”
Even though the hole played 300 yards, it is slightly uphill and played into a 10 mph wind, so only the longest hitters had much hope of reaching the green.
And while it was easier – No. 6 was the eighth-toughest hole in the first round and second-easiest in the second – not everyone was ready to christen it as the most exciting hole. It certainly won’t challenge No. 10 at Riviera as among the greatest short par 4s in golf, the 17th at Oakmont or even the 17th at the TPC Scottsdale.
“Just because it’s a shorter hole doesn’t make it a great hole,” said Tom Lehman, who missed the green left and chipped to about 5 feet for birdie. “The green is what makes the short holes.”
“I thought it was forced,” Kevin Sutherland said.
This was the second time at the majors this year that forward tees were used to allow players to reach the green. The other was the 14th hole at Torrey Pines in the final round and in the playoff of the U.S. Open.
(Forward tees were used at Royal Birkdale, but that was to allow players to reach the fairway).
Some courses have built-in par 4s that allow for risk and reward, such as the 321-yard sixth hole at Winged Foot, although the prudent play was an iron to the fairway. Fans urged John Daly to give it crack in the 1997 PGA Championship. Not so surprisingly, the Wild Thing obliged and smacked his tee shot off the roof of a corporate tent.
The 17th hole at Oakmont is 313 yards, and it might have decided the U.S. Open last year when Jim Furyk tried to drive the green. He missed it left of a bunker, could barely advance his wedge out of the thick grass and took bogey, finishing one shot behind.
Also last year, the 14th hole at Royal Montreal during the Presidents Cup had forward tees, with water down the right side. It had some thrilling moments, although the most memorable was Woody Austin trying to hit out of the hazard and falling face first into the lake.
“We wanted to give them a choice,” said Kerry Haigh managing director of championships for the PGA of America who is in charge of setting up the course. “It’s an exciting part of golf.”
The PGA Championship already is looking ahead to next year at the possibility of moving the tees forward on the 14th at Hazeltine, and Henrik Stenson of Sweden approves.
“You always very much like to have a drivable par 4, especially around 14 or 15, late in the round,” Stenson said. “It could lead to a two-shot swing.”
But on this hole, the only serious damage was not making par. One of the bogeys belonged to Mark Calcavecchia, who missed his tee shot to the right. That’s not what caused the bogey, however.
“I stepped on my (expletive) ball,” Calcavecchia said. “That’s all you need to know about the sixth hole.”
It is strange, however, that golf courses keep getting lengthened, only for tournament officials to move tees forward during the competition. It’s all about giving them – and the players – some options.
But perhaps the best idea came from Shaun Segars, the caddie for Sutherland.
“If they want a short par 4,” he said, “they could just back up the tees on No. 9.”
The ninth hole is 257 yards, the longest par 3 at Oakland Hills.