2013 PGA Championship
OAK HILL C.C., EAST COURSE
1. THE EAST COURSE IS A NO-NONSENSE TEST OF GOLF
Oak Hill doesn't exactly leap off your TV screen like, say, 2010 PGA site Whistling Straits, but it's still a dramatic (and demanding) venue from the word go. The 460-yard, par-4 first is "one of the stouter, longer opening holes Donald Ross ever built," says Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion and an accomplished designer in his own right. "Depending on the breeze, it can be driver, long iron, with a brook that runs across the fairway short of the green. It lets you know you're at Oak Hill." Crenshaw also admires the 452-yard par-4 ninth. "A gorgeous, natural hole, just quintessential Ross," he says. "It's a dogleg-right that asks for two really good, honest shots. There's plateau green, and a beautiful tee shot that you have to fit the ball in left to right."
2. PGA HAPPENINGS OFTEN HINT AT BIG THINGS TO COME
We used to think of the season's last major as the "least" major. But of late the PGA has been playing a huge role in shaping the narrative of the game. In 2009, Y.E. Yang came from behind to upend Tiger Woods at Hazeltine, which exactly no one predicted would happen and which came three months before Woods's life became a TMZ sideshow. In 2011, Keegan Bradley became the first to win a major with an anchored putting stroke; he went on to become America's new Ryder Cup darling and anchoring became one of the game's hot-button issues. Then came last year, when Rory McIlroy caught fire at the PGA at Kiawah, beginning a hot streak that would see the curly-haired Irishman win back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff events and cop Player of the Year honors in a landslide, affirming his position as the Next Great Player. What ever might the 2013 PGA portend?
3. WEIRD, WONDERFUL STUFF HAPPENS AT OAK HILL
In the second round of the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill, Jerry Pate, Nick Price, Doug Weaver and Mark Wiebe aced the 167-yard sixth hole. "It all happened in about 90 minutes," says Craig Harmon, 67, Oak Hill's head pro and one of 1948 Masters champion Claude Harmon's four golfing sons. "And there was no record of it — no TV, no video. That's the even stranger part." Curtis Strange hoisted the trophy three days later to become the first to win back-to-back Opens since Ben Hogan in 1951. (Hogan, meanwhile, missed a 30-inch putt on the 71st hole of the 1956 U.S. Open at Oak Hill to lose by a shot to Dr. Cary Middlecoff.) And just a day before the start of the 1998 U.S. Amateur at Oak Hill, Tom McKnight said to friend Hank Kuehne, "Wouldn't it be great if we met each other in the finals?" They did — Kuehne won 2 and 1.
4. THE BEAR WAS AT HIS BEST THERE
Jack Nicklaus won his fifth Wanamaker Trophy by a touchdown and an extra point at the 1980 PGA at Oak Hill. The seven-stroke victory was the largest winning margin since the tournament went to a stroke-play format in 1958, and tied Nicklaus with Walter Hagen for the most PGA titles.
5. YOU CAN EXPECT MINIMAL MOANING
After Charlie Coe beat Rufus King in the final of the 1949 U.S. Amateur, the USGA's Joe Dey said of Oak Hill, "Where have you been for 20 years?" At the 2003 PGA, Ernie Els said of the East Course, "It is the best, fairest and toughest championship golf course I've ever played in all my years as a tour pro." Hearing the players and press gush about a PGA venue will be a welcome change after so much talk at Kiawah in 2012 of 90-minute shuttle rides and a windy links course that you had to play through the air.
6. CHAD MICHEEL-CAMPBELL WILL GET ANOTHER CHANCE TO TELL PEOPLE WHO HE IS
"People still call me Shaun Micheel, and it goes the other way," says Chad Campbell (above, bottom), who lost to Micheel (above, top) by two at the 2003 PGA. "And some people think I won, so I relive it quite a bit."
7. OAK HILL HAS ITS OWN GREEN JACKET
Who needs Augusta? A trophy room at Oak Hill features a mannequin wearing Claude Harmon's faded green jacket from the 1948 Masters, plus replicas of all the prizes won at various USGA and PGA of America events held at the club (six and soon-to-be five, respectively). If living history is your thing, Craig Harmon, who expects his two surviving brothers, Butch and Bill, to also attend the PGA, has been the club's head pro since 1972.
8. A 1,000-YARD FINISH
The front teeing areas have been eliminated from Nos. 17 and 18, which means that both of these par 4s will play in the neighborhood of 500 yards. "And those were already two of the hardest holes on the course," Craig Harmon says.
9. THE COURSE IS HARD… BUT MAJORS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HARD
As the host pro, Craig Harmon played in the 1980 PGA at Oak Hill and shot a first-round 89. (Billy Casper would shoot 88 the following day.) When he called his dad, Claude, to tell him how the day went, poor Craig got no sympathy. "Terrific," Claude said. "You made me money. I bet everybody you'd break 90."
"The course is pretty much hard all the time, but back then the rough was especially high," Craig says today. "This year they'll go to the graduated rough for the first time here: The first cut will be like a normal fairway, the second will be about two and a half inches for five yards on either side of the fairway, and beyond that it'll start at four inches and they'll let it grow up from there for the rest of the week."
Only one man, Jack Nicklaus, broke par at the 1980 PGA, and just three broke par at the 2003 PGA: Shaun Micheel (-4), Chad Campbell (-2), and Tim Clark (-1). "It keeps coming at you — a lot of tough holes," says Stewart Cink (79-73, MC in '03). "It's narrow. Maybe it seemed more difficult because I shot 12 over par." Adds Campbell, the runner-up in 2003: "Those are some of the hardest fairways to hit there, and the hardest greens. It's tough. If you didn't hit the fairways, it was chip-out rough."
10. YOU CAN GO!
At press time, Thursday grounds passes were still available for $75, and you could nab practice-round passes for a mere $25. (Visit PGA.com/pgacham-pionship for details.) Good luck finding similar prices for Masters tickets!