Breaking down the Ryder Cup course: It's Hazel-time..September 14, 2016 Le Golf National
The biggest event of all is heading for America’s Mid West. We take a closer look at Hazeltine in the company of Rich Beem, champion at the PGA 14 years ago..
The Ryder Cup tends to follow the path of PGA Championships and so we come to Chaska, Minnesota, home to the 2009 Championship where YE Yang did what nobody had ever done before – stop Tiger winning a Major when at least sharing the lead after three rounds.
Woods actually led by two, it was also Asia’s first (and to date only) Major win. Like Valhalla, which dates back to 1986, it has a relatively short life span having opened its doors in 1962.
Other recent Ryder Cup hosts like Medinah (1924), Oakland Hills (1916) and Oak Hill (1901) are more of the elite country club nature – but Hazeltine has already held two US Opens for both the men and women and a pair of PGAs.
The men came here to the outskirts of Minneapolis and St Paul, the Twin Cities, in 1970 and early reviews weren’t favourable.
On an especially windy first day, Arnold Palmer shot 79, Gary Player 80 and Jack Nicklaus 81 yet it was Dave Hill who was particularly irked by the layout. When the American was asked what he thought of the course he famously replied: “I’m still looking for it. What it needs is 80 acres of corn and a few cows.”
He would go on to finish second, albeit a distant seven shots behind Tony Jacklin, the first European to win the US Open for 43 years. It was another 40 years before another, Graeme McDowell, became the second.
Interestingly, for all the talk of overly long courses these days Hazeltine, even back then, measured 7,151 yards.
“Dave Hill was always a very volatile character, I tried to take him with a pinch of salt really,” Jacklin said.
“I wasn’t going to let a guy like that take my eye off the ball, he was basically a very mean-spirited individual in terms of foreign players. Hill once stood up in a player meeting in front of the commissioner and said we shouldn’t be playing in America.
“But I definitely didn’t feel that the galleries were against me at all. In some respects Hill made his bed that week.”
Come the 1991 US Open, which Payne Stewart won, the club had been through severe financial troubles as well as major course renovations and was now regarded as a proper test, even by Hill.
Eleven years later the club hosted its first PGA Championship and threw up another week where Tiger Woods was undone by a so-called journeyman. Rich Beem, who will be part of the Sky Sports team at Hazeltine, listened to the roars of Woods’ closing fourbirdie blast and put together a brilliant 68 of his own. At the last he had the luxury of a two shot lead.
“On the 18th I thinned an 8-iron just on the front edge and managed to three-jiggle it down there. Yay, yay me,” Beem says with a laugh.
“The biggest thing is the length, it has to be 300 yards longer now and it was big in 2002 but it seems a lot longer than it ever was. They have got a new superintendent there, I follow him on Twitter, and the course will be in immaculate shape. They have a newish clubhouse and they will be ready.
“Since it is such a long course length could be an issue when it comes to captains’ picks. Saying that, you need a pretty keen short game for the par 5s, it depends how they set it up obviously. You have got to find the fairway and that’s why I did so well – I didn’t miss one on the Sunday. The rough was really brutal.”
Come the matches the rough will be nothing like that. The captains are taking the trusted stance that they are ‘in the entertainment industry’ and birdies are big business. Davis Love III played in the ‘91 US Open and is looking forward to the challenge without a scorecard in anyone’s hand.
“It’s a big, long, Major championship-style course. It’s hard to turn in a 72-hole score on this course. Matchplay will be more friendly and a lot of fun.”
So, like Medinah, don’t expect a lot of chipping out sideways. And the fans will be making a whole lot of noise. “Minnesotans love their sport – the Twins, Timberwolves, Vikings and Wilds and they are golf fans,” said Beem.
They have a lot of good courses besides Hazeltine and it is a sports-crazy town. I don’t think that it’s an over-the-top high-end club, I don’t know what it would cost to join there, it is just a members’ club that is very active. It is not perceived as somewhere like Winged Foot, the people there are awesome.
“On the Monday I teed off at 8am and by the time we made the turn I looked around and said ‘man, there’s a lot of people here!’ By the time we finished there were 35,000 people on the grounds.”
Beem also found a pre-round routine that worked for him but don’t expect too many of this year’s heroes to be following suit. Unless you’re Rory McIlroy, perhaps, and over-sleep again.
“We found out more than I expected about the course but when we went from the course to the putting green I kept saying to myself that they weren’t as fast.
“So every day we would hit balls and I would only maybe spend five minutes on the putting green, some five-footers, as I knew hitting 35-footers would mess me up. Whether that was true or not I don’t know. I’m a golfer and once you get something in your head that’s the way it is.”
16th 572 yards, par 5
The only par 5 under 600 yards. During the 2002 PGA, most went for the green when it measured 543 yards. There is a pond left and it can play downwind. Justin Leonard laid up four times and made four birdies. New fairway bunkers have been added on the left side of the landing area.
17th 176 yards, par 3
By modern standards it might look a hole to take on but, generally speaking, you take your three and move on. When the pin is cut on the front, narrow portion of the green the water can easily come into play. Just what you want when the nerve ends are becoming a little shredded.
18th 432 yards, par 4
Forget YE Yang’s heroic approach to the last as that’s now the 9th. Here we have a narrow drive to finish with three bunkers left and right making it one of the more intimidating fairways to find. Find the short stuff and you will have a short iron from where you can attack the flag.