SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Nobody is complaining.
The rough at Baltusrol is gnarly enough in places this week to pull off a golf shoe, but the spacious fairways and receptive greens are setting the mood for the 98th PGA Championship.
Records might be in reach.
“It’s a fair golf course,” Rory McIlroy said. “Everything is straight out in front of you. There’s no real hidden secrets to it.”
So pick a low number.
“If you’re hitting the ball off line, the rough is going to bother you,” GlenArbor director of golf Rob Labritz said Wednesday after completing final preparations. “You can get at most of the holes. There are some where you have to be careful, but I’m mostly hitting mid-irons at the greens. I think we’re supposed to get more rain on Friday, so the winner could be at least 10-under.”
The chance to score has a majority of the field eager to go.
When the championship gets under way, the famed Lower Course will be playing to 7,428 yards. That’s a lot of ground to cover on a layout where par is 70, so the players are not holding back.
Length off the tee is a big help.
“I hit a lot of drivers,” said reigning U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, who has a chance to move to No. 1 in the world this week. “I feel like I wear out my 8- and 9-irons on the par 4s. … I really have been driving the ball well this year. I like this golf course. I think it sets up well for me off the tee, so I’m looking forward to this week.”
Don’t expect a lot of meddling by PGA of America officials.
“This golf course, you don’t need to do anything with it,” said Kerry Haigh, the organization’s managing director of championships. “It is so good. It’s just laid there. Just let the players play the golf course. We’re not the story, it’s the golf course and the players.”
In order to counteract the heat, the putting surfaces were getting hosed down at regular intervals, so they were holding even before some 2 inches of rain fell on Monday.
The forecast is calling for another soaking on Friday.
“It definitely gave the rough more life,” Quaker Ridge head professional Brian Gaffney said after completing his last nine practice holes Wednesday morning. “It was starting to wilt on Tuesday and I felt like I could hit a few shots out of the rough, but once it rained it eliminated that option. The greens are softer, but I think they will firm up. You can attack respectfully. I don’t have to shoot for just the front edge of the green as I might have otherwise.”
Advance work for the season’s final major is generally not a priority.
“I haven’t played a practice round,” said Jason Day, who finished 20-under when he captured the PGA Championship last year at Whistling Straits and set a major championship scoring record, before he went out for a practice round on Wednesday. “I haven’t seen the course. I don’t know what it looks like. I was with Doug Steffen, the head pro here, last night and I went through pretty much every hole with him for about 20, 30 minutes. … I need to come in and try to get a good, solid 18 holes in today so I know where I’m going.”
The course record is 63, shared by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Thomas Bjorn.
Keep an eye on the finishing holes on the weekend.
The back-to-back par 5s promise to influence the outcome. John Daly remains the only person to reach the 17th in two during tournament play, stopping a 1-iron on the green at the 649-yard hole.
Bubba Watson did practice hitting driver off the deck there on Wednesday.
Most players who find the fairway will take dead aim on the 18th, which is playing just 554 yards.
“It’s too soft,” Johnson responded when asked about the possibility of an eagle-eagle finish. “I hit a pretty good drive (Tuesday). It was a little downwind and I still had 295 yards to the front (on 17), so it’s not really doable unless the course firms up.
“Everybody is going to reach 18.”