Jordan Spieth says PGA Championship course has U.S. Open feel

AP photo by Seth Wenig / Jordan Spieth signs autographs during a PGA Championship practice round Wednesday at Oak Hill Country Club in upstate New York. The Rochester-area course is set to host the PGA of America's premier event for a fourth time when it tees off Thursday.
AP photo by Seth Wenig / Jordan Spieth signs autographs during a PGA Championship practice round Wednesday at Oak Hill Country Club in upstate New York. The Rochester-area course is set to host the PGA of America's premier event for a fourth time when it tees off Thursday.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Four layers of clothes, beanies and hand warmers were everywhere around the course on the eve of the PGA Championship, a reminder of one way this major tournament is different from the multiple others that have taken place at Oak Hill Country Club.

The temperature was 37 degrees — it felt colder with a morning breeze — and it made the 7,394 yards on the scorecard of a par-70 course feel even longer.

"I still can't believe it's nearly middle of May and that we're still going through 40-, 50-degree weather. But that's this part of the country at this time of the year," said Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner who was born in Australia but now calls Ohio home.

South Africa's Ockie Strydom was on the 10th tee, taking practice swings and waiting for the clock to hit 7 a.m. for the course to officially open.

"Have you no friends?" someone called out to him.

Strydom laughed and replied: "You'd have to be crazy to play in this."

Such was the risk the PGA of America took in 2017, when it announced its premier event would be moving from August to May going forward; Oak Hill, near Rochester, was already locked in as a host then, but future courses are in warmer climates.

The good news for Day, who ended a five-year winless drought with Sunday's victory in the Byron Nelson, top-ranked Jon Rahm, reigning tourney champ Justin Thomas and the rest of the 156-man field — which includes Baylor School graduates Harris English, Stephan Jaeger and Keith Mitchell — was that Wednesday was a blip on an otherwise pleasant forecast.

As for the difficulty, that's not likely to change. Oak Hill, restored to the intent of famed architect Donald Ross, is expected to test everything in a golfer's skill set.

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, missing only the PGA Championship for the career Grand Slam, was asked to describe the rough. He took it a step further.

"It's about as nasty ... there's nothing that separates this from a U.S. Open," Spieth said. "This is a U.S. Open. The fairways are firm and narrow, and the rough is thick. As far as difficulty, it feels like a U.S. Open course. Par is a nice score."

The U.S. Open has been held at Oak Hill three times. Three previous PGA Championship are also on the club's resumé. In those six tournaments, Jason Dufner is the only player to reach double digits under par, at 10-under 270 in the 2013 PGA Championship — and that was held in August, when rain soaked the course and left the greens soft and vulnerable.

This effectively is a new course, and it certainly looks that way. The bunkers are deeper, with steep, nearly vertical lips. Some greens have deep rough on one side and closely mown areas on the other that send balls rolling some 20 yards away.

Thomas went long of the 230-yard third green. He tried a flop shot back up the slope of the putting surface, and it kept rolling until it was back in the fairway.

There is potential trouble everywhere, capable of punishing mistakes.

"You miss greens out here, you're going to make a lot of bogeys," said Brooks Koepka, whose four major titles include two PGA Championships. "You miss fairways, you're going to be making quite a few bogeys if you're out of position."

Koepka is coming off a runner-up finish at last month's Masters, where he had the 54-hole lead until Rahm tracked him down on the final day. Koepka arrived at Augusta National having won the LIV Golf Orlando event in Florida.

He emphasized ahead of the year's first major that he was healthy again, and he seems to take his game up a notch for the majors because of the discipline it requires. That's the word two-time PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy used to describe what it takes at Oak Hill, and Koepka concurred.

"It's a grind," Koepka said. "A major week is always tough. It's always going to be a tough golf course. You've got to plot your way around, understand where to miss it, where not to miss it. It just comes down to discipline. I feel like every time I've won, I've been super disciplined. ... I think that's a massive thing to win a major."

Dustin Johnson won the LIV Golf Tulsa tournament Sunday in Oklahoma, delivering clutch birdies on the 18th in regulation and in a three-man playoff. A two-time major champion who was a runner-up at the PGA Championship in 2019 and 2020, he appears to be back in form, and to him, it didn't matter where he was playing or how many guys he had to beat in the 48-man fields used by the LIV Golf League.

"Still playing against unbelievably good golfers," Johnson said. "To be honest, the scores the last few tournaments we played were a lot lower than I thought they would be. You've got to play well every single day if you want a chance to win. The game last week, a lot of really good things. I'm driving it well, controlling the distance with the irons, starting to wedge it a lot better, and then rolled in a few putts.

"It's nice coming off a win, coming into this championship, and especially this golf course."

It all gets started Thursday, with bone-chilling cold expected again in the morning before yielding to warmer weather — though certainly not August weather — later in the day and through the rest of the tournament.

The PGA Championship again features the strongest field of the majors, with only the injured Will Zalatoris missing from the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

A strong field, a strong course.

"This is going to be a big golf course to handle," said Tony Finau, who picked up his sixth PGA Tour career win two weeks ago in the Mexico Open but is still seeking his first major title.

"None of the holes I played I looked at and said, 'I'm going to birdie this hole this week for sure.' It's going to be that type of test. The guys that can mentally overcome the hurdle of just trying to stay patient ... you just have to play well for all four days if you're going to win this week."

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