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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Switching PGA courses after mob rampage a success for all bar Trump | US PGA

The horrors associated with a violent mob rampaging around the US Capitol last year meant a subsequent decision relating to a golf tournament barely registered. Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf course had been announced as the 2022 US PGA Championship’s host venue in 2014. With Trump caught in the middle of the Capitol storm, the PGA of America changed its plan, and Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma was the beneficiary at short notice.

“We find ourselves in a political situation not of our making,” said Seth Waugh, the PGA of America’s chief executive. “We’re fiduciaries for our members, for the game, for our mission and for our brand. And how do we best protect that? Our feeling was given the tragic events that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster.

“The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave.” It was a fine call then, just as it is now. Trump, once such an advocate of the PGA Tour, has shuffled off to form a dubious alliance with Saudi Arabia. His Doral course in Miami will stage the closing event of this year’s LIV Golf Series, funded by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund. The partnership feels perfectly appropriate.

If there is a widespread and a perfectly reasonable sense that golf has suffered through the R&A’s understandable refusal to stage the Open Championship at Trump-owned Turnberry, this US PGA switch has been an unquestionable success. Southern Hills was a strong course in 2001 and 2007 – when it staged the US Open and US PGA respectively – but has been elevated by changes overseen by the renowned course architect Gil Hanse.

Days one and two in Tulsa have seen every facet of golf tested; as is precisely the way it should be in a major. The showcasing of this course to a broader audience has been entirely worthwhile.

“We were trying to be truthful to the original design,” said Hanse of his Southern Hills project. He had used old photographs with that in mind. This largely related to the restoration of slopes around greens, as were created by the original architect of this course, Perry Maxwell. With typical modesty, Hanse has said he does not want his “fingerprints” visible here. Instead a sense of: “This is what Perry Maxwell did.”

Hanse, though, is the name on every player’s lips. “Gil has done a fantastic job of altering the golf course,” said Tiger Woods. “It has a lot more shot options, that’s for sure, and we are tested around the greens a lot. A lot of grain, a lot of creativity, but it still puts a premium in putting the ball in play and in the fairway and somehow below the holes in the right spots.” In short, one dimensional golf is not an option.

Tiger Woods plays a shot on the 18th hole
Tiger Woods plays a shot on the 18th hole. Photograph: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Bunkers are to be avoided. They are designed to penalise loose shots, after all. The sand at Southern Hills is more gritty than players are used to, as has triggered some noticeably poor attempts to get balls close to pins.

“I am sure people have seen from watching the coverage how difficult it is to get spin, basically impossible,” explained Justin Thomas. “Some bunker shots that are generally pretty easy or guaranteed up-and-downs? That is definitely not the case this week.”

It is the job of Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s chief championships officer, to set the course up. He is delighted with his platform. “They did an incredible job,” Haigh said of Hanse and his team. “They did a lot of different things, widened the landing areas of the fairways. They moved some of the bunkers back. They added five or six new tees for the back.

“It provides a lot more shot options, a lot more shot variety, a lot more options to hit woods or drivers off the tee. If I’m a player, I’m going to enjoy playing what it offers.”

Not that everyone has been in a positive state of mind. Scottie Scheffler, the world No 1, cracked his bag with a club in fit of pique yesterday morning.

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Dustin Johnson was hurtling towards a missed cut. As the wind whipped up, Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick and Joaquín Niemann stood firm to keep pressure on Rory McIlroy before the Northern Irishman appeared for his afternoon tee time.

The severity of the test on the morning of day two was emphasised by Woods, who moved up 17 spots on the leaderboard within five hours of play getting underway and without hitting a single shot.

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