Ryder Cup: Medinah CC, hole-by-hole
MEDINAH, Ill. – U.S. team captain Davis Love III is fooling himself and the public if he thinks he can create a pro-American setup at Medinah Country Club's No. 3 Course by tinkering with mowing heights for this week's Ryder Cup. The decision – which by rights is his – to go with a generous intermediate rough and very low primary rough, certainly will create more of a birdie fest and make this year’s matches interesting. But it won’t play into the hands of a U.S. team.
That’s because there’s virtually no statistical difference in how U.S. and European squads drive the ball – not on the basis of the data culled from the 2012 PGA Tour season. With all 24 players having played enough events on the Tour, including majors and WGC tournaments, a profile emerges that suggests how closely matched these elite golfers are. Sure there are differences, and Love is trying to exploit them. But the numbers don’t add up to enough that entails a significant advantage. An American distance edge off the tee of 1.3 yards per drive is insignificant. A European accuracy advantage of 4.52 percent translates into two-thirds of an extra fairway per round (14 fairways X .0452 = .633 fairways).
As per Love’s mandate, the intermediate bluegrass rough framing Medinah’s 27-30-yard-wide fairways will be cut at 1.25 inches for a width of 10 yards – on each side. That’s a generous buffer. Beyond that, the so-called primary rough will be only 2.5 inches deep – a lot lighter in thickness than Medinah’s members normally face and lighter than anything seen recently during the PGA Championship at Medinah in 1999 and 2006 (both won by Tiger Woods). The more-forgiving rough is supposed to favor the long-bombing, somewhat wilder U.S. team. Except that there’s no evidence on paper that the U.S. team is so much wilder that being in the more-moderate rough will help them any more than it will benefit the Europeans.
Player, Fairways %, Avg. drive yardage
European Team, 62.66, 292
• Nicolas Colsaerts, 55.77, 317.3
• Luke Donald, 62.90, 274.7
• Sergio Garcia, 61.41, 292.4
• Peter Hanson, 59.60, 297.5
• Martin Kaymer, 63.39, 289.4
• Paul Lawrie, 53.2, 290.4
• Graeme McDowell, 71.19, 285.5
• Rory McIlroy, 55.94, 310.1
• Francesco Molinari, 74.45, 277.0
• Ian Poulter, 68.43, 280.9
• Justin Rose, 64.26, 290.9
• Lee Westwood, 61.44, 298.1
U.S. team, 58.14, 293.3
• Keegan Bradley, 62.54, 302.7
• Jason Dufner, 66.37, 292.4
• Jim Furyk, 70.91, 279.9
• Dustin Johnson, 57.38, 310.2
• Zach Johnson, 68.31, 281.3
• Matt Kuchar, 63.71, 286.2
• Phil Mickelson, 55.37, 294.4
• Webb Simpson, 60.96, 288.6
• Brandt Snedeker, 60.56, 288.7
• Steve Stricker, 64.72, 285.4
• Bubba Watson, 58.67, 315.5
• Tiger Woods, 63.06, 297.4
The difference of 1.3 yards per drive is insignificant. The fairway accuracy difference of 4.52 percent pans out to less than one additional fairway hit per round.
Enough said on that. Hole-by-hole, here’s how Medinah No. 3 – par 72, 7,657 yards – stacks up. The original 1928 Tom Bendelow design has been much revised over the years, and in the past decade by Rees Jones. The course is ranked No. 74 on the Golfweek’s Best Classic list and is characterized by its massive scale and towering ancient oak trees, some of them 350-plus years old.
The course normally plays to a wind out of the northwest in the early fall, though practice rounds this week have been played with a south wind. That likely will change when a cold front moves in Thursday night. That will make the course play longer and likely bring the prevailing wind back, which could prove confusing to the players Friday.
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Hole No. 1, par 4, 433 yards
The least complicated, most straightforward of all major venues starts off in appropriate form: dead straight, the fairway pinched by a long bunker left, and dense trees lining both sides of the hole. One welcome visual element is that unlike in past championships here, you can see under the tree canopies. (Who knew there was ground there?) Also, the curtain behind the green has been lifted so you actually can see Lake Kadijah, thanks to a newly created infinity edge. As with every approach at Medinah, the green here is heavily defended by sand up front. This one, at least, opens to a chipping hollow at the back left, providing some options for recovery besides an automatic wedge from rough. There’s more contour on these greens than first appears to be the case – that’s what happens when greens are designed to accommodate speeds of 12 on the Stimpmeter that superintendent Curtis Tyrrell will achieve when his crew cuts these bentgrass greens to less than one-eighth of an inch (to be precise, 0.015 inches) and rolls them. The back-right hole location is only accessible with a perfectly struck shot, ideally from the left side of the fairway.
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Hole No. 2, par 3, 192 yards
The first of three parallel par 3s crossing the lake, with water here a major factor short, left and long. The slightly higher right side is protected by a long bunker that Rees Jones – in a move characteristic of his work at Medinah – shaped into sections that appear to an approaching player to form several distinct bunkers. While Medinah is still heavily treed, there has been considerable thinning and opening of areas to allow more wind to come into play across the site. The prevailing wind here, out of the northwest, will push the ball left toward the water.
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Hole No. 3, par 4, 412 yards
Three fairway bunkers guard the right side here on the line closest to the ideal angle of approach. It’s 300 yards off the tee to get past the last one – at the narrowest width for the fairway. Many players will lay back here, because the protective bunkers at 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock, require a perfectly struck iron to hold – a shot harder to control from even Medinah’s light rough. The newly expanded green has an intriguing fall-away pod back right for a hole location that’s a green-light special for a left-to-right short iron.
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Hole No. 4, par 4, 463 yards
By now it’s evident what you’re getting at Medinah: long, tree-lined par 4s that dramatically favor the high ball. Trees on the right at 265 yards off the tee pinch down this straightaway hole and steer players a little left. The bold play is to hold the line on the right because a downward kick point in the fairway 285 yards off the tee turbo-boosts the ball forward, considerably shortening the hole. The mid-iron approach here is to an elevated green, pitched dramatically from back to front, and protected on both sides by sand.
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Hole No. 5, par 5, 536 yards
This is a short par 5 by today’s standards, made complicated along its straight run south (with a property boundary to the left) by bunkers and trees that pinch into the hole and considerably narrow the line. A trio of deep bunkers protects the right side of the driving zone, and were it not for a sole ash tree (in serious decline due to the emerald ash borer) opposite the middle bunker and overhanging the fairway, the tee shot would be simple. From the fairway, the second shot of about 240 yards targets a green that is steeply pitched enough from the back that it will hold a bold approach that flies to two steep front bunkers.
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Hole No. 6, par 4, 509 yards
This long par 4 continues in the same straight run south (with the same boundary line to the left) but requires the first cut tee shot of the round. With the green sporting a false front below a modest rise, the hardest hole location is close to leading edge. That brings two flanking front bunkers into play; it also makes it more likely that on this back-to-front green, approach putts will be dicey, downhill ventures.
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Hole No. 7, par 5, 617 yards
There are times when a heavily tree-lined dogleg hole creates a large, dramatic, uniquely American stage. That’s exactly what happens here – one-third of a mile of it. Bubba Watson alert: This one is reachable in two, provided the player carves the ball light-to-right past the second fairway bunker left (296 yards away) onto a flat and down a kickpoint 315 yards off the tee. Along the way, players might want to acknowledge a massive oak in the left rough, 280 yards from the green, that dates to 1664 (don’t ask how arborists know) and is the third-oldest tree at Medinah. The plateau green looks like it’s in another county, thanks to a perch above the approach area and three steep front bunkers. Holding this green with a long iron or fairway metal is no easy task. Nor is laying up short, thanks to a 75-foot hardwood 130 yards short right that appears to block the line from the fairway and ends up steering folks left toward a bunker when the ideal axis of approach is down the right side.
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Hole No. 8, par 3, 201 yards
An elegant mid-length par 3, slightly downhill into a crosswind from the right, with the green tipping to the left. The toughest hole location is back right, where it’s easy to short-side the approach and leave a slick, downhill recovery.
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Hole No. 9, par 4, 432 yards
Here’s one of those awkward holes with a reverse-camber twist in that the hole bends left and has an unbunkered fairway that cants to the right. In better-ball play, it’s likely that one player will lay up safely short right while the other tries a heroic carry over trees that 280 yards off the tee are 50-60 feet high and tight along the left side. The vertigo effect of this hole is intensified by a green that tips back right to front left – the flip version of the fairway.
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Hole No. 10, par 5, 578 yards
No, you haven’t made a wrong turn and already played this hole. The fairway bunker pattern – short left starting at 240 yards out and long right until 285 yards from the tee – is more negotiable than it first looks. A modest draw or a bold cut gets you out onto a flat from which the fairway widens. A second set of bunkers in the layup zone 50-100 yards out makes playing short and safe a matter of careful positioning. The unusual greenside bunker pattern – five hazards, arrayed around the sides and back and cutting into the surface – means that many players will face difficult downhill or sidehill recovery shots from sand back to the sloped, back-to-front green.
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Hole No. 11, par 4, 440 yards
A new back tee here makes what was almost a drivable par 4 over trees into a solid dogleg. The right-to-left tee shot gets squeezed between a long bunker 290-plus yards on the right and a towering copse of trees left. From there, the approach flips the other way, left to right, to the smallest, most tightly bunkered putting surface on the course, only 3,400 square feet.
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Hole No. 12, par 4, 476 yards
This is far and away Medinah’s best hole – also the least appreciated and the only one that’s unbunkered. The shot variety is compelling: a left-to-right tee shot and a right-to-left approach. From an ideal fairway spot 175 yards out, players have to deal with a shaved-down outslope 25 yards down to a newly revealed pond on the lower right. The water was there all along but hidden by trees. The result is an exciting approach, because any shot that comes up short right will kick away and roll inexorably toward the pond – if not into it.
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Hole No. 13, par 3, 245 yards
Downhill, dramatic, across Lake Kadijah but not as hard as it looks for Ryder Cup pros who rarely miss a full approach shot short, especially with this perched green isolated from the water by bunkers short right and left. It’ll still make for great spectator theater, the more so if they tuck the pins left or right into well-protected corners of the green.
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Hole No. 14, par 5, 609 yards
Too bad the lake crossing here comes at the beginning of the hole rather than at the end. The roller-coaster fairway bends lightly left, and there’s enough of a downhill kick point at 320 yards out to a flat spot that some players will have a go at this green in two. If so, they have to deal with a phalanx of five deep, front bunkers to a relatively shallow green, only 26 yards deep, making it hard to hold with a long iron or fairway wood unless the shot is parachuted in with extreme precision.
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Hole No. 15, par 4, 390 yards
This much-heralded hole, courtesy of a complete redo by Rees Jones, is supposed to be a risk/reward drivable par 4 when set up from the shorter tees, probably about 330 yards. Let’s hope they never play it from 390 yards, because from there it’s just a layup off the tee that steers clear of water down the entire right side, and from there, a flip wedge to a green that sets up ideally to receive a shot form the left. From the forward tees, the hole invites a bold play, and there’s even a chipping area behind the green to hold a shot that doesn’t veer right down the embankment into water. The smart play is to favor the left side, which lands you in fairway or a left-side greenside bunker. Why create a drivable hole that sets up ideally for a tee shot away from the dominant hazard? Seems to me like reward without much risk. OK, so they’ve shaved the right side of the green. Even if you drive into the lake, you can still make a 4 or 5.
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Hole No. 16, par 4, 482 yards
Here’s an another classic American golf hole, now a part of golf lore thanks to a desperation approach shot that 19-year-old Sergio Garcia hit from the crook of a red oak in the right rough in the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship. His scissors-kick romp up the fairway in anticipation of the ball landing on the green is among the iconic images of major-championship golf. Too bad the tree fell ill to disease and now rests (in pieces) outside superintendent Tyrrell’s office. As for the hole, it bends relentlessly left at 280-300 yards off the tee and cannot be cut short on the tree-lined inside of the dogleg. However, a well-placed right-to-left shot will shorten the approach into this elevated, well-bunkered putting surface.
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Hole No. 17, par 3, 193 yards
The third and final parallel crossing of a par 3 over Lake Kadijah, and with water lapping closely along half of the green on the right side, this is a dangerous hole. The diagonal cant of this green – from front left to back right – effectively creates two pods that are among the shallowest on the golf course. The left side is only 22 yards deep; the right side, tucked into a corner and capped by a bunker, is only 14 yards deep. Hit “safely” left and you run the risk of having a steep downhill recovery with water behind the hole. It’s also hard to read the wind on this downhill tee shot because the platform tees sit back in the woods, and as the ball arcs across the lake, it’s suddenly exposed to any breeze – which in this case, prevails against you from the left. Gut-check time.
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Hole No. 18, par 4, 449 yards
This is arguably the least interesting hole at Medinah and one of the most mundane finishes in championship golf. OK, maybe it has some shot-making interest, but certainly no aesthetic appeal. Uphill, with the ideal approach line along the well-bunkered fairway, with the first of two bunkers starting at 275 yards off the tee. It’s not a bad play to steer safely short and left. From the fairway, the green sits perched, as if suspended without connection to anything around it, canted at 45 degrees from front right to back left and pushed out over two left front bunkers. The back-right area falls away into another one of those chipping areas. It’s one of those holes that can be played safely left or boldly down the right side. But it’s also one of those holes that looks like it was borrowed from another course and helicoptered in for the occasion.