PGA: ‘There's a pimple on Miss America’

Tiger Woods hits up to the 14th green during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

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The opening group still was more than an hour from reaching the 17th green early Thursday morning at Atlantic Athletic Club's Highlands Course when director of golf courses and grounds Ken Mangum wandered onto the putting surface. Already there were three of his assistants, who were repairing turf damage caused by a mower Wednesday evening.

Sprinkled fine green sand marked the finishing touches of a small 2-foot-by-3-foot area torn up by the front rotating brush of a mower that is used to make the grass stand upright. Truthfully, how exactly the damage occurred is a mysterious puzzle Mangum has yet to solve. He was as shocked as anyone as he toured the course in his cart near twilight Wednesday, architect Rees Jones alongside, and made a turn up the 14th fairway, only to see a pack of workers surrounding a small area on the right side of the green. "We've got a major problem," blared one of his assistant's voices on his hand-held radio. Not a good sign.

Mangum would later inspect his mowers, talk to men who operated them, and came to the conclusion that neither was at fault. Consider it a cruel swipe by Mother Nature, Mangum's best theory being that a quick shift in afternoon humidity was the culprit.

"The bottom line, Mother Nature can slap us around any time she gets ready," said Mangum, a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America for 37 years.

As he left the green in the morning, stepping across a golf course upon which he has been a fastidious caretaker for 23 years, Mangum was told by an onlooker that the repaired work didn't look so bad.

Mangum paused. "There's a pimple on Miss America," he said.

Areas on two greens were damaged almost simultaneously Wednesday evening. Affected along with the 17th green was the green at the 468-yard, par-4 14th. The areas will be played as ground under repair (Rule 25-1), allowing players free relief from the area – including intervention on a line of putt.

After three days of hearing golfers rave about the conditioning of the Highlands, Mangum was left crestfallen by Wednesday evening's shocking events. This is the first major championship played on Champion Ultra Dwarf bermudagrass greens (the club switched over from bentgrass several years ago) and so there are few whom he can call. He also realizes the magnitude of the stage, having already guided AAC through the PGA Championship in 2001.

"It's a little like cutting yourself with a razor on your wedding day," he said. "That's kind of the way it felt. But we'll be fine."

It's a tribute to Mangum that every assistant superintendent who ever has worked at the Highlands has volunteered to join his staff for PGA week. His volunteer corps of 35-40 greenkeepers is packed with former AAC workers and interns.

Wednesday night, his beloved course was damaged, but Mangum spent far more time consoling two of his younger staffers who were involved in mowing those two greens.

"We felt like our hearts were ripped out," he said. "I think I spent as much time consoling them, because they've put their heart and soul into this place, and it was tough to watch them suffer."

With that, he was off to make sure things were right for Round 1. Everything had gone fine with Thursday's early-morning mowing. The resodded portions of the greens will be fine in a couple of weeks for the members. Said Mangum, "It's all in the rear-view mirror."

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