Five Things: Soggy Round 1 at Senior PGA
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Here are the five most revealing things I discovered during Thursday’s first round of the 72nd Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, which is doing a pretty good imitation of a levee doing its damnest to hold back the water.
1.) The sixth hole is starting to grow on me.
The more I see of this hole, the more I like it.
It has been the subject of many complaints this week, primarily because it requires a fairway wood approach for just about every player in the field. The easiest it’s going to play all week was in the first round, when the hole was cut just seven paces off the front edge. Even then, the shortest possible approach shot is about 190 yards and that is if a player foolishily, or mistakenly, tries to put his tee shot as close to the edge of the fairway as possible. But that brings tree trouble and impossible rough into play, so the safer play avoids trouble but still leaves 210 yards or so for the approach.
Added Mark Brooks, “With the golf course as wet as it is, it’s almost a par 73. You wouldn’t really call it (the sixth) a true par 5, but it’s more like a four and a half. But I think I’m going to view it as a short 5. That doesn’t mean lay-up. It just means two 4s and two 5s there for the week wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
The sixth is going to end up as the week’s most difficult hole and, more than likely, take over the top spot on the Champions Tour’s toughest holes of the year when the week is over. Through the first 27 players to go through the sixth hole in Round 1, a mere four were able to hit the green in regulation.
Someone ought to create a plaque for Jerry Pate, who made birdie there.
2.) Players are more creative than we give them credit for.
Because Valhalla can’t hold another drop of water, Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America staffer responsible for course setup and conduct of the championship, permitted the first round to be played under lift, clean and place rules. (For the record, rainfall in Louisville, excluding the three latest downpours on Thursday, was 79 percent above its monthly average for May.)
Allow players to get their hands on the golf ball between tee and green, however, and you’ll be surprised how often the closest spot that provides relief from casual water happens to be one that offers a better line to the flagstick.
Or maybe it’s purely coincidental.
3.) Kiyoshi Murota’s 6-under was better than most 66s.
He missed four greens and got up and down every time. He had four straight one-putt greens on the front side and another run of four on the back. When he finished his 6-under-par round, he was almost exactly nine strokes lower than the course scoring average, which at the time was 74.95.
“He can get it up and down from anywhere,” said Brian Kelly, the head professional at Bucknell Golf Club in Lewisburg, Pa., who was paired with Murota. “He hit it in one bunker, stiffed it there. At eight he short-sided himself in the left bunker, hit it out to about 30 feet and made that to keep his round going. His short game is very good.”
4.) Trevor Dodds knows how his fellow seniors think.
The native of Namibia, who now lives in the St. Louis area, needed a handful of players to withdraw from the starting field in order to get into the Senior PGA field. He figured that was likely, but more than a week before he was added to the field, he decided to get on a plane to Louisville so he’d be able to practice at Valhalla.
Turned out to be a wise move. He got in with room to spare — five more players were added after he was — and he finished Round 1 just one stroke out of the lead after a 5-under-par 67. He had only 23 putts on Thursday, which wasn’t even close to his best putting effort of the year. In a qualifier for a Champions Tour event earlier this season, he went around needing only 19 putts.
5.) I’m just realizing how good some of the scores are on the Champions Tour.
I’m scanning Mark O’Meara’s season record and it’s pretty heady stuff. In his first three starts of the season he finished 14, 13 and 12 under par — and didn’t sneak into the top five in any of those events.
“We are guns blazing on our tour,” said John Cook. “If you don’t shoot 15 under for three rounds, you don’t have any chance to win.
“That was a hard thing for me to get used to. Five under, six under par a day? How do you do that? Well, you’ve got to fire at flags and you’ve got to make a lot of putts.”
• Quote of the day.
Senior PGA competitor Brian Kelly, asked if he’d ever seen as much water on a golf course as what fell at Valhalla on Thursday. “Yes — when I close the golf course.”