Greens grab attention of Senior PGA field
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — The great Ben Hogan once said, “Never try a shot you haven’t practiced.”
But at this week’s 73rd Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores – a stunningly diverse, 18-month-old course designed by Jack Nicklaus – virtually every one of the 156 players in the field, sooner or later, is going to be tempted to ignore Hogan’s words of wisdom.
Take Rod Spittle, for example, who opened with a 75 in Thursday’s opening round — four over par on the scorecard, but about even par as his score is compared against the field’s scoring average.
If you can imagine being in Minneapolis and getting on a plane that’s headed for New Orleans, but following a flight plan that takes you far out of the way in one direction — say, over Detroit — and then too far out of the way in the other direction — say, over Kansas City — you have an exaggerated view of the path Spittle was trying to take on a 40-foot shot near the back of the 12th green on Thursday.
He played his third shot from the fringe, with the ball resting only 3 inches from the green, and then played his next from the rough, some 3 feet from the green.
“I missed my line (on the approach) by a little bit,” Spittle said, “but I thought I’d be somewhere in that back corner. And I’m still not sure how to play the shot from where I was. You hate to take a bogey on purpose, but that wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last this week, I’m sure.”
Then again, there are going to be few times anywhere at Harbor Shores when the path to the hole is a straight line. Multiple greens have undulations of 3 feet, which are Kansas-like flat in comparison to No. 10, where the difference between the top and bottom levels is, at minimum, a good 5 feet.
Said Steve Pate, who made four birdies in his first 10 holes and posted one of just seven subpar rounds from the morning wave of starters, “You’re guessing. You’re always guessing. It’s so severe and there’s so many slopes, I don’t think you can learn (the greens) in a year.”
D.A. Weibring, who in his 25 years in golf course architecture has worked on courses that have held PGA Tour events, was largely complimentary of the final product that Nicklaus created.
“There’s no question that they created a beautiful golf course,” said Weibring, playing in his ninth Senior PGA. “But you never know all the variables. You never know what was there before, what restrictions there might have been, or how it affected the routing. Jack’s courses are always challenging to the eye and there’s some beautiful bunkering out there, and obviously there’s a lot of contour in the greens.
“But (golf course design) is not always a perfect science. I’m impressed that they turned a bad-looking area, a hazardous area, into a beautiful, challenging golf course.”
John Cook shot a 2-under-par 69 and ended his round one shot out of the lead, thanks to a sharp iron game that left him with few cross-country putts.
“I hit a lot of good quality shots that ended up on either the right level completely, or I only had to go up and over one ridge,” said Cook, who has three top-20 finishes in four starts at the Senior PGA. “I didn’t have to go over two or three ridges.”
But Cook is well aware of the dangers that lurk.
“If you hit a really good shot and you hit your spot within 2 or 3 feet — and that’s not a very big area with some of these clubs we’re hitting — you’ll have it on the right level or just a one-section putt. If you miss your spot by a foot or two, you’ll have a two- or three-section putt. Or you’ll be off the green.
“But that’s the way it is. You know that you have to be spot on and you have to accept that when you don’t hit it just right, just accept the consequences or you’re really going to have a problem all week.”
Because of the severity of the greens, Cook is more than comfortable with a 2-under-par score that normally would put him well back in the pack of many Champions Tour event.
“I would be happy with anything in the red (numbers),” he said. “I would take that right now and I would sit right up in that clubhouse. Start polishing that trophy.”