I felt the wrath of the Kiawah Island Ocean course on a summer day in 2005, caddying for Billy Anderson, the director of golf at Eagle Point Golf Club in the PGA Professional National Championship.
We were cruising along, on the cusp of the top 20 and that tournament’s ultimate prize, a berth in the PGA Championship later in the summer. Then, a storm rolled in off the Atlantic. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. Rain fell in buckets. The wind gusted to a gale. There was nowhere to bailout or hide. A week that featured 63 solid holes ended short of our destination.
The conditions are expected to be much tamer this week for the second major championship of 2021, the PGA Championship, at Pete Dye’s most diabolical design. Temperatures in the upper 70s, lower 80s and winds not expected to exceed 15 mph, although the direction is expected to shift on the weekend, presenting an additional set of questions to answer.
Still, a ferocious challenge awaits. More than 7,800 yards of mind-bending menace. Paspalum greens, pot bunkers, waste areas, elevated tees and greens, penalty areas, perhaps a reptile or two. Not many courses are more difficult.
We enlisted assistance in compiling the Power Rankings this week, seeking wisdom from Carl Pettersson, who was the 36-hole co-leader and tied for third in the 2012 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course. We also reached out to a caddie who has 20 years experience navigating these fairways.
Strong driving and mid-iron play are integral pieces of a successful week. The greens aren’t extremely difficult and aren’t likely to exceed 11 on the Stimpmeter, which could favor the European contingent.
Pettersson drove the ball extremely well in 2012 and said he enjoyed chipping off the paspalum grass.
“I would expect people to get up-and-down a lot,” he said. “The ball sits up high, and makes chipping a lot easier than off tight Bermuda or grainy Bermuda. Greens are good, can’t get them but so fast. It has some wide open holes but then a hole like 17, you’ve just got to hit a golf shot. It’s a great venue. I think it’s fantastic.”
Our caddie source said he’s never seen the course play firmer or faster and the 2 1⁄2” rough is thick and may be longer by week’s end. From the rough, players will face flyer lies and balls sitting up that come out dead. Because the waste areas won’t be raked, players could face tricky lies.
In building the models this week, we analyzed players who have enjoyed success on Dye courses, those who play well on courses measuring 7,400 yards or more and emphasized those who are in good recent form and have a strong record of finding fairways and greens. The firm, fast conditions should enable medium length hitters to be competitive. Players who stray from the fairway too frequently will eventually pay the penalty and avoiding double bogeys or worse is always important on a difficult major championship layout.
The Bargain Bin
- Stewart Cink, Talor Gooch, Ryan Palmer, Charl Schwartzel, Brendan Steele
As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
25. Louis Oosthuizen – Tied for 21st at the Ocean Course in 2012, shooting 70 or better in three of four rounds and ballooning to 79 in the wind on Friday. Strong major championship record includes runner-up in 2017 PGA. Good combination of distance and accuracy off the tee, strong short game and top 25 in the field in GIR on 7,400 yard plus courses.
24. Dustin Johnson – Missed last week due to knee pain and as of Monday night was undecided on which driver or putter he might use this week. Not ideal for the world No. 1. Still, he’s third in the field in SG: Ballstriking in the last 50 rounds in windy conditions and excels on 175-200 yard approach shots.
23. Bubba Watson – Tied for 11th in 2012 PGA at Kiawah and he’s among the Tour’s best at driving and approach play on long golf courses. Finished top 20 at Valspar and Wells Fargo. Slower greens should suit him and he’s gained at least two strokes on the greens in each of his last three tournaments (not including the Masters).
22. Hideki Matsuyama – Dusted off the rust last week with a tie for 39th at the Byron Nelson and the glaring weakness was his short game. Should be buoyed by his Masters victory if his driver cooperates. Fourth in the field in scoring on 550-600 yard par 5s.
21. Webb Simpson – The firm, fast conditions and dry forecast should work in his favor. One of the Tour’s leaders in mental toughness will embrace this fierce challenge. Hits fairways, thrives on approach on Pete Dye courses and is 33rd in GIRs on long golf courses.
20. Xander Schauffele – Leads the field in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds on courses measuring 7,400 yards or more. Incredible major championship record includes a third at the Masters last month. Finished T-14 two weeks ago at Wells Fargo and has strong ballstriking numbers in the wind.
19. Joaquin Niemann – Absolute steal in Vegas and fantasyland. Can get wild off the tee but has made 17 consecutive cuts and arrives on the strength of back-to-back top 20s. Capitalizes on the par 5s (19th in field).
18. Lee Westwood – Played great on another Pete Dye layout earlier this year, TPC Sawgrass, and showed good signs gaining 3.3 shots on approach in a T-21 at the Byron Nelson last week. Understands the challenge of a major championship examination.
17. Paul Casey – The models slotted him in the top five this week but I’m concerned because he shot 79-85 at the Kiawah Island Ocean course in 2012. Hopefully the scar tissue has faded. He finds fairways and greens on long courses and in the wind. The Europeans thrived here nine years ago.
16. Justin Rose – Ranks higher than the field average in every significant area except for short game. Tied for third at the Ocean Course in 2012, shooting 70-66 on the weekend. Other than the top 10 at the Masters it’s been a quiet year for the Englishman.
15. Abraham Ancer – He’s sixth in the field in fairways hit and 12th in greens in regulation on courses measuring more than 7,400 yards. Everyone talked about Quail Hollow only suiting bombers and he finished runner-up there. Has finished 26th or better in each of his last seven starts, including consecutive top 5s.
14. Collin Morikawa – The defending PGA champion finished 18th at the Masters and seventh at Harbour Town in his last two starts. Leads the Tour in SG: Approach the Green and is fourth in birdies. Top 10 in the field in proximity from 175-200 yards.
13. Keegan Bradley – One of the game’s best drivers of the golf ball has finished in the top 30 in six consecutive tournaments. Top 25 in SG: Approach in his last 50 rounds on Pete Dye courses. Tied for third in 2012 PGA at Kiawah.
12. Charley Hoffman – Following the notion that golfers in good form are the favorites this week, not many have been better than Hoffman tee-to-green over the last 36 rounds. He has five top 20s in his last six tournaments including a runner up in San Antonio. Converts birdie opportunities on the par 5s.
11. Brooks Koepka – The recent form is putrid. The health of his knee is questionable. Koepka has spent more time rehabilitating his knee than playing competitive golf in the last two months. Still, it’s the PGA, and he’s won it twice in the last three years and held the 54-hole lead at Harding Park last August.
10. Corey Conners – He’s slightly below the field average in driving distance and short game acumen. Otherwise, he’s in the top 25 in the other most important areas over the last 36-50 rounds, including first in greens in regulation on 7,400-yard plus courses.
9. Emiliano Grillo – Not a great putter, but the paspalum surfaces at the Ocean Course should level the field in that regard. There’s no grain, moderate speed and minimal break. Elegant iron player, sneaky long and has a solid record on Pete Dye designed courses. Has a sixth, second and 14th in his last four starts.
8. Bryson DeChambeau – He’s top 10 in the field in proximity from 175-200 yards and strokes gained on approach on Pete Dye courses. There’s room off the tee at the Ocean Course and it will be interesting to watch his approach. He began to turn around his major record at last year’s PGA.
7. Jordan Spieth – Going with my instincts over the data here. One point is certain: not many have been better than Spieth over the last three months or so. He’s first in the field in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds, ranking top 25 in ballstriking, approach, around-the-green and putting. Needs a PGA to complete the career Grand Slam.
6. Jason Kokrak – Another great deal in all the markets this week. He’s 9-for-9 making cuts in 2021. Excellent opportunity for his first top 10 in a major championship. Has terrific driving stats this season and hits a high percentage of greens on long golf courses.
5. Justin Thomas – Won on a Pete Dye course earlier this year with an impeccable ballstriking display. Elite ballstriking numbers on long, demanding layouts. One of the best pitchers of the golf ball in the game also. Has struggled with the putter this year but again, his tee-to-green prowess should keep him on the leaderboard until late Sunday.
4. Jon Rahm – Perhaps the game’s most consistent driver week in, week out. Struggled with his irons last week in a T-34 at the Byron Nelson. Has gained strokes on the greens in two of the last three tournaments. Due to contend in a major championship, where his record has been lackluster thus far.
3. Daniel Berger – He’s streaky and last Sunday’s 63 should give him the confidence he needs to contend this week. Not that he’s ever lacking in that area. Ranks second in the field in SG: Approach on Pete Dye courses over the last 50 rounds. Kills the par 5s and is sharp from 175-200 yards.
2. Viktor Hovland – The Norwegian Forest Cat has been growling (and smiling) over the last month. He’s won twice on Paspalum greens. He has five top 5s in his last eight starts, including runner up on another long, taxing test at Torrey Pines. Won’t be fazed by the plethora of 175-yard plus approach shots. Short game continues to improve.
1. Rory McIlroy – We’re going with the chalk and thanks to his blistering performance at Quail Hollow have been down a Pete Cowen YouTube rabbit hole the last few days. There’s golfer’s gold in those clips. Won by eight shots in 2012 and gained 7.8 shots tee-to-green in his Wells Fargo victory.