PGA in Charlotte should be more entertaining than 2017 US Open
Posted 11:07 a.m. Monday
Updated 5:33 p.m. Monday
The USGA’s biggest mistake in the 2017 U.S. Open was selecting a course that has to depend on high winds to provide a serious challenge for the world’s best golfers.
That policy has been standard operating procedure for British Open links course selection by the Royal & Ancient Club for decades, and it’s perfectly fine for the tournament in Scotland or England each year.
But where is it written that the U.S. Open has to be an American version of the British Open? And besides, Erin Hills isn’t a links. It sort of resembles one minus an ocean-side setting. But like Pinehurst No. 2 these days, Erin Hills has almost no trees, very little actual rough and is virtually void of water hazards.
Erin Hills played to about 7,700 yards each day, but length in and of itself no longer is much of a challenge for the best players. Long-hitting Brooks Koepka won easily, but even many of the relative non-bombers were able to finish four to nine strokes under par for the 72 holes.
The wind was a factor for about five hours Sunday, but by the time the leaders teed off, there were very few gusts and the course again turned into target practice. Almost 20 players wound up breaking par in the final round, which is practically unheard of for the U.S. Open.
Koepka wound up 16 under par – the lowest 72-hole score to par on the PGA Tour since the late-March Houston Open, where Russell Henley won at 20-under. That was a week before Sergio Garcia won the Masters at 9-under. Brian Harman, who challenged at Erin Hills, won the Wells Fargo in early May at Wilmington’s Eagle Point with 10-under total.
Eagle Point, which is one of the nation’s best courses, only got the Wells Fargo because its normal host course, Charlotte’s Quail Hollow, will host the PGA Championship Aug. 10-13 for the last of the year’s four Majors.
Next up on the Majors run will be the British Open, July 20-23 at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England. The last Birkdale Open was in 2008 with Padraig Harrington winning at 3-over. Among the previous Birkdale winners are Mark O’Meara (1998), Ian Baker-Finch (1991), Tom Watson (1983), Johnny Miller (1976), Lee Trevino (1971) and Arnold Palmer (1961).
Who will the PGA is anyone’s guess, of course. But it’s hardly a stretch to assume Quail Hollow is be a more interesting test and that’s even if 16-under or lower turns out to be the winning score.
In preparing for the PGA, Quail underwent a base makeover that introduced Bermuda grass to most of the course. In warm weather, Bermuda rough is usually more difficult than the fescue that marked Erin Hills. The USGA mowed Erin Hills’ fescue knowing full well that at all Majors, the huge galleries stomp down much of the rough anyway.
But the biggest differences at Charlotte over what we’ve seen in recent U.S. Opens will be tree and water hazards. Whether you are a fan or enemy of trees, there’s no doubt they demand more accurate tee shots and second shots on par-5s.
It’s not often that a PGA Championship turns out to be more entertaining than the U.S. Open, but that’ll likely be the case at Charlotte.