Back To The Black In Five Years, What To Do With 18?

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Not much needs to be done at Bethpage Black for the 2024 Ryder Cup. 

Take down the rough cut for the bomb-and-gouge loving American team, more concession stands and way more grandstand seating, then convince presumptive Captain Phil Mickelson to talk the fans into a little bit more restraint when it comes to shouting out the first inappropriate thing that comes to mind.

Sure, some improvements are easier to accomplish than others. 

The most complicated of all involves the oft-discussed, widely loathed par-4 18th hole.

Tweaks were made this time around, more bunkers added to the already excessively-trapped, straightaway mess and a dreadful finishing hole remained so. The last time a major was played at Bethpage, the USGA tried to improve 18 by moving up tees and that just led to the regrettable sight of 6-iron lay ups and a sense that the hole was no better.

In the past, consideration was given to creating a hybrid hole utilizing the righthand bunker complex, the first fairway on the Red, and the current 18th green. Many others have advocated that players be asked to take a walk from the par-3 17th to the Red Course’s 18th tee.

For the 2009 PGA, the 18th played slightly over par but still offered a bizarre ending to the round. The bomb-and-gouge mindset, combined with a slight fairway widening, had players smacking driver and hoping for the best. 

I asked Brooks Koepka in his post-round press conference if he considered laying back with a two stroke lead. Never a consideration, he said. Koepka drove in the left bunkers, drew an awful, potentially calamitous lie, but managed a fine recovery out to the fairway. A wedge and putt sealed the victory. 

Koepka’s mindset on the hole was shared by nearly all of the field. As a match play finishing hole in Ryder Cup play, it’s hard to imagine an intriguing scenario where a player with the honor and a lead makes the decision to play safe, daring their opponent into a more aggressive play. Or any other interesting match play scenarios.

Because Bethpage Black’s 18th is not a good hole.

As Adam Scott noted when I asked him how he plays it, the 18th is the only driving hole at Bethpage Black that lacks some twist or turn to the fairway shape. That’s a trademark Tillinghast touch that remained part of the Black’s design despite his limited involvement and the erosion of shot values created by major championship manipulations.

The 18th hole’s design clashes with the rest of the Black in every way: strategically, visually and in the minds of players. Old photos show a little more twisting and rhythm to the landing area, but still not enough to make today’s players shape a shot to gain an advantage.

A reconsideration of the fairway bunkering could make a player shape a ball right-to-left around the bunkering to open up a better angle to the green. But in today’s game, such playing for angles is a lost art and there is little sign it will be restored with a rollback by 2024. 

A consolidation of the 13 bunkers to a more manageable number would be nice, too.

Which brings us back to the Ryder Cup question: should they fix the hole or just leave it since so few matches get to the home hole?

Doing nothing is likely to be the PGA of America’s conclusion to avoid controversy. Yet it was impossible not to ponder a much better option while walking the meandering, soulful and challenging Red Course finishing hole. It sat adjacent to the Black’s tent village on top of the Red’s first hole. The hole is close enough to the Black and finishes just as close to the clubhouse. Anyone could envision a Ryder Cup crowd in the beautiful amphitheater setting and matches concluding in far more satisfying fashion with real decision to be made off the tee and genuine reward for skill. Well, almost anyone.

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CBS (Sort Of) Avoids Historic Production Disaster During 2019 PGA Final Round

A new contract kicks in next year for the PGA of America with CBS and ESPN. Details are sketchy, and given the PGA’s tendency to prioritize profit over what’s best for their fans or the game, I’m not optimistic that we will see a cutback in promos and ads.

What is also not clear: will there be higher standards demanded by the PGA of America of their broadcast partners beginning next year? It’s always a tricky thing to be telling television professionals how to do their job, but for starters the odd tradition of CBS witholding major production elements from their weekday PGA Championship partner needs to go. We can only hope the PGA would have stipulated this in writing to protect their product when it airs on ESPN.

One thing you can’t legislate: production mistakes. As Andy Nesbit writes at For The Win, fans are livid with the certified disaster that was CBS going to an interview with Dustin Johnson instead of staying with the incredible drama at the 18th hole. That’s where Brooks Koepka was faced with a brutal lie on a bunker edge. A double bogey sends the tournament to a playoff.

An unusually chatty Johnson was gabbing away as Koepka hacked his ball quite impressively back into the fairway. The ball was easily chunkable from such an awkward position.

Nesbitt writes before rounding up the Twitter outrage: “It was just terrible timing and angered fans watching the drama unfold on TV.”

While it’s not comparable to the infamous Heidi debacle, had Koepka flubbed the shot and collapsed, the decision to conduct an interview would been one of the great blunders in television history. Still, the moment will be remembered and analyzed given the need to set up the scenarios facing Koepka, who is notoriously fast. Fans were deprived of watching a huge moment and undoubtedly CBS’s Lance Barrow feels awful about it.

Let’s hope with a new contract and a clean slate at Harding Park, all of the parties get together and beef up the PGA Championship broadcast in the interest of their credibility, the health of the championship and most of all, the desires of fans watching at home.

First PGA In May: 3.9 Overnight For CBS Coverage, Peaks At 5.4 During Conclusion

Brooks Koepka’s 2-stroke victory started as an apparent runaway but got interesting and the numbers suggest viewers turned over as the lead shrunk. CBS’s final round coverage drew a 3.9 rating, down significantly from last August’s 6.1 overnight when Tiger, Koepka and other top names dueled down the stretch.

Last year’s Players Championship, the final in May ( a week prior to the new PGA date) and featuring Woods in contention, drew a 4.1, up from a 2.6.

Austin Karp of SBJ posted some numbers and context.

The (Next) Match: Forget Tiger And Phil, How About Brooks And Brandel?

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In winning his second PGA and fourth major in his last eight starts, Brooks Koepka still gladly shared his anger at having his toughness questioned by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.

“Telling me I wasn’t tough,” Koepka said during a news conference. “That pissed me off. That really pissed me off.”

He wouldn’t name Chamblee, but did not leave any question who he was talking about.

Chamblee spent this week walking back some of his Koepka critiquing during the week, even comparing this run to Tiger’s play in 2000.

But I believe we need to take this manspat to the next, proper level: pay-per-view!

Since The Match II hasn’t been announced yet, I’d like to propose Brooks vs. Brandel.

Koepka can play all the way back while Brandel plays from the senior tees. Brooks can give Brandel two aside and we can all bet on it. Even better, they won’t give five footers and while the witty banter won’t be there, the potential for drama will be! Think about it MGM!

Chamblee defended himself in an interview with Morning Read’s Alex Miceli and on Morning Drive, suggesting he never said Koepka was not tough, though he said at the Masters he was not convinced of Koepka’s toughness.


Koepka Wins The 2019 PGA: First Roundup And Your Kneejerk Reactions

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Steve DiMeglio’s USA Today game story sums up what turned into an exciting final round (for a bit), as Brooks Koepka defended his PGA Championship title at Bethpage Black. He has now won four of the last six majors he has played.

Koepka said this was by far his most stressful major win due to the difficulty of the Black and high winds.

Michael Bamberger on Brooks Koepka overtaking golf like dominant golfers before him, with comments from Greg Norman saying that Tiger wilted in Brooks’ presence.

Eamon Lynch on the Tiger-like alpha golfer Brooks Koepka has become and a day by day look at Koepka’s evolving week:

There are many similarities between Koepka and Woods, not least that they bludgeon courses into submission and display a studied disregard for their fellow competitors. “He’s like Tiger in that they march to the beat of their own drums. They do things their own way,” says Claude Harmon III, Koepka’s coach of six years.

The Black Course held up well if difficulty is your thing, though there were some interesting shifts from 2002 to 2009 to 2019 probably attributable to May, setup and changes in the game.

CBS's New "Aerial Tracing" Is Getting Slaughtered, Maybe A Bit Unfairly?

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People, people! Breathe!

Sure, the latest attempt at breakthrough technology was not perfect in its Saturday debut. GolfDigest.com’s Christopher Powers rounds up the rants in reaction to the first hole tee shot of Justin Rose, the technology’s debut on CBS.

The issue appears to be one of scale and visibility. The holes were presented horizontally, forcing a reduction in hole scale that made it hard to tell if a ball was heading for fairway or rough. The shot from the blimp kept the entire hole in view, which took us even farther away from being able to see details. There was also some uncertainty in when to cut away from the trace to the ball landing.

I still see a level of authenticity in seeing the actual hole instead of a graphic (since the graphics often do not reflect reality).

If the architectural features of the landing can be better delineated by the view, and the hole presented vertically to improve size and perspective, this could have great value.

Here is the Tweet with quite the onslaught of comments


2019 PGA First Round Ratings Hold Steady, Close To Last Year's May Players

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Paulsen at Sports Media Watch notes the “slight bump” in PGA round one ratings, the first in the new May date. Up 1% from the 2018 PGA, down 7% from 2017 PGA.

The average audience of 990,000 viewers was comparable to last year’s Players, played a week earlier, where the audience was slightly larger (1 million viewers).

You Could Have Watched Tiger Woods Play In A Major For $6 Today (Plus Service And Handling Fees)

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GolfDigest.com’s Joel Beall noted the incredibly small crowds for Bethpage practice rounds, a stunning contrast to 2018 at Bellerive where fans were lining fairways before the tournament even began.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, many of the holes boasted more volunteers than spectators, a sight especially true on the remote part—holes six through 12—of the property. A beverage vendor mentioned sales were "about 30 to 40 percent" off from their weekly forecast. And a fan noted on the fifth hole, “It’s more crowded out here on a normal Saturday.”

On Monday sports business writer Darren Rovell Tweeted about the low resale market prices, calling the lowest in recent major history. Make sure to read the replies if you want a laugh or insight into how the New York market sees things.

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A study of StubHub showed $6 prices Wednesday morning. Surely that would not happen again Thursday?

Despite Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka going out early in absolutely perfect first round weather, the resellers were giving tickets away again for round one. The Forecaddie says by sometime around 9 am, the price had dropped from a low of $16 to $6, not including handling fees (around $6). Large chunks of tickets were available for prices in the single digits.

Prices are higher for the remaining three days, but well under the $110 face value for general admission.

In February, the PGA of America touted robust, near-sellout situation, then CEO Seth Waugh touted a boost to sales after Tiger’s Masters win.

The Man Who Saved Bethpage's Major Venue Status Isn't Here

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Former PGA President Ted Bishop is given his rightful credit for his role in the idea to bring the PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup to Bethpage Black after the USGA had decided to pass on future U.S. Opens here. Former PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua and his team also deserve credit for getting the deal done, but as Herrmann writes, the idea started with Bishop:

Bishop was the PGA of America’s secretary, in line to be president, in September 2010 when he met at the park with state officials. The U.S. Golf Association had given up on Bethpage after two rain-drenched U.S. Opens. The PGA Tour had yet to hold its two FedEx Cup playoff events there (which turned out to be poorly attended).

“The future of championships at Bethpage, at the point we started talking, was obviously in doubt,” Bishop said from The Legends, the club in Franklin, Indiana, that he runs, serves as head pro and now is superintendent, too. “I knew about the concerns that everybody who loves Bethpage had, with funding and maintaining conditions going forward.”

Despite the USGA having pulled out, Bishop chose to dive in. His confidence was confirmed during a practice round for the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales, when he was on the 18th fairway with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. “Just out of the blue,” he said, “they started talking about Ryder Cup venues and Phil says to Fowler, 'Can you imagine the home course advantage that we would have if they ever played this Ryder Cup at Bethpage.' "

The piece goes on to explain why Bishop isn’t here this week—hint, hint, the hard working PGA Board of Directors stripped him of his PGA status and celebrated the brilliant idea to return to Bethpage with some Hampton’s golf.

Vide: A.W. Tillinghast, The PGA (Of America) "Tour" Years

While the return to Bethpage brings up mixed emotions for A.W. Tillinghast fans, there is little doubt about his influence over the Black course and hundreds of courses across the United States. And Tillinghast’s mid-1930’s work, a lifeline of sorts from the PGA of America’s George Jacobus that turned into an incredible project, plus his late years in obscurity, were the subject of our focus for this Golf Channel feature.

The piece first aired Monday on Live From The PGA, so if you missed it, here’s an encore presentation (also embedded in the righthand column). A special thanks to Dominic Dastoli for a fine producing and supervising effort, and to the PGA of America’s Bob Denney and Dr. Tony Parker for helping us tell the Tillinghast story. And a special thank you to Jim Nantz and Jack Whitaker. Jim for helping us contact the broadcasting legend, and to Mr. Whitaker for becoming the voice of A.W. Tilinghast for us. Tillinghast and Whitaker, two of Philadelphia’s grandest contributions to the game!

Tiger On Hitting His Numbers, Five Hours As A Grow The Game Killer

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Tiger Woods was in good spirits to kick off his return to Bethpage Black and the 2019 PGA Championship, touching on an array of topics from Olympic golf (nice if it happens) to the state of his game and the Black Course. Steve DiMeglio with the full round-up here for Golfweek.

Two quotes stood out in his comments.

Q. You haven't gone major to major without playing all that often in your career, but as you look ahead now, is it something you might consider doing more often? And just sort of how do you weigh the need for reps versus the need for rest at this point?

TIGER WOODS: You know, that's a great question because the only other time where I've taken four weeks off prior to major championships is going from the British Open to the PGA. Usually that was my summer break, and take those four weeks off and then get ready for the PGA, Firestone and the fall. So I'm always looking for breaks. Generally it's after the Masters I used to take four weeks off there. Now, with the condensed schedule, it's trying to find breaks.

You know, I wanted to play at Quail Hollow, but to be honest with you, I wasn't ready yet to start the grind of practicing and preparing and logging all those hours again. I was lifting -- my numbers were good. I was feeling good in the gym, but I wasn't mentally prepared to log in the hours.

Ok first we had players wanting to his certain Trackman numbers. Now gym numbers?

Coming here is a different story. I was able to log in the hours, put in the time and feel rested and ready. That's going to be the interesting part going forward; how much do I play and how much do I rest. I think I've done a lot of the legwork and the hard work already, trying to find my game over the past year and a half. Now I think it's just maintaining it. I know that I feel better when I'm fresh. The body doesn't respond like it used to, doesn't bounce back quite as well, so I've got to be aware of that.

And this seemed to be a nice statement for those leading the game who insist there is nothing wrong with five hour rounds, or slow play in general.

Q. Tiger, more minorities and young women are taking up the sport than before because of all of the initiatives in place, but that isn't reflected in the college participation numbers. Asians are the only minorities that are showing an increase. What do you think is happening? Why aren't the kids who are taking up the game sticking with it?

TIGER WOODS: You know, that's the question for all of us that's been a difficult one to figure out, to put our finger on. The First Tee has done an amazing job of creating facilities and creating atmospheres for kids to be introduced to the game, but also have some type of sustainability within the game.

But it's difficult. There are so many different things that are pulling at kids to go different directions. Golf is just merely one of the vehicles.

Now, with today's -- as I said, there's so many different things that kids can get into and go towards that honestly playing five hours, five and a half hours of a sport just doesn't sound too appealing. That's one of the things that we've tried to increase is the pace of play and try and make sure that's faster, because most of us in this room, if you've gone probably five minutes without checking your phone, you're jonesing. Kids are the same way; five hours on a golf course seems pretty boring.

Brooks Koepka: From 156 To 80 To Maybe 35, And Pressure Is Going To Get To Some Of 35...

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Brooks Koepka did the math on how he sees a field and, well, you can see why he’s a regular contender these days in majors. The man is confident, as Dan Kilbridge notes for Golfweek in writing about the defending champion.

Here is the actual 2019 PGA Championship press conference transcript outlining his view of a major field:

Q. We've heard you say several times majors are the easiest to win; yet that seems too simple for complicated minds. What has led you to internalize this approach which clearly seems to be a winning approach?

BROOKS KOEPKA: The easiest way I can break it down is there's -- what is there, 140 --

JON DEVER: 156 in the field.

BROOKS KOEPKA: 156 in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I'm just going to beat. From there, the other -- you figure about half of them won't play well from there, so you're down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just -- pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you've just got to beat those guys.

If you just hang around -- I think one of the big things that I've learned over the last few years is you don't need to win it, you don't have to try to go win it. Just hang around. If you hang around, good things are going to happen.

So I think that's what's kind of caused me an issue in the regular PGA TOUR events. I've gone out on Saturday and tried to build a cushion, maybe pressed a little bit too hard and gotten ahead of myself, where in the majors I just stay in the moment. I never think one hole ahead. I'm not thinking about tomorrow. I'm not thinking about the next shot. I'm just thinking about what I've got to do right then and there. And I kind of dummy it down and make it very simple, and I think that's what helps me.

2019 PGA Championship Picks Roundup: Prognosticating At Soggy Bethpage

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Prognosticating golf tournaments is generally a fool’s game. Then dump lots of rain on a major venue and watch the nullification of many of the best setup and design elements. While Bethpage Black is usually soft for its major events, this year’s weather may further dull the local knowledge or experience advantage some might have enjoyed.

This is my way of saying this one seems wide open. Particularly when you factor in the mostly so-so track records of top players in four significant events since 2002. I consider those finishes and recent form in this “ten to watch” for Golfweek. 

And our team makes their picks for USA Today/Golfweek. I am sticking with Tiger again. He likes the place, he’s confident and he’s rested. Oh and he has Privacy here.

It’s hard not to see length being a huge factor, particularly without warmer temperatures this week that players enjoy so much. Ball-striking is paramount, as Joel Beall notes for GolfDigest.com.

Check out some of the changes in iron distance detailed in this Monday preview from Bethpage by Golfweek’s David Dusek. 

The Golf.com team’s picks.

Ryan Herrington’s “sneaky” PGA picks for Golf World.

And Oddschecker is always great fun to watch as it evolves during the week.

Warning: The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course That Players May Light Up During The 2019 PGA

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And it’s ok! Really.

For three simple reasons: spring conditions, simple greens and huge changes in the game.

As Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo noted in this week’s CBS call to promote the new May date for the PGA Championship, the combination of spring conditions and more rain the weekend before means rough is likely to be inconsistent. While long and playing long due to cool conditions, the course should be soft.

But as Tom Dunne notes for Golfweek, Bethpage Black was meant to be a beast from the start and has largely maintained that reputation. (I’m sure it’ll still give players some fits but do remember that the 265-yard carry off the 10th tee in 2002 was understandably controversial. Today, it would take a major wind to restore that fear factor. )

Tillinghast wrote about the “Man Killer” element to the place in 1937 for the PGA Magazine (page 14 of 16 from the TIllinghast Illustrated by the great folks at Tillinghast.net).

Another factor worth watching: the relatively simple greens. In recent years hole locations have been in some astounding places to protect scoring but a soft Bethpage hasn’t many places to hide the holes. So even if the greens are slower than players like and maybe a little bumpy by day’s end, the lack of complexity in the green complexes makes the place more vulnerable.

So it will be interesting to see how the place’s reputation is viewed if the players score well in this PGA. It shouldn’t matter one bit. Because we all know the place has taken on a lot of water and will do so again all day Monday (100% chance of rain). But this is The Black and the good people of Long Island want their course to extract pain!

Oh and here is how things looked Sunday out there:

Return To Bethpage Begins The Wind-Down On Muni's As Major Hosts

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The state of New York’s glorious Bethpage State Park hosts this week’s 2019 PGA Championship and the 2024 Ryder Cup, while Harding Park is site of next year’s PGA. Throw in one US Open at a true public venue—2021 at Torrey Pines—and that’s about it in the way of muni’s hosting majors. The foreseeable future has been lined up for both the PGA and U.S. Open, with clubs or upscale resort courses the focus.

As I write for Golfweek, it’s been a mixed-bag in terms of success rate and benefits for the facilities. But it’s also clear that the cost to host and list of potential venues has shrunken due to the bench press and gluten free diets of today’s better athletes.

But do not despair, as I make the case that these majors at muni’s spawned interest in restoring classic public courses, with a tip of the cap to the new National Links Trust and efforts around the country.

Bethpage Black And The Credit Question

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As Ron Whitten detailed back in 2002, A.W. Tillinghast had a limited role in the design of Bethpage Black. Yet he will be lauded next week during the PGA Championship while the primary designer, Joe Burbeck, only gets a few mentions.

It’s a peculiar bit of irony that guilty of that at Golf Channel too, where we have a feature set to air during Live From on Tillinghast’s later years in obscurity and his incredible cross-country consulting tour for the PGA of America. But there is also a lovely irony in the PGA Championship coming here that allows us to consider his place in the game later in his life.

Since Whitten’s story seventeen years ago was met largely with frustration, maybe even derision, we’ve come to realize a lot more about course design credit. While Tillinghast seems to have only been on site a small amount and appears to have walked away (or was fired) in frustration with the Works Progress Administration’s methodology, there is still something undeniably different about the scale and design of Bethpage Black that speaks to his influence. Which is undoubtedly why Tillinghast still warrants a co-credit in Golf Digest’s listing of top 100 courses.

Sure, the greens have none of the flair you’ll find at other Tillinghast designs in the area and the course is woefully over-bunkered given his views by the Depression years. But as Whitten detailed, he still had a hand in making the design more than just long and hard.

In August 1937, Tillinghast wrote for the first time about Bethpage Black, in PGA Magazine. He credited Joseph Burbeck with the very concept of the Black Course.

"Now it was Burbeck's idea to develop one of these layouts along lines which were to be severe to a marked degree. It was his ambition to have something which might compare with Pine Valley as a great test, and although my continual travels over the country in the PGA work have prevented me from seeing play over Bethpage's Black since its opening, I am rather inclined to believe from reports from some of the best players that it is showing plenty teeth."

The next few lines suggested he made at least one visit to the Black. He described the par-5 fourth in some detail: "In locating and designing the green, which can only be gained by a most precise approach from the right, I must confess that I was a trifle scared myself, when I looked back and regarded the hazardous route that must be taken by a stinging second shot to get into position to attack this green."

While Tillinghast may have walked out of the studio during the sessions, he was there, crafted key notes and lyrics, and is undoubtedly part of why the Black went to a different place architecturally. He might also have made the 18th hole better had he stuck around.

Onward!

Whitten has narrated a nice drone flyover of the course to get you in the mood for the Black’s return to major championship golf:

Tiger Enjoys Bethpage In Shorts Weather While He Can...

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More clips of Tiger Woods at Bethpage have surfaced and it would appear he got in his shorts-wearing before needing to pack those away as temperatures dip Sunday through Wednesday and struggle to get into the 60s. The tournament days look, for now, to be quite pleasant for the PGA Championship’s move to May.

I wonder what the people on Round Swamp Rd. thought when they saw the Masters winner strolling by…

Love the cart just whizzing in front of him on 17. Of course, they have tents practically on top of the fairways—what could go wrong—to finish building.