Hopefully all you need to know about Southern Hills and this week's fascinating setup can be found in my Golf World story along with the photos below. I can't state enough what a great transformation this course has seen in recent years with tree removal and trimming, bunker renovation and the return of short grass throughout the course.
In discussing how great the short grass areas looked, PGA course setup guru Kerry Haigh told me, "you should have seen it when they first put the sod down." He said the tight cut throughout the property looked tremendous, and I wonder if it influenced his decision to start the week with extremely modest 2 3/4 inch rough, which I believe will only get players into more trouble if they try to get cute in going for Perry Maxwell's greens.
Anyhow, here a few of the course setup highlights. You know the drill, click on the images to see the full version.
The first image is of No. 3 green and shows the Royal Melbourne/Augusta pre-second cut look that you will see this week. If they can avoid some big downpours, I think you'll see some approach shots spin off the front of greens and down the fronting slopes thanks in large part to the elimination of the rough and intermediate cuts in these approach areas.
The next images are of the par-3 6th. The first is the tee view and the second is taken from the green rear with the par-4 7th in the background. From this angle you are looking back at the green and the area that I hope is used for Sunday's back left hole location. The newly shaved bank and tree removal have really livened this hole up.
While walking the course with superintendent Russ Myers we approached No. 7 green and I was so caught up in the conversation that I didn't even remember until a few holes later that I had been standing on a new Keith Foster green. Foster replaced a Robert Trent Jones "look at me I'm RTJ special" that stuck out like a sore thumb. I'd like to think my failure to notice the change upon stepping onto Foster's channeling of Maxwell means he did a magnificent job fitting it in. Or I'm just losing my mind. One of the two. And look for balls missing the green right to roll down and into the creek. Viewed from right of the green:
The next image shows the new look cut leading into the fairway bunkers, which I wrote about in the Golf World story. Haigh envisioned this for Southern Hills, with the hope of tempting players to flirt with the fairway bunkers. I think the effect will work and even sucker a few more drivers and 3-woods off the tee, which is needed since too many players hit irons off tees like this one during the 2001 U.S. Open.
The famous par-4 12th also features the tighter cut up to the fairway bunker and this great looking short grass area fronting the creek bank. If they can manage to not get rain and this firms up at all, the second shot here from any kind of iffy lie becomes frightening. Once again, a great example of short grass adding interesting and difficulty where there was once rough.
And perhaps my favorite change comes on the par-4 18th where Haigh widened the landing area out so that drives drifting right will now have a recovery shot around the tall trees, whereas last time the best were at Southern Hills, they were hacking out of tall stuff. I think the chance to recover will only get some in more trouble, but as I wrote in the Golf World story, we should see a few really fun slicing recovery shots here.