"It May Be Damned Hot, But It's Heartening Too"

Geoff Ogilvy's look at Southern Hills for Sunland In Scotday Scotland On Sunday is notable for several reasons, mostly because it's just so fun to read a modern day player so eloquently stating why the direction of the Masters and U.S. Open is so absurd.

Instead of the silly thick rough and ultra-narrow fairways the USGA come up with in a misguided attempt to 'protect' par, the USPGA officials have clearly decided to let us play a more strategic and interesting form of golf. By not trying to engineer a winning score, they gave themselves the opportunity to set the course up properly. If you do try to manipulate the winning score - level par in the case of a typical US Open - you have no chance to set a course up properly.
And that's from a former U.S. Open champion.
All of which has been doubly nice after last week at Firestone, where we played the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. The course set up there was probably the worst I have seen all year. Not only was the course really narrow, the rough was ridiculously thick - injury thick. Which is no good. Firestone's holes are all basically straight up and down and somewhat boring, so it needs a more imaginative set up to make the course even remotely interesting.

Now, you're probably wondering why, if Firestone is so bad, Tiger Woods seems to win there every year. Well, the reason is simple. Tiger is the best player we are ever going to see from long grass. So when everyone is in it, he is going to win.

Thankfully, the same mistakes have not been made at Southern Hills.

This next part makes me wish Geoff had seen the rough a few weeks ago, when it was closer to the ideal he described. But the rains stopped and the grass took off, so at least Kerry Haigh gets points for seeing that 2 3/4 was going to be plenty tough. 
Apart from the fact that the rough is maybe half an inch too long - that bit shorter would have encouraged more aggression from the players and taken the spin off the ball, which is all rough really needs to do anyway - the course has been presented almost perfectly. I like the design, too. It has lots of doglegs in all the right places. And we are able to hit a variety of clubs from many of the par-4 tees. This week I've hit everything from driver to 4-iron, depending on where I want to be for the approach shot. So it's an interesting test.

Even better, there is a lot of risk versus reward decisions to make on almost every tee. The bunkers tend to be on the inside of the doglegs, so you can play short of the sand, go over it, or play away from it altogether. But the greatest thing is that, if I wished, I could hit driver off every tee. It would be risky, of course, but I could do it. John Daly did that on the first day and shot 67, so it can work too.

That's the best aspect of this golf course. There are multiple ways to play every hole and every one of them is correct, depending on what you want to achieve and are comfortable with. To me, that's what makes any golf hole good and what allows almost any type of player to have a chance to contend for the title. So, while the long-hitter has had an advantage here this week, his edge has been in proportion. The guy who hits it straight off the tee has also enjoyed an appropriate advantage, as has the player who can move the ball both ways in the air. No-one attribute has outweighed any other though. Which is as it should be.


As for the greens, they have been terrific, despite the heat. The pin positions have also been sensible. None have looked contrived. And the bunkers have been a revelation, compared with what we typically see at the US Open. There is no rough growing around them, so the ball is allowed to run into the sand unhindered by long grass. They look fantastic, too, like those at Augusta. And because there is sand in the faces of the bunkers, you get to see a lot of the sand from the tees. I like that look.

Still, the best aspect of this week is my hope that the obvious success of this type of course set up will have a positive effect on the other American majors. My feeling is that Augusta National will have been paying attention to what has been going on. They are a proud club and, while I'm sure they will never admit it, they do listen to the world of golf. They won't like the fact that there is currently such a negative impression of their course, so over the next three or four years I can see them moving the Masters back to what it once was.