The 15th hole at Oak Hill will present a challenge to the entire field. (Stewart/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Albeit a little longish for its day, Oak Hill’s 15th hole was pretty much a benign par-3 when Donald Ross first laid out the East course nearly nine decades ago.
Since then, it seems the club has spent plenty of effort trying to toughen it up.
Over time a green was relocated, a pond added, bunkers brought in to fortify. Renovations two years ago shifted the green again, leaving one to wonder if Ross would recognize the old hole these days.
Competitors at this week’s PGA Championship may find it tough to forget.
The green is narrower, just 15 yards wide at its slimmest spot, and hard up against the aforementioned pond. Two bunkers pinch the left side. A slight crown will gladly run shots toward either hazard.
Oh, and now fans get the opportunity to vote on Sunday’s hole location.
“An extremely demanding par-3 with a very small green,” Masters champion Adam Scott said, “that’s going to look really small if you're in with a chance.”
Said Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo: “From a relatively benign par-3, this has turned into a scorecard-wrecker.”
Measuring 177 yards, the tee shot will be a 7-iron or less for most players in the field. The challenge will be picking the right line to any number of possible pin locations.
“You want to take on that pin, but you've got to be careful of the water,” British Open champion Phil Mickelson said. “But what's also challenging about that hole is that if you miss it left, the green is difficult because it's pitched into you at first and then works away.”
Craig Harmon, Oak Hill’s head pro for four decades, suggests long and left might be the worst place to wind up.
“You'll be chipping back toward the water [and] I'm not sure you can keep it on the green,” he said. “And people won't know that. They will try it. The rough there is maybe the thickest rough I've ever seen in my life.”
Mickelson suggested players might as well take on the pin and “try to make it a birdie hole, because there's no bailout on the hole regardless where the pin is.”
The big question is where the pin will be Sunday. The PGA of America is running an online contest that will allow fans to select from among four possible spots. Voting ends at 5 p.m. ET Saturday, so there won’t be any way of knowing the winner until Sunday’s setup.
Tiger Woods applauded the idea – to the point he suggested all four days be subject to a vote.
“I think it would have been a little bit more exciting for everyone if that was the case,” he said. “But one day is still good, and it's going to be on Sunday.”
The famed Oak Hill Country Club has been the site of many historic moments. (Martin/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
• COURSE: Oak Hill Country Club (East), 7,163 yards, par 70. Built in 1926 on farmland obtained in a swap with the University of Rochester, the Donald Ross creation has a pedigree few other clubs can match. Oak Hill is the only club to host the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Senior U.S. Open, Senior PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. Lee Trevino nabbed his first professional win when the 1968 U.S. Open came to Oak Hill, and Curtis Strange made history in 1989 as the Open’s first back-to-back winner since 1951. When the PGA Championship made its first venture to Oak Hill in 1980, Jack Nicklaus won by a record seven shots.
• FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 600 points.
• CHARITY: The PGA Foundation has contributed more than $40 million over the past two decades to growth-of-the-game initiatives, ranging from establishment of The First Tee to teaching grants and funding for disabled and special-needs golfers.
• FIELD WATCH: Reigning major champions Phil Mickelson (British Open), Justin Rose (U.S. Open) and Adam Scott (Masters) head traditionally the strongest field of the year, with 99 of the top 100 in the world rankings expected to participate. … The only exception is No. 12 Louis Oosthuizen, plagued by back and neck woes since May. … Openings remain for the winners of this week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational and Reno-Tahoe Open if not already qualified. … Former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka, winners in Europe this year, received exemptions into the field. … The lineup also includes the top 20 finishers from June’s PGA Professional National Championship.
• 72-HOLE RECORD: 265, David Toms (1993 at Atlanta AC).
• 18-HOLE RECORD: 63, Bruce Crampton (2nd round, 1975 at Firestone CC), Raymond Floyd (1st round, 1982 at Southern Hills), Gary Player (2nd round, 1984 at Shoal Creek), Michael Bradley (1st round, 1993 at Inverness), Vijay Singh (2nd round, 1993 at Inverness), Brad Faxon (4th round, 1995 at Riviera CC), José María Olazábal (3rd round, 2000 at Valhalla), Mark O’Meara (2nd round, 2001 at Atlanta AC), Thomas Bjorn (3rd round, 2005 at Baltusrol), Tiger Woods (2nd round, 2007 at Southern Hills), Steve Stricker (1st round, 2011 at Atlanta AC).
• LAST YEAR: Separating himself from the field during a 27-hole Sunday, Rory McIlroy claimed his second major crown in record fashion, eight shots clear of his nearest pursuers. McIlroy shared the lead with Vijay Singh when storms brought third-round play to a halt at Kiawah Island, but led by three by the time he finished his 5-under-par 67. The Ulsterman then left no doubt with a final-round 66, punctuated by a 25-foot closing birdie for the final margin – one better than Jack Nicklaus’ seven-shot runaway at the 1980 PGA. At age 23, McIlroy became the fourth-youngest champion in PGA history and youngest since Seve Ballesteros (1980) to win two majors. England’s David Lynn, playing for the first time on U.S. soil, took second after a closing 68.
• STORYLINES: World No. 1 Tiger Woods, a multiple winner in 2013 but not in a major since 2008, gets a final shot of the year to end his longest majorless run. … It’s also the last crack at a major for everyone else this year, with an eight-month wait looming before next year’s Masters. … McIlroy arrives at his title defense still seeking a semblance of last year’s form. He acknowledged being “brain dead” while missing the British Open cut, his third MC in six starts since May.
• SHORT CHIPS: The PGA Championship has seen just three European winners since 1930 – but all have come in the past five years. Padraig Harrington ended the drought in 2008, followed by Martin Kaymer (2010) and McIlroy (2012). … Fourteen of the past 18 major winners have been first-timers, including Scott and Rose this year. The exceptions: Mickelson (twice), McIlroy and Ernie Els. … The PGA of America is allowing fans to vote on the Sunday hole location at Oak Hill’s picturesque par-3 15th. Voting takes place online, with four options to choose from.
• TELEVISION: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. ET (TNT). Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (TNT), 2-7 p.m. (CBS).
• RADIO: Thursday-Sunday, noon-7 p.m. (SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio).