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Course Spotlight: Players facing bigger (and tougher) test at Oak Hill for 105th PGA Championship

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Course Spotlight: Players facing bigger (and tougher) test at Oak Hill for 105th PGA Championship

    Written by Keith Stewart @KJStewartpga

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Architect Andrew Green made the, well, greens bigger at Oak Hill’s East Course. In doing so, he made them more difficult. Yes, you read that correctly. Bigger greens will be the talk of the town in Rochester this week. We can cover the removal 600 trees from the course and debate the impact Strokes Gained: Off the Tee will carry, but the reality is players drive for show and approach for dough.

    Looking at the scorecard for the 105th PGA Championship, our focus is instantly biased by the length of this major championship test. After all, this par-70 layout is comprised of two par-3s over 230 yards, seven par-4s over 460 yards and pair of par-5s stretching over half a mile! Is off-the-tee play the most important skill needed to win the Wanamaker? Many will have you believe with the tree removal and discussion of angles off the tee, the course has become more strategic. They are correct.

    Even more impactful than the “opening” of Oak Hill’s sightlines is the expansion of the greens. Andrew Green was hired in 2015 by Oak Hill to restore the Donald Ross design. Courses evolve through the years, just due to general maintenance and play. Greens shrink over time due to mowing practices and maintenance such as topdressing. The edges between the bunkers and the green will also build up due to the sand splash.

    All these factors changed the East Course. By the late 1980s, the greens were experiencing a punch bowl effect. The best example of the change in contours was witnessed at the 1989 U.S. Open. In less than two hours, four players in the second round made a hole-in-one on the same hole!

    The renovation is complete, and the green surfaces have been modernized to reflect their Ross roots.Without the edges creeping in, the PGA of America’s Tournament Committee has been given a new canvas to test the world’s best. These competitors will no doubt need incredible acumen off the tee. Upon approach, more than 60% of their attacking iron shots will come from over 175 yards. Expanding the greens and flattening the edges will make Oak Hill harder. Watch as Kerry Haigh places pins along the edges in positions he couldn’t use before.

    This will increase the likelihood of more around-the-green play. As you prepare to explore the odds board in advance of this major championship, make sure to account for the proper weight of long iron play. Take, for example, Tony Finau (+2200 to win at BetMGM Sportsbook). Finau is ranked third in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach and on approaches over 200 yards. That combination is ideal coming into this championship. We know Finau can keep up off the tee, and he has taken tremendous strides in his short game in recent years – as witnessed just a few weeks ago with his win at the Mexico Open.

    Deeper down the board, Tyrell Hatton (+4000) catches my attention. The emotional Englishman will not only be comfortable in the cooler climate, but his ball-striking (ranked third in SG: Tee-to-Green) inserts him into the contender story. With incredible finishes on similar style tests this season (fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, third at Wells Fargo, second at THE PLAYERS), Hatton’s long game pairs very well with an accomplished short game and putter.

    Twice in the last 10 years, players have come from beyond the middle of the betting board to win. Phil Mickelson (Kiawah 2021) and Jimmy Walker (Baltusrol 2016) were long shots with odds well over +10000 to win. If another unexpected victory were to happen this week, it would take a seasoned star like Justin Rose (+10000) to get it done. Excellent on approach and around the green, he already won a damp Pebble Beach tournament earlier this year. The former world No. 1 and 2013 U.S. Open champion has fared well in the PGA lately, with a ninth-place finish at TPC Harding Park (2020), an eighth at Kiawah (2021), and a 13th-place showing last year at Southern Hills.

    Oak Hill’s storied tradition has evolved, and as a result our entertainment value will increase. As a PGA Coach, I’m excited to see how these players tackle the East Course’s new modern appeal. In this case, bigger is better – and if you’re going to grab some betting value, make sure you account for Oak Hill’s awesome architectural changes.

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    Keith Stewart is a five-time award winning PGA Professional who covers the PGA TOUR and LPGA from a betting perspective. Founder of Read The Line, he is also published by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. Follow Keith Stewart on Twitter.

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