Beauty of Bethpage Black as much the vocal fans as the challenge

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August 20, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

To borrow from the classic Australian rock band AC/DC, I'm back Yes, I'm back Well, I'm back Yes, I'm back Well, I'm back, back I'm back in black Yes, I'm back in black.


If this year's Barclays had entrance music, the 1980 hit that was once selected by VH1 as the second-greatest rock song of all-time would be as good as any. Not just for a homonym it shares with the host course of the tournament, but for the sheer loudness from which seems to emanate from both.

Much the way New York is the city that never sleeps, Bethpage Black is where many New Yorkers do sleep, in the parking lot, just to get a tee time at the venerable A.W. Tillinghast course that first opened in 1936.

When those poor souls who spent the night in their cars rub the sleep from their eyes, they are greeted with suitably not-so-subtle words of caution on the first tee box: "-- WARNING -- The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers."

Fortunately for those involved this week, they are. The FedExCup Playoffs begin with the top 124 players from the season-long race (No. 2 Jason Dufner is not in the field) at Bethpage Black, which is playing host to the first of the four postseason events for the first time.

The last time the world's best players convened upon Long Island was for the 2009 U.S. Open, which Lucas Glover won in a Monday finish. The Black, the crown jewel of the five courses on the property, also hosted the U.S. Open in 2002, which marked the first time a major championship had been contested on a publicly owned and operated course. Therein lays the beauty.

"One of the best things about Bethpage is the people," says Phil Mickelson, who was on his way to winning that U.S. Open in 2009 before a four-hole stumble late in a Monday finish. "The crowds that come out to support the game of golf at Bethpage are the best I've ever seen."

They aren't shy in showing it, either -- you just better be at your best. Just ask the guy who won there a decade ago.

"I've never played in front of an atmosphere that loud for all 18 holes," Woods said. "Phoenix has one hole or a couple of holes. But I think just the atmosphere in general, as far as just overall atmosphere, I've never seen anything like it."

The players in the field this week will see Bethpage as they've never seen it, too. It's not quite the same setup as it was when it hosted the U.S. Open.

For one, instead of the seventh hole being played as a 500-yard par 4, it will return to its roots as a 550-yard par 5. The par-3 17th hole will also feature a stadium-like atmosphere similar to what players see at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Bethpage Black will play, as one official put it, the same way it does every other week when golfers show up, plunk down their $70 and stick a peg in the ground -- which is to say just under 7,500 yards and par 71. Big boy golf in the Big Apple.

"It's a long, tough course and I feel like I play my best when courses are like that," said Rory McIlroy, who tied for 10th there in 2009. "I really like the golf course. It's one of the best we play all year."

Added Luke Donald: "There's no scrapping around that place. It demands a lot of good golf."

And it tends to bring out the best in those who can handle its heat, especially Mickelson.

Who can forget Lefty's long birdie putt on the par-3 17th on Saturday of the 2002 U.S. Open and the explosion that ensued? Certainly not Mickelson.

"One of the most memorable shots in my mind that I've ever hit was [that] putt," he said. "And the reason it was so memorable was the volume of the roar. ... It was louder than just about anything I've ever experienced on TOUR."

Mickelson didn't win that U.S. Open, or the next one played there, but there's little doubt that he loves New York, and the feeling is mutual.

He's not the only one. Adam Scott never had much success there, missing the cut in 2002 and tying for 36thin 2009, but even the laid back Aussie doesn't mind getting into a New York state of mind.

"It's a hell of a starting venue for the Playoffs," Scott said. "This is why we play. I love being in that environment."

Hit the music.