PGA Championship The Ocean Course ISLAND KIAWAH, S.C. The scorecard yard of 7,876 makes the Kiawah Island Ocean Course the longest in the history of the major championship. This is not why the players in the PGA Championship this week looks so dull and bruised as they leave the venue.
The exasperation is as windy as the strenuous walk and length of the track are sunburned and sullen.
The weather measurements and predictions may not be as strong as the wind is blowing off the Atlantic. This was a calm week for several predictions. If so, what does it look like if it’s really blowing?
Go to the Ocean Course, always a breeze. You cannot miss it, either through your chuckle hair, through the sand in your eyes or through your ears.
And it gets into your head eventually. Thursday was the start of the second big championship of the year.
PGA Championship The Ocean Course
“This is evil,” said DeChambeau. It is diabolical. “Every single hole must be at the point.”
After the even par 72, DeChambeau was dishevelled, having four straight bogeys for the first time throughout the season. Even the longest driver on the PGA Tour was not able to muscle his way across the invisible constant obstacle.
“”The wind kicked my ass,” he said. He said. “There’s only grinding out. You need a great deal. I work hard to get every shot as I want. It’s really hard. If you’re over a four-footer, it’s windy. Wind blows hard, and you think it’ll break [the putt’s]. It won’t break if the wind stops. Everything you have to control there is just a truly difficult thing. It’s a big job.”
DeChambeau was very familiar with putting a lot of thinking in his game—maybe too many at times—but his description very well sums up the fear and loathing of the top competitors for a round of golf.
And this is part of Pete Dye’s design of late beauty. The architect at the suggestion of his wife, Alice, when he built the race more than 30 years ago, raised the fairways to keep the dunes from blocking the wind coming from the water. This results in a mixture of trout with unpredictable winds on the east-west coast.
The distance is long and offers the required flexibility to accommodate predicted winds; tees can be moved on hole in the wind, back on the wind. This is why on Thursday the actual yard was 7,650 — a lot of stout.
He was thrilled to Keegan Bradley, who shot 69.
“It is nervous and difficult this way,” he said. It’s difficult. “I’m proud of this to go out and shoot that score.”
The 69 Bradley was locked for much of the day with two-time PGA champion Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland, Aaron Wise and Sam Horsfield in the tie for a first round lead. Cam Davis tied them later, meaning that six players were 3 below their rank.
Late in the day, Canada’s Corey Conners broke with birdies from the pack to shoot 5-less than 67 for a two-stroke lead. Conners saw the last five treacherous holes play a bit harder, as the wind slowly backed.
Conners had six birdies and a single bogey and played the back nine in 33. He made it look easy — even if it wasn’t.
“I’d say it’s impossible to be stress-free around this golf course,” Conners said. “You can’t fall asleep out there on any holes. It’s very challenging.”
The 18th, 17th and 15th holes played as the three toughest on the course. The final hole averaged more than a half-stroke over par. The scoring average was 74.734.
“You are holding on for dear life,” said Koepka, who has won four major championships.
And with that he’s okay.
“When it is challenging, I love it,” said Koepka. “I believe this is why I do the majors so well. I know, I can grind it mentally out. I know. It’s not that much putting — it’s more about ballstriking, as it is windy like this. [On Thursday] I felt like I hit it really well. I feel I did really well because of that. Sometimes par’s a good score, you have to understand. You must understand that sometimes 30 and 35 feet is a great shot, and you just have to accept it and move forward.”
Koepka noted how easier it could be said than done.
“You are playing in the breeze like nine direct holes,’ he said. “The way the wind is coming [Thursday], it’s so hard because you feel almost straight – and then you have to be very careful. It’s like one [o’clock] and then it shifts somewhat to 11 [o’clock].
“You never are in it directly. It’s always at an angle slightly. You could miss it pretty bad if you didn’t get the right shoot, or if you know how the wind is actually blowing.”
Three players expected to fight – Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, 75, and Dustin Johnson, who doubled the 18th hole, were among those struggling. Shooting 78 by Adam Scott and Max Homa. It was 12 pl
Everything told, on Thursday thirty players broke up. This could be misleading, though, because Conners only got 5 and only 7 players fired in the 1960s.
“There’s a lot of mentally determination you must show,” said DeChambeau. “Mental strength to push on only when things don’t go well. Happiness does not go your way, and the best breaks you do not get. He hits many fantastic shots, and things just don’t go your way. You must step up and say, ‘What are you aware of? It’s not important. The best shot I could right here I will execute.””
And now just do it for another three days.
As defending champion Collin Morikawa, who shot 70, said: “I hope it does stay windy because it really tests your ability to hit quality shots.”