The PGA Championship gets under way at TPC Harding Park next week and here are the 3 key holes that players will win or lose the tournament on!
Welcome to the first major championship of the year! Typically the PGA Championship is called ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ as it traditionally has been the last major of the season, but this year they are batting leadoff and while it’s going to look much different than we’ve ever seen a major championship, it will still count and someone will be holding up the Wannamaker trophy come Sunday regardless of if there are fans there or not!
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TPC Harding Park – Course History
TPC Harding Park, the host of this year’s PGA Championship is not only the first municipal course (owned by city/county) to host a major championship, but also the first PGA Championship to be held on the west coast in 22 years!
Harding Park is a classic venue that was home to many of the tours best players back in the late 50’s and 60’s. Ken Venturi, Harvie Ward, and Johnny Miller all played hundreds of rounds on the course growing up and competed in the San Francisco City Championship here. Venturi has famously eagled 17 of the 18 holes on the course according to legend.
The course was designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting for the costly some of $300 and opened in July of 1925. It hosted the PGA tour in the 60’s, with Gary Player and Venturi both garnering wins but fell into disrepair in the 70s and 80s as the city refused to spend money on upkeep. The low point came in 1998 when neighboring
Olympic Club (also designed by Watson/Whiting) hosted the 1998 US Open (won by Lee Janzen over Payne Stewart) and Harding Park was used as….a parking lot.
In the early 2000’s a push by Arnold Palmer among others, brought Harding Park back to life with a major renovation and they hosted the 2005 WGC CA Championship, won by none other than Tiger Woods. This famous scene happened during that tournament. He beat a resurgent John Daly here.
The course then hosted the 2009 Presidents Cup (Won by the US…duh), the Champions Tour season ending tournament thrice, and the 2015 WGC-Match Play won by none other than Rory McIlroy.
As it prepares for the PGA Championship, the course has gone some significant upgrades to enhance the difficulty so let’s take a look at some of the key details.
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TPC Harding Park Course Breakdown
While only 7169 yards, Harding Park is not a ‘beast’ of a course at first glance, but considering the early morning fog and dew and the wind the players will be dealing with in the San Francisco Bay Area, this course will be exponentially longer than the listed yardage.
Not only will players be dealing with the length, but also the many features of the course that make it difficult. From the large Cypress trees that can swallow up golf balls of players who attempt to cut one of the five corners on the course, to the thick, nasty rough that will twist your club. There will be a huge premium placed on hitting the fairway this week, and as such, the PGA has narrowed the fairways even more than the players saw in 2015 or 2005.
If we look at how the course scored back in 2015 at the Match Play it appears that it averaged around 2 strokes under par, but you must remember that during match play, holes are conceded. If a player is in for birdie and his partner is in the bunker still, the player in the bunker marks as a par and moves on, so we don’t necessarily get an accurate average score for the course. What we should also point out is that the course won’t play in this order, they will play all these holes, but in the more traditional order. The WGC set up the course for match play to enhance the drama of certain points in the match. Here’s how it will actually play this week.
What we can pull from this though is that the par 5’s will be key to scoring this week and being able to make par on the long par 4’s will save your round. There are birdies to be had, but you will need to avoid the big numbers that are lurking out there everywhere.
Let’s take a look at the three holes that I think are going to win or lose players the PGA Championship this week!
Hole #1 – Par 4: 393 yards
Players can win or lose the championship on hole one?! Maybe not win or lose, but I’m a firm believer in getting a good start to your round and building that momentum throughout. Hole #1 provides just that. Played as one of the easiest holes in 2015 with 19% of the field birdieing it.
This is a very easy, straightaway hole, and a nice drive up the left side gives you an easy wedge into the flattish green that’s protected by a front bunker. Anyone coming out of here with par will feel like they had a bogey.
Getting too aggressive here can cause trouble. Right is dead and left in the rough brings the bunker into play. Playing smart will be huge this week and doing so right off the bat can get you off on the right foot and being under par heading into the meat of the golf course.
Hole #9 – Par 4: 515 yards
This incredibly long par 4 will be the demise of many a golfer trying to make the cut on Friday afternoon. Players who start on the back 9 Friday will have to wrap up their rounds here and bogey or worse is definitely in play.
The wind traditionally blows left to right here and that brings the fairway bunkers into play for any drive that is picked up by the wind. An Approach shot from that fairway bunker is going to be 200+ yards long and hitting the green would take an incredible shot.
Any shot that actually hits the fairway here can provide a decent look at birdie as the green is fairly flat and you can take aim at the pin. Anything long though funnels into the grass swail in the back that then brings in a big number as you try to chunk it out.
Par is an excellent score at nine and many players will be walking off thankful to have it, while others will be getting ready to slam their clubs in the trunk and head home if they make a mess here.
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Hole #16: Par 4 – 336 yards
This short par 4 will likely have it’s tee boxes moved up at least once this week to entice more players to take a crack at driving the green, but even if it plays around 330 I would imagine some would likely hit driver here and get it as close as possible (i.e. Bryson DeChambeau) for a look at birdie. The prudent play here though is to hit a long iron to the left and have a wedge into this green for a birdie.
This is the most exposed hole on the course with Lake Merced on the left, but being that open means that the wind will definitely be in play and it can swirl in here making it difficult to get a read on.
Anything right of this fairway is blocked out from the green, and will likely force players to punch out and get up and down for par. Anything left is in the lake, including drives that don’t go left to right. Double cross yourself on the tee here trying to hit a cut and you could easily find yourself in the water.
They can tuck this pin in a variety of very tricking spots on this green so just finding the fairway isn’t a guarantee that you are going to have a good look at birdie, you’ll likely have to have a great second shot as well and any pins in the back right bring some of the overhanging Cypress into play. The right side of this green also has much more break than meets the eye. John Daly missed a 4 footer here in 2005 which caused him to lose to Tiger.
Overall we will likely see some birdies here but bogeys are in play as well and this could be a huge key to winning come Sunday.
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