Bethpage Black Golf Course on Long Island is no stranger to major championship competition, having twice hosted the U.S. Open (2002 and 2009). While the rough doesn’t figure to be as penal as it was in those years, or the course setup quite as brutal, history tells us you shouldn’t expect to see a sea of double-digit under-par scores, like there was last year at Bellerive. Quite the contrary. Consider: In ’02, Tiger Woods was the only player to shoot under-par (-3), while in ’09 Lucas Glover won on a very wet, muddy track at 4-under par.
Similar to 2002 and 2009, the par-70, 7,459-yard layout has been soaked by weeks and weeks of rain, so while the 3-1/2-inch rough might not be as long as it was for both Opens, it’s certainly just as lush and thick. Hitting the ball in the fairway is going to be at a premium, as is distance off the tee since the fairways are so saturated from all the rain.
“Rule No. 1 is you want to keep the ball in play and avoid the big numbers,” said GOLF Academy lead coach Peter Stern, our resident expert at Bethpage Black. “That’s going to be a tall task, especially if the winds pick up. I’m predicting the winning score to be at most, 8 or 9 under.”
Stern, who works at the GOLF Academy with Kelley Brooke at Bethpage, took some time on Wednesday to break down some of the pivotal holes in this year’s PGA Championship. Here are four holes that could wind up deciding things come Sunday.
No. 7, Par 4, 524 Yards
A par-5 for the general public, No. 7 played as the fourth most-difficult hole in both U.S. Opens with scoring averages of 4.479 and 4.355. It begins a brutal stretch of five par-4s in six holes, including three over 500 yards. Get through this gauntlet of holes in even par and players should pick up a stroke or two on the field. To walk away with a par, players will need to carry a massive bunker off the tee and yet keep the ball from running through the fairway into even more trouble. Shorter hitters will aim their tee shot down the left side of the fairway on this dogleg- right hole, which brings the rough into play and also makes for a longer approach shot.
No. 13, Par 5, 608 yards
It’s hard to think of a 600-yard hole as a breather, but that’s exactly what this par-5 is. It’s a must-make birdie after a stretch of very difficult holes. In 2009 it played as the third easiest hole, and it even surrendered an eagle to Phil Mickelson in the final round that briefly tied him with Glover for the lead. There are some massive cross-bunkers 30 yards short of the green, so if players want to make birdie they’ll need to clear them. As with most holes at Bethpage Black, there’s trouble lurking behind the green so players must be careful not to go long.
No. 15, Par 4, 457 yards
The toughest hole in each of the two previous U.S. Opens at Bethpage, it yielded just 17 birdies in 2009 and played nearly a half-stroke over par, with 180 scores of bogey or worse. What makes this hole so challenging is the second shot—the green complex sits some 50 feet above the fairway and is guarded by two of the deepest bunkers on the course. Those players who find the rough off the tee will have virtually no chance to cover the bunkers. Many will lay up and try and get up-and-down from 75-80 yards out. The green is no cupcake, either—players who leave their approach on the top shelf will face a straight downhill putt and a very challenging two-putt for their par.
No. 17, Par 3, 207 yards
From the tee, the green looks like a miniature table top, despite being more than 40 yards wide. It’s barely discernable as it’s completely surrounded by five deep bunkers. Like the 12th hole at Augusta National, the player’s best option is to take whatever club can get them to the middle of the split-level green, aim for the middle of the green and pray. Adding to the drama of this penultimate hole are the massive grandstands that flank the hole, creating a raucous scene similar to the 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This year’s PGA Championship figures to be a thrill ride to the very end.
Stern’s Pick: Rory McIlroy
“He’s the best driver of the ball in the game today and he’s playing really well. He’s due for another major.”