TOUGH YEAR IN THE MA­JORS

CLAS­SIC OLD CHAM­PI­ONSHIP VENUES WILL TEST THE BEST IN 2016.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Play Your Best -

Three of this year’s ma­jors go to ven­er­a­ble cham­pi­onship venues laden with his­tory. No new­com­ers like Cham­bers Bay or fancy mod­ern lay­outs ( Whistling Straits) in 2016. Old- fash­ioned clas­sic de­signs – Oak­mont, Bal­tus­rol and Royal Troon – will test to­day’s fear­less young brigade of ag­gres­sive, long- hit­ting play­ers. These are cour­ses where par has been ercely pro­tected over the decades.

In 2015 we saw a 72-hole score of 20- un­der- par win the PGA ( Ja­son Day at Whistling Straits), and 15-un­der take the Open (Zach John­son) at St Andrews. Cham­bers Bay proved more di cult dur­ing the US Open, with Jor­dan Spieth win­ning on 5- un­der, but that had much to do with the com­plex­ity of the greens.

Oak­mont, which hosts a record ninth US Open in June ( its 12th ma­jor), is one of America’s great­est cour­ses. It has never been out of the top 10 in Golf Di­gest’s rank­ing of America’s 100 Great­est Golf Cour­ses, and it is a cham­pi­onship lay­out par ex­cel­lence.

The US Open was first played there in 1927, and since Ben Ho­gan’s win in 1953, no decade has gone by with­out a visit by the USGA to this course out­side Pitts­burgh in the east­ern United States. Other cham­pi­ons in­clude Jack Nick­laus ( 1962), Johnny Miller ( 1973) and Ernie Els (1994). And the win­ning score at Oak­mont in the last seven decades has al­ways stayed in a tight band be­tween 279 and 285. In fact, the high­est score came in the most re­cent US Open, that won by An­gel Cabr­era in 2007, when the par was re­duced from 71 to 70, and +5 was the win­ning score. The 36-hole cut was made on +10.

Nar­row fair­ways, deep rough, nearly 200 bunkers, drainage ditches, slick greens, plus hot and hu­mid con­di­tions, will en­sure that com­peti­tors again face another pe­nal chal­lenge at Oak­mont.

In­ter­est­ingly, when Els won his rst US Open at Oak­mont as a 24-year-old, beat­ing Colin Mont­gomer ie and Loren Roberts in a playo , it was a heav­ily treed lay­out. But the club then went on a treefelling pro­gramme to re­turn the course to the way it used to look in older days, and also im­prove turf con­di­tions: As many as 5 000 trees were re­moved. Oak­mont at the 2007 US Open bore no re­sem­blance to the course where Els had tri­umphed in 1994.

While it has been only nine years since the last US Open at Oak­mont, the game has changed tremen­dously in the in­terim, as have the chief pro­tag­o­nists. Of the cur­rent top 10 play­ers on the World Rank­ing, only Jim Furyk and Bubba Wat­son were prom­i­nent in 2007. Furyk fin­ished one be­hind Cabr­era, and Wat­son was T-5.

Royal Troon, on Scot­land’s west coast, which hosts its ninth Open Cham­pi­onship in July, has thrown up some sur­prise one- time ma­jor win­ners in re­cent decades – Amer­i­cans Todd Hamil­ton (2004), Justin Leonard ( 1997) and Mark Cal­cavec­chia (1989). Hamil­ton and Cal­cavec­chia stum­bled on to those ma­jors through good play and for­tune on the nal day, with Ernie Els and Greg Nor­man vir­tu­ally giv­ing the ti­tles away through er­rors of judg­ment. Both ul­ti­mately lost

in play­offs.

Royal Troon, like the Old Course at St Andrews, is a pure out-and-back links. The pre­vail­ing wind sees the front nine usu­ally played down­wind, and the back nine into the wind is a fe­ro­cious test. It’s nearly 3 500 me­tres long, with just one par 5 for the Open. Nick Price’s stum­bling play over the clos­ing holes cost him the 1982 Open, when he was pipped by Tom Wat­son. The win­ning score that year of 284 was the high­est at Troon among the Opens played since the Sec­ond World War.The low­est was the 272 by Leonard in 1997. Bobby Locke won his sec­ond Open at Troon in 1950.

Troon has one of the most fa­mous holes on the Open rota – the Postage Stamp par-3 eighth, with an in­cred­i­bly nar­row green. A seat in the stand at this hole will pro­vide grand en­ter­tain­ment. EARLY DATE FOR PGA This year, be­cause of the Olympic Games, there will only be a one-week win­dow be­tween the Open and the US PGA Cham­pi­onship, which is played in the last week of July on the Lower Course at Bal­tus­rol. The PGA of America is also cel­e­brat­ing its cen­ten­nial

Sit­u­ated in New Jer­sey, a short drive from Man­hat­tan, it’s one of the old­est cham­pi­onship venues (listed on the na­tional reg­is­ter of his­toric places in the US), hav­ing held its rst US Open in 1903. Both the cour­ses at Bal­tus­rol were de­signed by A W Tilling­hast.

It was a reg­u­lar US Open site un­til 1993, when Lee Janzen won, but the USGA had no im­me­di­ate plans for another Open af­ter that, and the PGA mus­cled in, hav­ing their 2005 cham­pi­onship there. That was won by Phil Mick­el­son, who had the lead, or share of the lead, in ev­ery round.

Bal­tus­rol was al­ways re­garded as one of the eas­ier US Open cour­ses – the 72-hole scor­ing record was bro­ken by Nick­laus in his Open vic­to­ries there in 1967 ( 275) and 1980 ( 272). Nick­laus opened with a 63 in 1980. Janzen also shot 272 to equal the record in 1993. The rea­son for the low scor­ing was the paucity of deep rough. The in­stal­la­tion of sprin­klers in the rough meant a tougher lay­out for the 2005 PGA. Mick­el­son opened 67- 65, but the week­end scor­ing was high, and two clos­ing 72s saw him home with a to­tal of four-un­der 276.

The fi­nal cherry on the cake this year in terms of golf­ing high­lights will be the Ry­der Cup, be­ing played at Hazel­tine in Min­ne­sota. The Amer­i­cans, un­like the Euro­peans, take the Ry­der Cup match to es­tab­lished ma­jor cham­pi­onship venues, and Hazel­tine has hosted four ma­jors, two US Opens and two PGAs, the most re­cent be­ing the 2009 PGA won by Y E Yang. Not only did he be­come the rst Asian to win a ma­jor, but Yang set the seal on Tiger Woods’ even­tual demise.

Woods was ready to claim his 15th ma­jor that week. He was the leader on his own through the rst three rounds, and the odds on him los­ing from that po­si­tion were high. He had never lost a ma­jor when lead­ing af­ter 54 holes. But Yang, who was play­ing with Woods, didn’t go away, and took the lead with an ea­gle two on 14. Yang played bet­ter than Woods over the clos­ing stretch, clinch­ing the ti­tle with a birdie on 18, and Woods was never the same again af­ter that.

SCOT­LAND OPEN Royal Troon will host its ninth Open in 2016. The first hole flanks the shore of the Firth of Clyde.

US OPEN SITE Pe­nal bunker com­plexes are a fea­ture at Oak­mont.

PGA VENUE The par-3 fourth hole at Bal­tus­rol.

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