The PGA Championship is the only major tournament where you might see your club pro facing off against the likes of Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. In recognition of the PGA of America’s roots as an organization to support club professionals, 20 spots in the PGA Championship are reserved for the top finishers in PGA Professional National Championship.
This year, Adam Rainaud, an assistant pro at Black Hall Club in Old Lyme, Connecticut (who hails from South Hadley, Massachusetts) and Daniel Venezio, an assistant pro at Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, will be teeing it up at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wisconsin when the championship kicks off on August 13. Rainaud and Venezio fired solid final rounds of 68 and 69, respectively, at the Philadelphia Cricket Club in early July to finish in the top 20 and earn coveted spots at Whistling Straits.
Most of the attention going into the PGA Championship, however, will be focused on whether Rory McIlroy has recovered sufficiently from his ankle injury to defend his championship, whether Jordan Spieth can rebound from a tough loss at the Open Championship to make a run at an historic third major, and whether Dustin Johnson can shake off two disappointing final rounds at St. Andrews and return to Whistling Straits to seek redemption from his heartbreaking calamity in 2010.
Of course, Tiger Woods is always a storyline, and his solid performance at the Quicken Loans National, where he shot three rounds in the 60s and was in contention after two rounds, instills confidence going into Whistling Straits. He finished in a tie for 22nd after stumbling with a 74 on Saturday. Woods dismisses critics who expect overnight success, given the back injury that derailed him for most of last season. “I’ve got years ahead of me, that’s how I look at it,” he said after the Quicken Loans National. Referring to his back surgery, Woods commented: “That was a rough period in my career and my life. But now I’m on the good side of it.”
2015 seems to have been designated “The Year of the Links” by the USGA and PGA of America. After a U.S. Open conducted over the striking but controversial Chambers Bay on the shore of Puget Sound, the PGA Championship returns for the third time to Whistling Straits, Pete Dye’s diabolical creation on the shore of Lake Michigan that features enormous bluffs and dune areas, as well as over 500 bunkers that blend into the landscape and are maintained primarily by “natural elements” — meaning that they are shaped by the winds. To add a Scottish touch, a herd of blackface sheep were introduced to the property.
The course also features severe elevation changes, and greens which are tucked precariously between bluffs and sheer slopes that drop towards the lake. Eight holes hug the lake shoreline. The course can play as long as 7,790 yards, but will probably play closer to 7,500 for the championship.
Typical of the challenges facing the competitors is the 618-yard par-5 11th hole. Players hitting driver risk finding dunes and a drop-off on the right. The second shot must negotiate an enormous 16-foot deep bunker on the left (the “sand box”). The approach shot to a small elevated green is hazardous; shorts shots will roll back well off the green, while long shots will find a bunker.
Johnson will come to Whistling Straits seeking redemption. In 2010, he was penalized for grounding his club in a bunker on the final hole, which cost him the tournament. Johnson was incredulous that the rugged, partially grassy area that had been traversed by spectators was defined as a bunker, although he admitted that he neglected to read the local rules sheet which provided that all bunker-like areas outside the ropes were treated as hazards. He’ll know better this year. He also might take comfort from the fact that the infamous bunker that proved his demise in 2010 is covered by a grandstand this year.
Jack Ross writes regularly for NEGM and is the editor of Ross’s Rulings. He also writes the Tour Snapshot column.