On Tuesday, I went out to the Chicago suburbs to watch the pro golfers playing a practice round for this week's 4-day PGA Championship. The first of four rounds is underway today. The course is Medinah #3, which has hosted several major championships before. The course had more hills and was more interesting than I expected, though it still didn't strike me as one of the country's very best. I also favor seaside links courses (without trees), rather than parkland courses with lots of trees, such as Medinah.
Although Medinah is the longest course in major championship history, I expect that scores will be fairly low. The fairways are narrow, but the first cut of rough (about 2 yards wide) is cut so short that the lies should be perfect in that first rough. And the main rough, though very dense, is not as long as I expected it to be. From tee to green, I don't think that the rough will be nearly as serious a hazard as the commentators think it will. There will be mostly good lies in the rough; the trees are a more serious hazard and, even with the trees, there are few branches low enough to interfere with a player's backswing. So far a lot of players who are missing the fairways are still hitting the greens in regulation. Around the greens, the rough is long enough that it will be a little more problem to judge those delicate shots to the pin. The condition of the course is superb (apparently unlike the conditioning when the last PGA championship was held there in 1999). From the outside, the clubhouse looked huge and strange (it echoes Arabic motifs, since the club was founded by the Shriners). Because my father was a Shriner and a terrific golfer (captain of the team in college at Northwestern), he played the course many times, but I had never seen it.
Tuesdays are usually the best day to watch practice rounds because play is so slow on Wednesdays that some players don't even bother to play the course on Wednesdays. Both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson skipped the course itself on Wednesday. On Tuesday, as usual for Tiger, Woods went out early in the morning. He skipped the holes 14-17 and finished before 10am, despite the very slow play. In the holes I watched, after hitting to the greens, Tiger generally didn't bother to putt to the hole, but rather dropped balls in the rough and chipped to the places on the green where he thought that the pins were likely to be during the tournament itself. Because the greens are so small and the rough around the green is thick, I think that players wanted to practice chipping. When Phil Mickelson reached the green, he would usually take a quick putt toward the hole. Then one of his coaches, the short-game guru Dave Pelz, would stick little flags in the ground where he thought pins would be, and Phil would practice lag putting to those little flags. Some other players putted to white discs that their caddies dropped on the greens.
I followed John Daly for a while; he hit some great shots, as well as some bad ones. Off the tee, he was long and accurate with either a driver or a 3-wood. He was having trouble hitting greens with his irons and put his first tee shot on 17 in the water. Daly's foursome was clearly frustrated by having to wait for the group ahead, which swelled to a fivesome at one point (Davis Love, Chris DiMarco, Jeff Sluman, Scott Verplank, and Geoff Ogilvy). That might explain a comment I overheard Pat Perez (playing with Daly) say, "Imagine if one of us tried to do that, they'd go crazy." I also overheard caddies talking when they were waiting in the fairway for their players to hit; they talked about mortgages, health insurance coverage, children, ex-wives, and each other's health problems.
Very few players signed autographs on the course, either putting their heads down between holes to avoid eye contact or saying that they would sign after their rounds were over (which I saw some of them doing later). One exception to avoiding on-course autographs was John Daly, who would grab a hat or banner (as he walked briskly) and sign it, tossing it back into the small crowd; in that way he signed about 3-4 items between each hole.
Davis Love was really struggling on the course. He is a likely discretionary captain's pick for one of the last two spots on the US Ryder Cup team, which will be announced on Monday. Despite his experience, nothing I saw would suggest that he would be a smart pick for the team. [UPDATE: So much for my judgment! After 12 holes, Davis Love is tied for first at 6 under par.]
I watched about 15 players hitting balls on the range on Tuesday. I thought that two stood out, hitting consistently pure iron shots: Brett Quigley and Luke Donald. Donald, an Englishman who went to Northwestern, is in second place as I write this, but Quigley has yet to tee off.