This Website use Cookies OK

Read more Sports News

What’s the key to success at the PGA Championship at Bethpage this week? ‘It’s all about driving’


There isn’t a grander stage — or a louder audience — in golf than the Black Course at Bethpage Black, all decked out and ready for another major, this time the PGA Championship in its new May slot.

Sub-plots abound this week. If Tiger Woods follows up his epic Masters win with another here, he’ll move within two majors of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18. If defending PGA champion and two-time defending U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka wins, he’ll be the first player to be a current two-time defending champion in two of the four majors at the same time. And if Jordan Spieth can shake out of his slump and win, he’ll complete the career Grand Slam.

But if you look beyond that, it’s the golf course — big, relentless and unforgiving — that will determine who hoists the Wanamaker Trophy Sunday. It takes a beast to tame the beast. The champion requires a big game and a big heart. Big is the optimal word.

“This is not only a big golf course, but this is going to be a long week the way the golf course is set up and potentially could play,” said Woods, who overpowered soggy fairways to win the 2002 U.S. Open here. “This could be a hell of a championship.”

Playing at more than 7,000 yards, you'd better hit it long and straight to have a shot on the Bethpage Black course this week. (Stuart Franklin/Getty)

Everyone agrees that driver is the most important club in the bag this week and not just because the Black is playing at 7,459 yards. Wet, thick rough, can strangle errant shots and force players to chop it out to the fairway.

The long hitters are drooling, beginning with Koepka and Dustin Johnson.

“It’s all about driving,” said Johnson, currently ranked No. 1 in the world. “The fairways are generous in some spots. Some holes are narrow. But you’ve got to hit the fairways here. The rough is pretty penal. It’s not super deep, but it’s just really thick, and you’ve just got to drive it straight.”

“This golf course is already long,” Koepka said. “But being wet, it’ll be interesting to see. It makes the fairways a little bit wider, which I think could be in our benefit or especially the longer hitters because we can get it a little bit further down there. And usually the longer hitters aren’t as accurate, so (it will) open up those fairways for us and these greens will be quite receptive.”

Brooks Koepka knows the long hitters have an advantage this week.
Brooks Koepka knows the long hitters have an advantage this week. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Koepka has been boasting of a new “fairway finder” shot off the tee, a low cut that still has him blowing past his playing partners for the most part.

Woods, who is no longer among the biggest hitters (he’s 109th in driving distance on the PGA Tour), knows he’ll have to be better with the big dog than he was at Augusta National.

“In order to win this one, driving is going to be at the forefront,” he said. “With the rough as lush as it is, it has grown up a little bit. I don’t know how much they’re going to cut it down or top it off, but it won’t be much.”

“Fairways are plenty wide because it’s wet,” he added. “You’ve got to hit it not only straight but you’ve got to hit it far. The majority of the greens are elevated so as the week goes on and the greens dry out, trying to get enough spin, hitting the ball up to elevation with the greens firming up ... you have to be in the fairway to do that.”

If you don’t, Johnson noted, you’d better be proficient with the wedge and around the greens.

“The short game is going to be very important around here, especially out of this deep rough and the bunkers,” he said. “If you do drive it in the rough, you’re going to have to lay up. The wedge game is going to be a big factor I feel like.”

As for putting, the greens are in perfect shape and fast. They are the easiest part about the Black. Birdies can be made. Getting there, of course, will be the hard part.

“They’re not extremely diabolical,” observed Spieth, who has been known to get on a roll with his putter. “A couple are tricky, but for the most part they’re just gentle slopes, and they’re so pure that somebody can really get hot with a putter this week.”

“But,” Spieth added, “if you’re not hitting fairways, that’s getting really hot making par putts.”

In the end, Bethpage Black — and its galleries — will have their say.