This week, the USPGA Championship goes back to Oak Hill in Rochester, New York, for the first time in 10 years. In fact, the PGA of America seems to be doing a thing with Oak Hill with ‘3’ in the year. Its championship was held there in 2003 (winner: Shaun Micheel) and 2013 (winner: Jason Dufner). OK, so no one is going to say that only great champions win at Oak Hill, but the winner of the first PGA to be staged there was Jack Nicklaus, in 1980.
The United States Golf Association seems to have given up on the venue. Cary Middlecoff won the US Open there in 1956, Lee Trevino became the first player to win a major championship with four rounds in the 60s when he won that title there - it was also his first win in any tournament - in 1968, but that major has not returned to upstate New York since Curtis Strange successfully defended his title in 1989
Oak Hill also staged the 1995 Ryder Cup, when Europe overturned a 9-7 US lead going into the singles. That Sunday is remembered for David Gilford’s extraordinary win at the last over Brad Faxon; for Nick Faldo’s nerveless pitch-and-putt on the same hole to beat Strange; and for Philip Walton sealing victory, also on the 18th, by beating Jay Haas. Oh, and also for the preposterous heroics of Seve Ballesteros, who essentially couldn’t hit a straight shot but somehow took Tom Lehman to the 15th green. Less well known is something about Seve from the 1989 US Open.
In his book On Golf, the writer Timothy O’Grady told of a visit he made to Oak Hill. The club president was eager to greet him. “He took me to a spot in the trees of the nearly 600-yard long 13th,” wrote O’Grady, “to describe a shot struck by Severiano Ballesteros during the US Open. He was about 40 yards into these woods on the left, with a 10-yard corridor leading out between the trees to the fairway. This corridor was at an angle of around 135 degrees to the direction of the hole. Nearly anyone else would have simply punched the ball back out to the fairway, but Ballesteros took out a 3-wood, hit it low off the dirt and the leaves through the gap, and when the ball got out into the open it rose high into the air and took the 135 degrees left turn to finish around 260 yards up the hole in the centre of the fairway. It was the most astonishing thing, said the president, that he’d ever seen on a golf course.”
Seve sadly no longer being among us and Tiger crocked again (as well as likely getting mired in some very messy litigation), there probably won’t be any of that this week. But who will win? Well, 20 years ago Micheel was ranked 169th in the world, which might augur well for David Lipsky if only he was in the field. At the other end of the spectrum, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas have between them won four of the last six PGAs. What odds that we get a LIV v non-LIV shoot-out?
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