After a two-year hiatus in order to prepare for 2011 U.S. Open hosting duties, the PGA Tour returns to Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., this week for the AT&T National.
That's where we caught up with John Lyberger, Congressional's PGA Director of Golf, for a little Q&A. Lyberger shared with us the differences between preparing for a major and a regular Tour event, the fine list of champions at Congressional, what he looks forward to most during tournament week and more.
PGA.com: It's a pleasure to have you join us, John. After the 2009 AT&T National, Congressional turned its focus to preparing to host the 2011 U.S. Open. Now having experienced the planning for both a PGA Tour event and a U.S. Open, can you tell us a little about how different those two experiences were for you?
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Lyberger: The size. The U.S. Open is a much larger build out than a PGA Tour event. The work starts much earlier when preparing for the U.S. Open and produces more interruption for member play and club usage. It's an outstanding event and we hope to have another event again in the future. The AT&T National is also a great event and one that we are very proud to host. There are so many local charities that benefit as well as involvement from the military.
PGA.com: Congressional has a pretty stout list of champions: Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim and K.J. Choi in the AT&T National and Rory McIlroy in the U.S. Open. What;s it like to have those champions associated with your club?
Lyberger: It's awesome to have this list of champions associated with Congressional. We are very fortunate since you don't get to pick your champion. They are all household names with outstanding playing records.
PGA.com: What is it about tournament week that you most look forward to?
Lyberger: The week before is all about the preparation and set up. So when the week comes we are running on pure adrenaline. We get very little sleep and have long days. I look forward to good weather, an empty merchandise tent by Sunday and a great champion.
PGA.com: What's your favorite stretch of holes at Congressional? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Lyberger: I like 14-18. This stretch of holes are some of the most difficult holes on the course and they just happen to come in succession as the finishing holes.
The par-4 14th measures 467 yards in length. It plays downhill from the teeing area to a very narrow pinch point in the fairway at around 300 yards. The second shot plays uphill to a well-bunkered two-tiered green. A drive that finds the rough from the tee will have a hard time finding the green in regulation.
No. 15 is a par 4, 490 yards. This hole and 18 are in the top 250 holes in the world. A narrow driving area that is well-bunkered on the right will force the golfer to play down the left side. If you find the rough, you will have difficulty getting to the green. The narrow green runs from the front left to the back right and is well-bunkered in front.
The par-5 16th hole is 579 yards long and will not be reached in two shots by many players. Two fairway bunkers on both the left and right sides of this hole protect the fairway. A well-placed second shot is needed to avoid the fairway bunkers on the right side of the approach area near the green. If your third shot is long, left or right, you will need the creative side of your brain to find the putting surface. The shaved surface around the green will cause the ball to roll down a slope 15 to 20 yards away from the green.
Choose your driving club wisely on hole 17. The shortest of the par 4s finishing this stretch measures 437 yards. But, don't let this short hole fool you. Any drive over 280 yards will find difficult rough that goes downhill to a second fairway beginning at the 100-yard marker. Many have tried to drive the ball to the second fairway, but few have succeeded. The second shot on this hole is where the player's other decision will need to be made. The green complex is well-bunkered, along with a very uneven and undulated green. Placing your second shot on the correct part of this green is key to a golfer's ability to make par.
Now comes 18. It's a 523-yard par 4, the longest of all the par 4s on the golf course. A very accurate and long drive must find its way through an opening of trees 220 yards from the tee. Even the longest hitters will need to find the fairway in order to have a shot at this well-protected green (water on three sides) in regulation. A drive in the rough will cause a player to rely on his up and down skills in order to make par. Many have won or lost a match on this hole.
PGA.com: Final question for you, John. What will you be doing during tournament week?
Lyberger: Hiding! Just kidding. We have four merchandise venues that we will be running the week of the event. In addition, we will have staff assisting with the practice facilities and the golf car operation. The week for me will start with a few interviews and inspecting what is expected from our operation.