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According to Luke Donald, 'as long as the PGA doesnít put ridiculous pin positions, I think it will get as much praise for a course that it deserves.' (Photo: RBS)
According to Luke Donald, "as long as the PGA doesnít put ridiculous pin positions, I think it will get as much praise for a course that it deserves." (Photo: RBS)

Spotlight on Team RBS: Donald likes Whistling Straits

England's Luke Donald, a rising star on the PGA Tour, got his first look at Whistling Straits this week. In this Spotlight on Team RBS, Donald talks about the course and what he expects during the 86th PGA Championship.
RBS

Letís talk about Whistling Straits. Herb Kohler, who is the course owner, was quoted as saying, ďIt will be a kinder and gentler links than they have played. It surely wonít have the weird bounces of Royal St. Georgeís, the impossible rough of Carnoustie or the outlandish greens of St. Andrews.Ē What is your reaction to that and how would you compare Whistling Straits to a links course?

It definitely has the feel of a links, it has the undulating hills, the kind of the long whispery grasses on the edge and at the rough. And its right by Lake Michigan so it has the feel that it is a links course. You know, it does get hit with some wind, definitely yesterday when I played there was a good 15-20 mph wind off the lake. I would agree with what Mr. Kohler said in the fact that the fairways, youíre not going to get bad bounces like St. Georgeís, theyíre very fair. The rough, just off the fairway is not too penal. If you go far off the fairway, then you can get in some horrible lies. Obviously the bunkers, thereís not too many pot bunkers that you would see at a St. Andrews or a Troon, just the odd one here and there around the greens. With regards to the greens, they areÖ some of them I would say are somewhat outlandish. Some of them are very big, very undulating and kind of sectioned off in parts, which is going to make for some very, very interesting pin positions if the PGA decides to put them there.

I read where they said that the Stimpmeter would be no faster than 11, because of some of the radical contours on the greens.

Yeah, there are definitely some very, very radical greens out there, very big greens with some big slopes. There are a number of pin positions that the PGA could use that would make the course so much harder. The greens when I played were not that quick, I think for obvious reason, if it gets windy and with the undulation it would be just too much. So I agree that they probably shouldnít be any more than 11.

Stuart Appleby said that, "when you stand out there, you swear youíre in the middle of Scotland. Itís like a British Open course but itís got American-style greens. With all the slopes, thereís no way you can shoot low if the breeze is blowing.Ē

Yeah, I would agree in some ways, it definitely has the feel of a links course and itís not like anything else Iíve really played over here. Itís created an atmosphere very different to most U.S. courses Iíve played over here, which is fun and the views are spectacular. I mean you can see the lake from pretty much every hole, I believe. You know, the course is very strong. It has a few greens, which I would question, I think are just too severe with regards to how big they are and how sectioned off certain parts are. But, other than that I really enjoyed playing the course.

You said it was pretty windy yesterday?

Yeah, probably 15-20 mph, so it was enough to make you think about it.

One of the things that could be a saving grace is that August is usually the mildest month in Wisconcsin, but it doesnít seem that it was that way yesterday.

No, yesterday was windy. It was off the north, too, the wind. When I talked to some people up there, they said it can change around a lot, it can come from the south, southeast, southwest and sometimes from the north too so if it changes during the tournament, itís going to make the course very tough. You know, itís going to make some holes play completely different. It be nice to have a consistent wind where everyone can get the grips of that wind, but I think weíre going to have a few days where the wind is going to completely change it and make the course completely different.

Do you think this is going to be a course that generates a lot of criticism?

I think that most of it is very fair. There were a few blind shots that I probably wouldnít agree with and I think take away from the aesthetics of the hole, which I would like changing and I think some of the greens are quite severe. You know, as long as the PGA doesnít put ridiculous pin positions, I think it will get as much praise for a course that it deserves.

I understand that the course is 7,597 yards, which is the longest course ever for a major championship. Also, it has the three longest par 4ís in major championship history, the 18th, 8th and 15th. Can you comment on the length of those par 4ís?

Yeah, the 18th is long and I played it downwind, off the right, so it wasnít playing too long. Thereís actually a run-out, you can only hit the ball I think just about 310 yards off the tee. It was almost a 3 wood to lay up short of that run-out. Then, youíve still got about 190 yards to the hole, if you hit the optimal lay up. Itís the wildest green on the course and itís a huge green, its sectioned off in four level parts. Some pin positions, if youíre going in with a 5, 4 iron downwind, itís going to be impossible to get close, youíre just going to have to hit to the middle of the green. Eight was playing into the wind and I had to hit drive and a 3 wood to get there and yeah, it was a long hole. Itís a pretty fair green and itís very big but itís somewhat flat and I donít have any problems with that hole. I believe actually the prevailing wind usually plays that one downwind, so that wouldnít be too much of a problem. Fifteen, I donít remember being too long, but I thought that four was a long hole too.

How often will you be able to hit the driver, given that the holes twist and turn a lot?

Well, I think that because the rough isnít too bad off the fairways, youíll see a fair amount of drivers out there. There are not too many holes where you have to position your shot. Thereís probably 3 or 4 holes out there where youíll be positioning or hitting 3 wood out there, but no more than any other course, really.

There were three holes, 8th, 9th and 18th that have the back teeís so far back theyíre that theyíre actually below the level of the fairways. And that forecaddies would be necessary if those teeís are used because anything off-line would be lost once it crossed the horizon. Did you play from back there or did it appear that those teeís are going to be used?

They did look like theyíre going to be used, yeah. Well, on 18, there is a small tee thatís lower down, but I donít think theyíll play that because itís just a tiny tee. But, eight and nine, yeah theyíll play those off the back, I believe. Eight, they may move up to a higher tee depending on the wind position for that day. If itís into the wind, I think theyíll move the tee up. Itís a better tee shot from the up tee I think just because you can actually see where youíre going. I like the ninth hole, to be honest; I thought that was a good hole, with a small green and one of my favorite holes out there.

Mark Calcavecchia says that on a couple of the par 3ís, a bogeyís going to be a good score.

(Laughs) A bogey you say?

Thatís what he says.

Oh, well, there are very long holes and some of them are right next to the water and if you hit to the wrong side, youíre down a 60-foot cliff.

Yeah, I mean, theyíre tough. I mean, you miss it in the wrong placeÖ there are a lot of these tiny little bunkers everywhere with lots of long grass and you could just find some really ugly lies out there. Youíre going to have to manage your game well. The par 3ís are all tough, they seem to have big greens with undulations. Seventeen is a very, very tough green, youíre hitting a 2- or 3-iron into a green, with water and a big 60-foot fall-off on the left and some rubbish on the right. The par 3ís are tough, no doubt.

What generally is your impression of the PGA Championship, compared to other majors? Youíve played it once and you played it well.

Yeah, I played it at Oak Hills and I enjoyed the course set up, I thought it was very fair. The rough was somewhat penal but they didnít make anything too unfair. I mean, the course is just set up like you like to see a major championship: A decent score won it, but par was still a good score. I think the PGA goes to a course and uses it to its best advantage. They donít trick it up, they donít make the greens super ridiculous, they just want it to be a good championship. They donít mind if 15 under wins or 18 under, or this next week, could be even par could win. They just use the course they way its been designed and make the best out of it.

If there were little or no wind, could there be a low score here?

I donít see it too low. Again, it depends on the pin positions, if thereís no wind, you could get to 10 under. They are quite a few shortish par 4ís that if thereís no wind and youíre playing well, youíre going to have some birdie chances for sure.

What does it mean when youíre going to a course like Whistling Straits that no one has played before. Does that level the playing field? Or does it give an advantage to the more experienced players? What, if anything does that mean?

I think it levels the playing field to some degree. You know, if people havenít had much experience on it, you feel like everyoneís at the same level with regards to experience, but obviously on a tough course, the top players are going to come to the top. Thatís how majors work. You hardly ever get some un-recognized player winning a major, apart from maybe the British Open. It seems like the PGA, US Open, and the Masters, the top players always come to the top.

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