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England's Lee Westwood takes on an intimidating practice shot on Wednesday at Oakland Hills CC. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Oakland Hills not the only monster to worry about this week

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John Maginnes explains that the "monster" players know as Oakland Hills CC isn't always the one they fear the most during major championships.

By John Maginnes, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

DETROIT -- When I was a kid, there was a monster that lived under my bed. Right before I would look under the bed, he would move into the closet, but he was always there. Sometime later in life, he moved out or maybe my behavior in my 20s scared him away.

I don’t think this is the same monster Ben Hogan was referring to when he won the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. After shooting 5 under to win his second consecutive U.S. Open (the playoff at Merion was the year before), Hogan said, “I am glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees.” You will hear this reference often throughout the week.

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Ironically, there was speculation after the event that the committee at Oakland Hills set the course up shorter on Sunday -- making the fairway bunkers avoidable off the tee. That U.S. Open was the last where the USGA allowed the host club to set up the course. Since then, the monster evolved with the times; but the footprint is unchanged, and its diabolical putting surfaces are exactly as Donald Ross’ devilish imagination shaped them.

At the hand of Rees Jones, Oakland Hills was fed new life following the U.S. Amateur in 2002. A dashing young player out of the University of Arizona named Ricky Barnes tamed the monster with graphite and titanium-launching drives that sailed beyond hungry bunkers and flipping wedges to greens designed to greet and dismiss mid-irons. Tom Meeks, the director of competition for the USGA, implored the powers that be at Oakland Hills to bring the course up to modern standards.

When Donald Ross’ original design was opened in 1918, he left room around the property for new tees to be built and the golf course to be lengthened. At its current configuration of 7,395 yards and playing to a par of 70, Oakland Hills has been given a new set of teeth. The fairway bunkers that Ricky Barnes and his contemporaries were air-mailing are firmly back in the landing area for the best players of the day.

If Oakland Hills was a cookie monster in 2002 for the U.S. Amateur, the course is a snarling Titleist-starved beast for the 90th PGA Championship. The players are saying it is one of the toughest venues they’ve ever seen. So in that regard, it has certainly maintained -- with a little help -- its traditional characteristics in the era of modern golf.

Hogan also said after his 1951 U.S. Open victory that Oakland Hills was, “the greatest test of golf that I have ever played, and the toughest.”

That sentiment more than anything else will have the players tip-toeing around Oakland
Hills this week. Good shots will be satisfying, and great shots will be rewarded, but any shots hit in anger or haste will awaken the monster and bring nocturnal demons to the light of day.

The teeth of the monster just may live in the shortest holes at Oakland Hills -- although to call the par 3s here short is a bit of a misnomer. Nos. 9 and 17 both will instill fear and likely will require a club that bears a head cover to be employed. The ninth can stretch to a massive 257 yards, and No. 17 plays 238 yards uphill into the prevailing breeze.

The other two par 3s measure just under 200 yards and require long irons. If you can play the par 3s here this week in even par or better, you just might avoid the monster’s bite.

He’ll still be nipping at your heels all the way around, though. Often it is not the figurative golf course monsters that can be the most daunting to overcome. The
monster that lurks in those corners of our minds, whose roar drowns out rational thought and whose snarl causes bogeys to turn into doubles and triples, comes alive at major championships.

The winner of this year’s PGA Championship will have to battle the monster golf course and the internal demons of the highest competition. And maybe, just maybe, he will have to sleep with the lights on.

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