By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
KOHLER, Wis. – The 355-yard, par-4 sixth hole at Whistling Straits might be short, but expect it to pack a big punch during this week’s 92nd PGA Championship.
The shortest par 4 on the course, the sixth hole is the definition of risk-reward. The dogleg right sets up so that any player who strays right off the tee will have a blind approach shot to the green. For the longer players willing to take a chance, a hard cut shot is required. However, don’t miss it short.
Guarding, and splitting the sixth green in two is a deep, nasty pot bunker.
“I think it's cool,” said reigning Masters champ and former PGA Champion Phil Mickelson. “I think it's a really cool bunker and a really cool hole, and I like it because it's a short hole. You're going to hit a wedge into it. It's almost a drivable par 4 if you get the right wind conditions, and I think that it's an exciting, fun golf hole. It’s a huge penalty if you mishit your wedge and go in that bunker; you're going to make a five at best. But you're hitting a wedge. It's just not … it's not a hard hole, and I just think it's a very well designed hole where the penalty is deserved if you happen to go in there.”
The sixth hole has been altered since the 2004 PGA Championship. Designer Pete Dye moved the bunker in front of No. 6 green so that the six-foot-deep pot bunker goes into the middle of the green, altering the drivable par 4.
“That kind of almost separates the green into two, and it is very narrow,” said Hunter Mahan, winner of last week’s Bridgestone Invitational. “I don't know exactly what you're going to do if you hit it in it. It's barely wide enough to actually get in there and really make a full stance. So that will be the most penalizing bunker for sure.”
The hole is no doubt tricky – even if a player hits a solid tee shot.
“You can hit your ball in the middle of the fairway and have a blind second shot with that big bunker,” said Rory McIlroy. “And then the bunker at the green that really cuts into the middle of it. If your ball ends up in the wrong spot in that bunker, you're going to have a tough time making a 5. It's definitely an interesting course and you've really just got to put your ball in good positions and from there I think you can get at it.”
There was a method to the madness in the way that the sixth green and the pot bunker were created, after all Whistling Straits is a resort course, as Dye explained to PGA.com contributor Jay Flemma before PGA Championship week.
“I cut that [bunker] further into the green,” Dye told Flemma. “I left the left side of the green open, so John Q. Public can play the hole by running it up there or steer away from it, but I made it more severe for the pros, and remember it's a short par 4 and it goes downhill a bit. With pros hitting it 300 yards they can darn near drive the green. Now they have to think a little.
“Their little pitch shot is into a smaller landing area on that green,” Dye explained. “On one side of that pot bunker the green is about 2,500 square feet, but the side the members and guests play into is 6,000 square feet.”
The best way to approach on the pot bunker on No. 6 is to pretend it’s not there. Depending on the conditions, PGA Professional National Champion Mike Small says that won’t be easy.
“Those difficult bunkers are going to be really challenging if the wind blows,” Small said. “Even if they put the pin up front, guys with wedges are going to be able to send it behind that pin and still play it. But if the wind gets howling and blustery, you're going to see some balls down in that stuff, and that's pretty severe.”