Corey Pavin’s thought process was sound. His execution was a little off.
Standing in the middle of the 11th fairway on Tuesday morning, Pavin decided to take the two mammoth fir trees creating field goal uprights in front of the green out of play. Hitting a low, stinging fairway wood could keep the ball under the tree limbs and leave a reasonable pitch on the long par 5.
Five shots later, Pavin finally had a shot that wasn’t engulfed by one of the giant trees at Sahalee Country Club.
“What am I supposed to do?” Pavin pondered with a laugh to his caddie.
Avoiding the thousands of trees framing the fairways of Sahalee is a good first move.
After two weeks of playing links golf in Scotland -- first at the British Open and then the Senior British Open last week at Carnoustie -- the USGA could not have picked a more stark contrast for the players in this week’s U.S. Senior Open. Small shrubs and fescue grass is gone, replaced by lush, damp, emerald green rough and trees that create a sense of claustrophobia.
“After playing links golf for the last two weeks then standing on that first tee, it looks like you have to walk sideways,” Tom Lehman said. “The trees really make it feel like there’s no room.”
Truth is, there isn’t much room out there.
The USGA has set the course so most fairways are on average about 26 yards wide, followed by graduated rough that has become the USGA’s setup for all major championships.
But by the time someone’s shot finds the deepest of the 4-inch rough well off the fairway, it has likely been engulfed by hanging branches. The sight of cedar and fir limbs falling from the air and the clang of balls hitting tree trunks are ominous and all too familiar.
“It can be intimidating, especially coming from Carnoustie last week. The tallest tree over there was probably a 3 1/2 -foot bush,” Peter Jacobsen said. “And you come here and anybody who is not from the northwest has never seen 100-foot firs and 100-foot cedar trees so it is different. And as tight as fairways are, you just really have to keep the ball in play.”
When the PGA Championship was held at Sahalee a dozen years ago, players raved about the overall condition of the course. But it wasn’t considered a favorite of players because the constricting nature of the trees took away aggressiveness and forced a conservative hand.
“Most tour players are used to golf courses that are a little more open,” Jacobsen said. “There is nothing open about this golf course.”