FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers.
OK, now that we’ve been reminded of the peril this week by the famous warning sign at No. 1, let’s head out to Bethpage Black for the PGA Championship. Plan to arrive early. The first tee times Thursday are 6:45 a.m. Here’s your scorecard. Well, not exactly a scorecard, but lots of numbers.
5 — Golf courses at Bethpage State Park. Everyone’s concerned with Bethpage Black at the moment, but there are its four less famous brothers — Red, Green, Yellow and Blue. You can play Green, Yellow or Blue for $38. Playing the Black will run you $130, if you’re a non-resident of New York. But not this weekend.
8 — “Eight acres of sand on a golf course is an incredible amount of sand,” PGA of America chief executive officer Seth Waugh said the other day. Bethpage Black has more bunkers — 78, count ‘em, 78 — than you can shake a sand wedge at. Plus lots of hills. Plus lots of length. But water on only one hole. You don’t get wet here, just worn down. “That warning sign is for real,” Waugh said. “It’s a big ol’ golf course, and you’ve got to be ready for it. It’s tackle football, both playing it and walking it.
“The interesting thing is, nobody ever says it’s unfair. They say it’s a great test. And it’s a happy place. It is hard, but it’s fair, and it’s in front of you and you understand it.”
Francesco Molinari had three things to say Wednesday about how the course has been playing: “Long, very long, and extremely long.”
Or as Padraig Harrington described, “If you lose a shot or two out there, you don’t feel like you’re going to get it back. I think that’s the intimidation factor of Bethpage Black . . . It just gives up nothing.”
32 — When Tiger Woods tees off Thursday, it’ll be 32 days since he put on the green jacket in Augusta. Not a lot of time to decompress and recover from one of the game’s landmark moments.
28 — Years since John Daly’s remarkable Cinderella coming out story at the 1991 PGA Championship. He’ll be the one in a cart this week because of an arthritic knee. By rule, he has to drive the cart, with no bags, no nothing. Just him. The runaway winner for most tweeted pre-tournament quote was Woods’ comment on that, referring to his own 2008 U.S. Open. “As far as J.D. taking a cart, well, I walked with a broken leg, so . . . “ Daly later reportedly said he wished Woods knew all the facts.
156 — Players in the field. If that sounds like a thick crowd of competitors to get through, listen to defending champion Brooks Koepka, polishing up an idea Jack Nicklaus used to forward about how a large percentage of the field at a major will shoot itself out of contention on its own. Koepka broke down his task simply.
“What is there, 156 in the field. So you figure at least 80 of them, I’m just going to beat. You figure half of them won’t play well from there, so you’re down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them — pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you’ve just got to beat those guys.”
Gee, that doesn’t sound so hard.
0 — Men who have been two-time defending champions in two majors at the same time. Koepka, coming off two U.S. Opens and the 2018 PGA, would be the first — if his math and his game are good enough by Sunday evening.
70 — Yeah, that’s par at Bethpage Black, but this is something else. It’s a number that proves how hard it can be to win this tournament. Those are the combined PGA Championship starts of Arnold Palmer (37) and Tom Watson (33). Neither ever won.
The best total scores relative to par among those to play in the last four majors: Brooks Koepka (-25), Tiger Woods (-22), Francesco Molinari (-17), Xander Schauffele (-16) and Webb Simpson (-14). pic.twitter.com/2HcsRX7RkX— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 15, 2019
6 — European-born PGA champions. Europe has cleaned up in the British Open (49 winners), done well in the U.S. Open (23) and Masters (10). And let’s don’t even get started about the Ryder Cup lately. But the PGA has been a tough one. Europe went 78 years — from Tommy Armour in 1930 to Padraig Harrington in 2008 — without winning it once.
3 — This will be the third year in a row Dustin Johnson was ranked No. 1 in the world heading into the PGA. The past two times, he finished tied for 13th and tied for 27th. For all his recent dominance in the rankings, the 2016 U.S. Open remains his only major title. Disappointed? “Disappointed, I wouldn’t go with, but a little frustrated sometimes,” he said, “just because I’ve had quite a few chances and I’ve felt like a few of them, I really didn’t do anything (wrong). I played well. But that’s just how it is. It’s hard to win majors. If it was easy, a lot of guys would have a lot more than they do.”
21 — Jordan Spieth’s highest finish in a golf tournament this season. He hasn’t won since 2017. He blames a lot of the inconsistency on driver problems, but said Wednesday that was getting better. And about the media wondering about the pain of his slump . . .
“I didn’t like, go away from the game for five years. I just happened to not win in the last year and a half or so. I don’t want the use the word negativity, but the questioning and the wording that’s used to describe me by media or whatever the last year has only come up because of the amount of success I’ve had. So it actually could be looked at positively as well, because if I didn’t have the success I’ve had . . . you’d be actually looking at the progression of the game instead of the comparisons constantly to when someone was at their best, which I think is unfair to anybody in any field.
“It’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to block out the noise and stay the course and believe in yourself.”
19 — Being at the top of the third-round leaderboard means a lot in the PGA. Nineteen of the past 21 champions played in the final pairing on Sunday.
10 — Here’s another list Tiger Woods is climbing. Should Woods win this week — besides turning this sport even more on its head — he would become the 10th oldest major champion at 43 years, four months and 20 days, and the oldest since Hale Irwin’s U.S. Open 29 years ago. By the way, Woods needs four majors to pass Jack Nicklaus, meaning he would have to accomplish four times at his age what only nine men in history have done once. That’s a hard hill to climb. But the golf world has come to Bethpage Black keeping count again.