The greens are rolling firmly. The rough is up. And all that remains is for the two squads to arrive at CordeValle and play to begin for the 2015 PGA Cup.
That's the opinion of PGA Professional Ray Otis, head professional at the resort course in San Martin, Calif., located midway between San Jose and Monterey. He's expecting perfect conditions for this week's event -- temperatures in the low 80s and just enough wind to make things interesting for the 27th competition between the host United States team of PGA Professionals and the visiting Great Britain and Ireland squad.
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"The golf course is in great shape right now," Otis said. "One thing that they may or may not expect is that the conditions of the course will change from the morning to the afternoon. The wind direction in the morning — if there is one — comes from one direction and then switches about noon.
"So it’ll be fun to watch the guys in the morning hit one shot and then maybe have a similar shot in the afternoon and the wind will change that ball flight a hair. In the morning, they’ll be able to take advantage of being able to go after some of the tougher pins. And in the afternoon, they’re going to have to be more careful with the wind and obviously the greens will be firming up a little bit."
Despite a drought that's now in its fourth year, CordeValle's course superintendent -- Tom Gray -- has been able to keep the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design in tip-top shape. And according to Otis, there'll be ample rough to make ball flight a key factor.
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"They’re definitely going to want to keep their ball in the fairway so they can control their second shots into the green a little easier," Otis said. "One of the big things is distance control into the greens. Our greens are broken up into two or three quadrants, so if you can hit to the correct quadrant, you’ll have a fairly straight putt. But if you miss the proper quadrant, you’ll have a lot of tiers and hogsbacks to maneuver to get the ball in the hole."
And with fast greens, in match play that could make the difference between halving a hole or winning it outright.
The course, with dramatic contours and elevation changes, takes full advantage of the natural hillsides and valleys of the region. That makes every hole a challenge, but Otis said there are two holes on the par-72, 7,252-yard layout that could provide momentum shifts during PGA Cup play.
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The first is the par-4, 325-yard eighth hole. There's water in front of the green if you come up short, Otis said, and thick rough if you hit it through the green. It's the classic risk-reward situation.
"The eighth hole can play anywhere from 365 yards to 275 for these guys," Otis said. "That’s going to be a pivotal momentum hole when the tees are up. These guys can drive the green and force the hand of the other player. Eagles can be made there but bogeys are possible if you hit it in the lake or you miss it in one of the greenside bunkers and leave yourself with a tough up and down."
The other hole that could be a major factor, Otis said, will be No. 17. It's a 450-yard par-4 that requires a demanding drive and long second shot.
"If the match has gone that far, getting the ball in play off the tee is going to be important," Otis said. "And the second shot can be anywhere from 165 to 200 yards, depending on your drive. That’s not the easiest second shot to get it close to the hole. So if a guy needs to make birdie there, it’ll be a pretty good challenge with a 1-up lead going into that hole. Par’s going to be a good score."
Even though CordeValle has hosted two previous PGA Cups, the course will be a new experience for almost every player on the two teams. Even though there's no money on the line, pride and the prestige of winning the Llandudno International Golf Trophy will be on the minds of all 20 competitors. The United States has never lost a PGA Cup on home soil, so there's the additional pressure of maintaining that streak.
In any case, Otis believes the players will leave CordeValle with memories of a great competition and a great course.
"I think the players are really going to like the course," he said. "The golf course is going to be ready for them."
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