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Long, lush rough puts premium on tee shots

Bethpage Black's long, lush rough puts premium on tee shots in the 2019 PGA Championship

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The sign outside the clubhouse at Bethpage State Park is a reminder to high handicappers that the Black Course is no joke, and only the best should test their meddle against the A.W. Tillinghast design.

Even the best of the best will have their work cut out this week at the 101st PGA Championship as the 7,459-yard, par-70 layout figures to play even longer as the course has been saturated from a wet spring including the nearly two inches of rain that fell Sunday and Monday.

"I think driving accuracy is going to be (key)," 2012 and 2014 champion Rory McIlroy said. "Obviously you still need to get it out there, but at the same time, you're going to give yourself a much better chance playing from these fairways because it is playing long, and if you start to miss these fairways, you're not going to be able to get to the greens out of the rough with a 4- or 5-iron."

Just how lush is the rough? Dustin Johnson said he hasn't hit more than a 9-iron out of it. Part of that has to do with course setup as well with the fairway stopping short of the green on a number of holes.

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"It's driving, and then second shots, because you have a lot of long to mid irons in your hand," the world No. 1 said of the most important shots. "There's only four holes where you can get a fairly short iron in your hand."

While Bethpage Black is hosting the PGA for the first time, it hosted the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009. The rough will be a factor for sure.

"The way this golf course is set up, it's very similar to a U.S. Open/PGA mix, and that's why I think it's perfect for it," said Brooks Koepka, who won the PGA last year at Bellerive and captured the past two U.S. Opens at Erin Hills and Shinnecock Hills. "It's very tough. I think the score will be somewhere around even par, maybe a little bit better, depending on how cold it gets, how much rain (it gets) because I think it's supposed to rain Thursday, Friday."

The job of setting up the course this week falls on Kerry Haigh of the PGA of America, who McIlroy called "the best in the business."

"Each course is different based on the architecture, and we try and bring out whatever the architect had in mind for each specific golf course, but our number one aim is not to get in the way of the best players," Haigh said of what goes into preparing the course. "Let them showcase their skills, make it tough, make it fair, make it challenging, hopefully at times make it exciting, and hopefully make the players think because I think if any golfer is given the ability to think, then they enjoy their game more and they enjoy the challenge of that golf course more."

One thing Haigh has no control of is the weather, but the course should begin to dry out with just a scattered shower or two once play gets underway Thursday, and temperatures that have struggled to hit 50 degrees so far this week should make a run at 65 starting Wednesday allowing the ski hats to come off.

RORY EYES OLYMPIC GOLF

After withdrawing from the Rio Olympics in 2016, McIlroy seems to have had a change of heart toward the event that will once again throw a wrench into the golf season next summer. He said he would "more likely than not" choose to compete.

It will be a difficult stretch for most of the field that will include the British Open at Royal St. George's, followed by the WGC event in Memphis and then Tokyo for the Olympics to be followed by the FedEx Cup playoffs -- which will include a stop at TPC Boston.

The Northern Irishman went into detail as to why he would stick with his decision to play for the Republic as opposed to Great Britain.

"I think as a young boy it was always my dream to play for Ireland. I wanted to play for Ireland. I was very proud to put on that shirt or that blazer," McIlroy said. "It's the same as like the rugby players, right? There's players that play for Ulster, but they want to play for Ireland. It's seen as a whole island sport, just like (field) hockey is, just like most of the sports are.

"So then obviously when you put the Olympics into the equation and then there's a choice to be made, you really have to start thinking, OK, well, what are your beliefs and your values. ... It makes you sort of have to delve a little bit deeper. It's not just a superficial decision. It's something that you have to really believe in.

"I've thought about that for a long time, and in the end, it was the fact that when I was a little boy and I got that first call up to the national squad to go down to Citywest and be a part of the youth system and making that team and playing in home internationals, I was so proud to do that."

Neil Manchip, who was the national coach when McIlroy was an amateur, will be the coach of the team at the Olympics.

SINGH BACKS OUT

Vijay Singh withdrew from the tournament because of a back injury. J.T. Potson will take the two-time champion's place in the field and play with Jason Dufner and Jimmy Walker for the first two days. Rory Sabbatini is currently atop the alternate list should anyone else pull out. 

This article is written by Keith Pearson from Boston Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.