Paul Azinger stepped to the tee at Oakland Hills’ par-3 ninth and his caddie told him how far it was to the front of the green.
As he tapped the 3-wood in the bag, he said: “247.”
Azinger laughed, grabbed the recommended club and hit a spectacular tee shot onto the green that wound up very close to the pin.
“They’re going to erect a statue of me here,” Azinger joked to the gallery Wednesday during a practice round for the PGA Championship that starts Thursday.
“The Monster,” though, got the last laugh because Azinger missed the putt.
Oakland Hills’ new-look par 3s—the 257-yard ninth and 238-yard 17th—are so long they have fairways.
“They’re supposed to be short holes, right?” Woody Austin asked. “Isn’t that what a par 3 is? Short?”
How the best players in the world cope with a 3-wood, hybrid or fairway metal in their hands—maybe even a driver if the wind is in their face at No. 9 — might decide who wins the year’s final major.
“It’s going to be a huge factor,” Kenny Perry predicted.
As Azinger showed, just getting to the putting surface is only part of the challenge at the storied course that is hosting its third PGA Championship and has been the site of six U.S. Opens, including 1951 when Ben Hogan famously said he was glad to bring “The Monster” to its knees.
Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1991 U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills, has said the shaped greens were more difficult than any others because of their speed and contour.
On Wednesday, Tommy Armour III and Pat Perez practiced flopping shots from one high tier of the 17th green across it to the lower level.
“Yeah, we’re going to have to do that because you can’t putt it across these greens,” Perez said after tapping a putt to the left and watching it break hard downhill, catching the edge of the cup before rolling past. “But you can’t really chip it, either.”
Perez did chip in once from the rough in his practice round, adding that might be his best chance at a birdie at the hole that will be even more difficult if the wind is blowing in players faces on the tee as it was on Monday.
To avoid two- or three-putting, some players were practicing laying up their tee shots at No. 9 because they might have a better chance to get closer to the pin with a second shot and escape with a par.
“These greens are unbelievable,” Perez said. “And in only one day, it’s crazy how much faster and harder they are.”
The PGA of America might initially give the field a break in the first two rounds by saving the back tees for the weekend at Nos. 9 and 17, both of which are 38 yards longer than they were during the 2004 Ryder Cup thanks to Rees Jones’ redesign.
“Nine and 17 are very, very difficult,” Jim Furyk said. “They were already tough holes when we had, say, a 4-iron in our hand. But now with 3-woods, they’re very difficult.”
The other par 3s will also be tests.
At No. 3, the 198-yard hole has an undulating green surrounded by five large bunkers. The 191-yard 13th is encased by deep bunkers around a classic Donald Ross green, featuring a hollow in the front that is about 4 feet below the upper plateau.
“Three is the easiest of the group,” Justin Leonard said. “But this is certainly the hardest group of par 3s I’ve ever played.”
Jones might have overdone it, Leonard acknowledged, but he’s trying not to worry about that.
“We all have to play them,” he said.
Sergio Garcia said he will probably need a 5- or 6-iron to reach No. 3, a 6-iron for 13 and a 5-wood for both 9 and 17.
“You know if you’re hitting those clubs, you’re going to miss some of those greens,” Garcia said. “Even hitting a good shot, you’re going to miss some of those greens.
“Then it can get quite tricky around the greens. Chipping can be quite tricky around it, and even putting can be quite tricky around it.”