PGA pros offer their take on Old White
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - The availability of birdies and low scores, as well as the mammoth tee shots, have worked in the golf fan's favor this week.
Who wants to go to a PGA Tour event and watch a pitchers' duel or 3 yards and a cloud of dust?
After 16 holes in Saturday's third round, an obscure pro named D.A. Points had beaten up the Old White Course for a 10 under on the day and, as he teed off on the inviting par-5 No. 17 hole, the 33-year-old Illinois native raised the prospect of a 59 - or even a PGA-record 58. Alas, he bogeyed the 17th and settled for a 61.
On a longer, more dangerous course, the players likely would take a more conservative, less entertaining approach, the scores would be higher and nobody would be chasing golf history - or referencing the 59 that Sam Snead shot on the Greenbrier course during a 1959 Spring Festival tournament.
It might be fallacy to believe that, because the pros overpowered the 7,031-yard Old White Course in the inaugural Greenbrier Classic, changes are in store for the Old White next year.
"I don't have any problem with it,'' said Jerod Turner, a Texas native, who finished with a 5-under 275. "Who cares if it takes 21 under to win?''
Said Points, "It's fun for me and it's fun for us and it's fun to see us all shooting low numbers.''
Not that the scores were abnormally low. "The cut was only 2 under this week. It wasn't like it was 6 under or 5 under or 4 under,'' Points noted, perhaps alluding to last month's John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., in which the cut was minus 4 and Steve Stricker won at minus 26.
A primary reason for the Old White's low scores during the tournament, said Turner, is the damp greens, an unavoidable byproduct of the weather.
"The greens are soft, so the guys can just throw darts at it,'' he said. "The course is in pretty good shape, but if it was firmer, it would play a lot tougher.''
In addition, the course's modest length and minimal rough allowed the PGA's heavy hitters to use drivers and wedges on many of the course's 12 par 4s.
"There's a lot of wedges out there,'' said Turner. "Normally, you're hitting 5-, 6- 7-iron shots.''
A few changes for the 2011 event - thicker rough, for example - would benefit the guys who are straight off the tee and penalize those who hit it far but not always accurately.
Points noted that J.B. Holmes, a long hitter, took advantage of the safe conditions to hit drivers off the tee on Saturday en route to a 60.
"Right now, J.B. can bomb away and hit it 400 yards and not really have a lot to worry about other than just trying to get it close to the green,'' said Points. "If you had some high rough around, you might say, 'Hey, maybe I won't hit a driver and I'll just hit my hybrid out there and make sure I get it in the fairway.'"
The recent rains also contributed to the low scores by softening the fairways and making it less likely that a slightly errant shot would roll into the rough.
"It widens it out even more because the ball doesn't release through the fairway,'' said Craig Bowden, who posted an 8-under 272. "When we get rain, it makes it even easier to hit it in the fairway.''
Said Turner, "The rough is nothing. It needs to be taller.''
Like Points, Bowden would like to see additional rough to help him capitalize on his accuracy off the tee.
"Being an accurate hitter,'' said Bowden, "I would certainly like to see the rough a little taller and penalize the guys that hit it off line a little bit more. Especially when it's soft like this, it plays even wider.''
Points agreed. "I would like to see a little more rough,'' he said. "I generally drive the ball pretty straight, so a little more rough would make it better for me, theoretically, if the fairways were either pinched in a little bit or they grew the rough.''
On the other hand, a long hitter like Jeff Overton, who entered Sunday's final round with the lead at 18 under, found Old White to his liking.
"We really don't get to play too many golf courses where you really get your driver going and get some wedges in,'' said Overton, a former Indiana University golfer. "This is an awesome setup. It's really neat. At the same time, there's some penalizing spots. If you hit it in the wrong spot out there, you can get in serious trouble.''
It's probably a safe bet the PGA will recommend changes for next year's tournament.
"Oh, absolutely. I'm sure they will,'' said Points. "But like I said, this course was built a long time ago, and we're not in the business of coming in and redesigning golf courses. I just think they want to make it so that it's a good, fair, reasonably difficult test of golf.''