- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Power players have the advantage

DULUTH, Ga. At this week's 83rd PGA Championship, power is likely to prove itself the ultimate prerequisite for success.
Tiger Woods is salivating. David Duval is thinking about a double dip. And Loren Roberts better have a refundable ticket.
At 7,213 yards playing to a par of 70, the Highlands Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club qualifies as the longest track in major championship history. Sprinkle a generous helping of layout-lengthening rain on this Georgia bulldog, and the season's final major might as well be called the Big-Knocker Invitational.
"When we redesigned the golf course, we wanted to make sure players would have the driver in their hands as much as possible," said architect Rees Jones, who tweaked the Highlands Course in 1995, adding 200 yards to an already long plan.
If gluing the driver to the players' hands was the mission, Jones certainly succeeded.
"At this year's U.S. Open at Southern Hills, I only hit two drivers per day, and I could have gotten away with not hitting one," said Charles Howell, the big-hitting Augusta native who has played his way into a Tour card using only sponsor's exemptions this season a la Woods, Justin Leonard and Phil Mickelson. "Today, I played 15 holes, and I hit driver on every tee box except the par 3s. That's a good advantage for me. Any time you get out on a golf course and you can play a lot of drivers on it, it definitely plays into my hands or a longer hitter's hands… . This week, you almost have to hit driver. You can't lay back to a 2-iron around here, that's for sure."
The average length of the 12 par 4s at AAC is a brutish 442 yards. The 18th stretches to a nearly comical 490. The average par 3 measures 205 yards, and the water-guarded 15th (227 yards) basically busts the intimidation meter.
"If they put the pin back-left there, I have to hit a 3-wood," Mark Calcavecchia said. "Thank God the wind doesn't blow much around here."
Even the par-5s at AAC are relatively toothy. Both are reachable at 541 and 554 yards but only for the longer hitters in the field.
"I hate to see it going this way, where we end up trying to see who has the longest par 4 in the world or in the major championships," Bernhard Langer said yesterday when asked about the course's length and the water-guarded 18th in particular. "It just doesn't seem right to hit a perfect tee shot, and then you have to lay up with a 7-iron because you have 240 yards to get it over the water and you can't hit your 3-wood more than 235… . I know advancements in equipment have forced people to make changes, but it shouldn't all be about length."

Pate's perfection

At the 1976 U.S. Open, Jerry Pate authored the most famous shot struck at AAC. On the 72nd hole of the event, Pate ripped a 194-yard 5-iron out of the rough to within two feet of the hole, tapping in to claim a two-stroke victory over Tom Weiskopf and Al Geiberger. The 18th hole will play 35 yards longer this week, meaning that with a similar drive Pate now would face a 229-yard shot out of the rough over water.
"I'd call the difference between those two shots incredible and impossible," Pate said yesterday.

Borrowing Bobby

The provided biography of the site for the PGA Championship begins in the following fashion: "The Atlanta Athletic Club, home of the legendary Bobby Jones, rests on 500 acres."

It would be almost as ridiculous to call Turner Field the home of the legendary Hank Aaron.

Jones never set foot on the course. Golf's greatest amateur was a member of the original Atlanta Athletic Club, a men's club formed in 1898 and located some 25 miles south in downtown Atlanta. Jones played all of his AAC golf at East Lake Country Club, a course built in the city by the AAC in 1908

Sixty years later, well after poor health forced Jones to give up the game, the AAC sold East Lake and relocated to Duluth, adding a fourth nine to the 27 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1967. Bobby Jones died in 1971 without visiting the 500-acre Duluth "campus" or the Highlands Course that eventually would play host to the 1976 U.S. Open and 1981 PGA Championship (won by Larry Nelson).

Ryder rivalry

Entering this week's qualifying finale, all but 34 players have been mathematically eliminated from earning spots on this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team. Barring a staggering set of coincidental circumstances, the top seven players in the current U.S. rankings (Woods, Mickelson, Duval, Davis Love, Calcavecchia, Hal Sutton and Scott Hoch) are locks to make the team. The next three players in the standings, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink and particularly Tom Lehman, all come to Atlanta in relatively precarious positions.
"I just get confused when I look at all the tables and scenarios," said Chris DiMarco, who stands just behind Lehman in 11th place. "The only thing important to know about [the U.S. point system] is that you only get points for a top-10 finish, so you know right from the start that anything less this week won't be enough."
U.S. captain Curtis Strange will make his two wild-card choices Monday after the conclusion of the PGA produces a final standings list. The European team won't be set until two weeks later, when captain Sam Torrance makes his picks the Monday after the European Tour's BMW International Open. This year's Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England.

Quote of the day

Howell, who recently married his first and only girlfriend (Heather), on his social life in high school: "What social life? … I never was on a date in high school. I guess I went to the prom my senior year, and I was forced to do that by my mother."

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