By Dave Shedloski
The final major of 2016, the 98th PGA Championship, begins Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, just 11 days after the last putt dropped at the Open Championship at Royal Troon. Because of golf’s return to the Olympics next month, the PGA is being staged at its earliest date on the calendar since 1971, when Jack Nicklaus won his second of a record-tying five PGA titles at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in February.
The Lower Course at Baltusrol also is the site of two of Nicklaus’ four U.S. Open titles. But the more important historical marker for the storied venue is 2005, when Phil Mickelson won his only PGA title with a birdie on the 72nd hole for a one-stroke victory.
One of just four golf sites to be designated a National Historic Landmark, Baltusrol has been the site of four U.S. Open championships, two U.S. Amateurs and a U.S. Women’s Open. After a renovation by Rees Jones, the Lower Course measures 7,428 yards, heavy lifting for a par-70 layout. This would suggest long hitters will have an advantage, but a healthy rough will put a premium on finding fairways this week.
The field of 156 includes 97 of the top 100 players in the world and 20 PGA club professionals. The last four majors have been won by players who hadn’t previously won one, including defending champion Jason Day.
CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper surveys the landscape as she prepares to work her first PGA Championship.
This is the year for traditional layouts: Oakmont, Royal Troon and now Baltusrol. What do you like about Baltusrol’s Lower Course?
It’s a big golf course. It flows beautifully over the land. It’s almost — thank God it rained Monday — a very intimidating layout in a lot of respects. By late this afternoon and tomorrow, it will play like they want it to play. The rough is definitely part of the story. And the greens are really different. There’s a nice mix on the par-3s. It’s hard. At par-70 with a finish of two par-5s, you don’t get a chance to breathe.
The PGA Championship is usually set up in a way that most resembles a PGA Tour venue. Does this make it the most wide open of the four majors?
I think so. You have a graduated rough setup. They didn’t move the fairways in, so there’s room to play. They haven’t dramatically altered green speeds. It’s what the members see day in day out.
Phil Mickelson is an intriguing figure this week. Won at Baltusrol in 2005 and coming off a tough loss two weeks ago to Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon. Will he rebound here?
I do [think so]. The schedule helps him. I think he rolls right in here. He knows he’s playing well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him part of the story on Sunday.
It’s certainly a possibility. The dynamics suggest that it could happen. The chances are good for guys who played well at Royal Troon. That will also be something to watch. It’s not really a restart this time with so little time between the PGA and the Open Championship.
Favorites and dark horses?
I’ll stay with what I said in our CBS Preview Show. This is a chance for a first-time winner to break out, and one player I keep waiting for is Hideki Matsuyama. My dark horse, I said on the show, is Scott Piercy. This golf course is not unlike Firestone. Corridors are a little wider, but no let up. In that regard, I also like Sergio Garcia. He can handle that kind of a setup.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.