‘Pick your poison’: This Oak Hill intricacy has pros’ attention this week
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The shortest hole at Oak Hill might feature the most intriguing shot-making on the entire course.
When the quartet of Bryson DeChambeau, Abe Ancer, Dustin Johnson and Padraig Harrington reached the 15th green for the first time on Monday, each one dropped a couple balls to the right of the par-3. It wasn’t coincidence. This was purposeful, because there’s nothing simple about pitch shots from this part of Oak Hill.
The last time Oak Hill hosted a PGA Championship, in 2013, the 15th was guarded by water on the right side. But now, that pond has been filled in, restoring Donald Ross’ original design of a postage stamp green — narrow, but deep — flanked by bunkers on the front and left sides. It was also shortened from more than 180 yards to just 155.
“You’ve got one side where there’s a big runoff down to, say, the right side on 15, and then you’ve got that long rough on the left side and the bunkers,” Rory McIlroy, an Oak Hill member, said Tuesday. “You sort of have to pick your poison.”
What McIlroy is saying is that left of the green is treacherous because of the long stuff. But on the right side, you’re in just as tricky of a spot because of the shorter stuff. The PGA shaved the slope on the right side of the green and then mowed the collection area to fairway height.
That was the first spot Bryson DeChambeau visited. First, he tried driving shots into the bank but each of them died on the slope, which is just one cut longer than fairway height. DeChambeau’s new caddie Greg Bodine concluded the wall of turf was too soft to offer any chance of a bump-and-run shot, or even a putt. Everyone is trying to figure this place out.
“So they’ve taken the putter and the bump shot out of your hands for some reason,” Jon Rahm noted.
“That was the architect’s design,” PGA of America Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh said. “It’s fun. It adds a different dimension to how you play your approach there.”
During Andrew Green’s much-lauded renovation of the East course, several runoffs were added around the greens, including one similar to 15 over the back side of the drivable par-4 14th. On Tuesday, Hideki Matsuyama was working through the same processes as DeChambeau. He could not get the ball to jump up the slope and onto the green.
The 14th and 15th aren’t the only spots with runoffs. There are also mowed-down chipping areas on 1, 10 and 11, among others, but only 14 and 15 have the intermediate cut on the bank.
“I feel when we come to golf courses, it’s either one or the other,” McIlroy said. “You get a course with a ton of runoffs and no other tests around the green, or you get to a course where there’s a ton of long rough around the green and no real runoffs, where I feel like this has got a nice balance of the two.”
Rahm said the intrigue around the greens will really put a focus on the short game this week. That’s what Rahm said led Phil Mickelson to victory two years ago at Kiawah Island and Bryson DeChambeau at Winged Foot, which both McIlroy and Rahm likened to Oak Hill.
“Everybody will miss fairways, everybody will miss greens, so if you can get those up-and-downs, obviously it’s not only a confidence booster, but it’s something that will keep the round going,” he said.
As for what that might look like later in the week, Rahm predicted, if the course gets little rain in the next few days, shots missing right on 15 won’t stop in the fairway cut and roll into the rough.
“That’ll be a really tough spot to be,” Rahm said.