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Steve Bamford has published his final US PGA Championship tips preview - you can read his final selections here.
The US PGA Championship is traditionally (until it all changes in 2019) the final chance to capture a Major title each season and the 100th US PGA Championship is being held at Bellerive Country Club, in St Louis, Missouri, from Thursday 9th August to Sunday 12th August. 'Glory's Last Shot', as it's affectionately known in the United States, is organised by the Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA of America) and 2018 sees the PGA Championship being played at a course which hosted this event back in 1992, but also saw some PGA Tour action back in 2008. Winners here were Nick Price and Camilo Villegas.
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2018 sees the PGA of America sticking to its mantra of testing the world's best on a stretching golf course. Bellerive is a Trent Jones original course, which has received recent renovations from his son Rees Jones who is well-known as the 'Open Doctor'. Expect the traditional, tree-lined, parkland golf course which will be stretched to test the world's very best. If the PGA of America also get their way, they will naturally set this up firm and fiery as per Quail Hollow last term. What could be slightly different though this year are the severe and extremely large greens that Bellerive possesses, plus Zoysiagrass fairways and green surrounds which aren't to everyone's tastes.
The PGA Championship in recent history has seen a plethora of long-hitters getting the job done, with many capturing their first Major titles. The PGA of America's choice of Oak Hill in 2013 raised eyebrows as the classical, claustrophobic nature of the course was totally alien to its mantra of testing through course length. As it transpired, the neat and tidy Jason Dufner won his first Major. Either side of Oak Hill, Y.E. Yang (2009), Martin Kaymer (2010), Keegan Bradley (2012), Jason Day (2015), Jimmy Walker (2016) and Justin Thomas (2017) have, like Dufner, all captured first-time Majors. All can hit the ball a long way, as can Rory McIlroy who won this title in 2012 at Kiawah Island and 2014 at Valhalla. Whether that changes in 2018 is open for discussion at a 7,300 yard, Par 70 which screams controlled power off the tee. Indeed Nick Price won the 1992 PGA Championship hosted here when the course played as a 7,148 yard, Par 70 and ranked 18th that week for Driving Distance. A post Rees Jones renovated Bellerive in 2008 saw the course play to an extended 7,324 yard, Par 70 format for the BMW Championship. That was won by Camilo Villegas who across 2008 ranked in the top 50 for Driving Distance on the PGA Tour and was the 18th longest driver on the week. So a level of power off the tee again would seem to be an advantage.
Bellerive Country Club is located in the mid-west of the United States, in St Louis, Missouri. An established Country Club with heritage going back to the 19th Century, this particular course was built in 1951 and was the design of the master course architect Trent Jones. It's also seen a couple of recent Rees Jones re-designs, lengthening the course and shaping it to what we see today. Bellerive is a parkland, tree-lined, classic which in its current guise is plenty long enough. It also has some particularly quirky aspects, including very severe contoured greens and Zoysiagrass fairways, the likes of which you find in the south-east of the United States. High-grade tournaments already hosted here include the 1965 U.S. Open, 1992 PGA Championship and 2008 BMW Championship (PGA Tour FedEx Cup event).
The course has received Rees Jones renovations in 2005 and 2013; Trent Jones and Rees Jones designs/re-designs are listed below:
Bellerive Country Club is undoubtedly going to be a stern test for the 2018 PGA Championship. The course will play as a very stiff Par 70, as it did for the 2008 BMW Championship. However reading too much into that particular tournament could be a mistake as that event was played in extremely soft conditions throughout, allowing Camilo Villegas to win at -15/265. That week saw the course play extremely long; but soft and receptive green complexes, allowed the players to throw darts at greens which were often described as 'challenging.' Naturally Mother Nature could repeat herself and if the course accepts rain in the build-up and during the PGA, we could see double-digits under par.
The 'Open Doctor' Rees Jones has worked through a couple of renovations of the course since the 1992 PGA Championship. 2005 saw length added to the course, trees were removed and a lake was built at the 2nd hole. Post announcement that Bellerive would host the PGA Championship, 2013 saw complete reconstruction of the bunkers and turf lines throughout the course were also modified. These changes were predominately around bunkers, creek edges and around all putting surface complexes. Think Shinnecock and the dreaded run-off areas and you won't be too far away from the truth. Players will have options - a situation many struggle with.
Off the tee, fairways are of moderate width, with 300 yard landing areas pinched at 26 yards-wide. Not too thin, but rough is sure to be penal. However two real features that stand out about the course are the rare Zoysiagrass fairways and the extremely contoured greens. Zoysiagrass is a rarity on the PGA Tour, with only TPC Southwind, Trinity Forest and East Lake featuring this kind of grass which is renowned for its springy nature. Plenty of professionals claim it promotes flyers, whilst others like the way the ball tends to sit up on it. Either way, it's an angle of attack to research. Secondly, there was plenty of comment back in 2008 that the greens were very severe. It never really mattered back then as constant deluges during the tournament made them extremely receptive, but it's worth recognising that with such serious green contouring, stimpmeter ratings of around 11 will be the maximum. That's quite slow for a Major Championship. New green complexes sculptured by Rees Jones created small target areas within each huge green complex, where approach accuracy is rewarded with a birdie opportunity. Stray away from those and players are in 3-putt territory.
You'll also read and hear plenty about 'The Ridge' section of the golf course. Holes 14 through 17 is a strong section of Bellerive. The 14th is a dogleg left par-4. The 15th is a straight-away par-4 measuring almost 500 yards. The par-3 16th is 230 yards, featuring a huge green, deep bunkers and out-of-bounds down the right-hand side. The 17th is a par-5 which measures close to 600 yards. Kerry Haigh mentions that they might bring up the tee box on certain days to make this a risk and reward hole, but it's certainly no dead-cert birdie when played from the back tees.
Bellerive Country Club, St Louis, Missouri: Designer: Trent Jones with 2005 & 2013 Rees Jones renovations; Course Type: Classical; Par: 70; Length: 7,316 yards; Water Hazards: 16; Fairways: Meyer Zoysiagrass; Rough: Winning Colours Fescues 3"; Greens: 7,600 sq.ft average featuring A4 Creeping Bentgrass; Tournament Stimp: 11-11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 1992 PGA Championship: 73.92 (+2.92), Difficulty Rank 2 of 54 courses. 2008 BMW Championship: 69.37 (-0.63), Difficulty Rank 35 of 54 courses.
Asked about Bellerive at the recent Travelers Championship, defending PGA champion Justin Thomas commented, "It's a good course. It's a good, kind of old-school place. It was fairly soft when I played it, so there were a lot of doglegs where I could just hit it out and then hit it into the greens with mid irons. It's just totally depends on the setup in terms of how firm, how fast, how firm the fairways will be because if those fairways are firm, they're going to be hard to hit, and from the looks of it, that rough is going to be pretty healthy. I feel like it'll be a pretty similar setup to kind of a Quail in terms of a score-wise. So easy to shoot 3- or 4-over, but you know, a good round is a couple under."
Below are some revealing comments from the PGA Championship Media Day held at the start of June:
Justin Thomas: "It's a great course. You can tell - it's a great driving golf course. Driving is going to be premium. The holes are - have great shape to them. A lot of them kind of go out and then dogleg and then kind of are still aware if you're going to want to challenge it to go farther up you're going to really need to be precise, so it's like, I'm going to need to hit 3-wood here or - a great example would be like, I felt like 10 or like 18 where you kind of want to hit it out to the dogleg, but then if you get a little help or you get a little downwind, if I want to challenge that, my area to hit it in is going to be a lot smaller, where I'm going to have the reward of having maybe a wedge or 9-iron as opposed to a 7- or 6-iron, but coming into greens this severe and with this many tears and slopes, shorter putts are going to be a big advantage. It's definitely going to be a lot of practice on the drivers and 3-woods."
Kerry Haigh (PGA of America Chief Competitions Officer): "Major change from '92 has been the Zoysiagrass, the short-cut grasses around the green, like you see on hole 11 there, the whole chipping area to the left. That cut has been forged in and around many greens and into many of the bunkers, which obviously bring them more into play. That's probably the biggest difference from '92 is how the golf course will play. I feel it will provide and offer the best players in the world a lot more variety of shots to play, as it does for member play day in and day out. It's a great, solid golf course. Greens are large at 7-10,000 square feet, bunkers are large. We try and set-up the course so the best players in the world can show-off their skills. The Ridge, 14 through 17 is a very strong part of the golf course. The 17th is a 600 yard, par-5, which we may well choose to move the tee forward, we can make it reachable. Will give the opportunity for eagles, birdies and bogeys at the close of the tournament."
Here are some additional player comments about Bellerive Country Club from the 2008 BMW Championship:
Steve Stricker: "I've gotten to see the course. I played nine yesterday and played 18 today in the Pro-Am, which I didn't think I was going to get in because of the weather, but we were able to get it in. It's a tough course. It's long, it's very lush, and the greens are very difficult. Rees Jones is tough on us with these greens. They're very difficult. So you've got to get it in the right quadrants out here, and hopefully the rain will hold off because it's in great shape right now the way it is. I didn't notice any difference on those holes you're talking about being drier or anything else. But the Zoysia, there was very few casual water spots, and the balls really didn't pick up that much mud. So you're right, that surface that we played on today, the Zoysia fairways, is really good. You squish in it; I mean, you can hear the water is there, but the ball still sits up really nice on it. We had ball in hand so you got to tee it up today pretty much. No, I thought it was in great shape. The grounds crew had it in great shape. The bunkers were perfect. The greens were really good, just slow because of all the rain that we had."
Jim Furyk: "Yeah, we got so much rain on Thursday that the golf course was already relatively soft when we got here, and it's probably got no chance to firm up before we leave. The greens here are very severe, they're very difficult, but because they're soft and we can stop the ball, we're able to shoot some decent scores. The rain definitely let the rough grow, there's no doubt about that. It's spotty, the ball can sit up or sit down. You can get a relatively playable lie or one where you're just hacking it out with a sand wedge. You know, it definitely-- that one side that I played where I shot 7-under, I think I split the fairway for basically seven fairways, and it definitely makes it a lot easier to play it. The greens are soft, you've got the ball sitting up on that Zoysia fairway. Basically you've got a free go at a lot of pins out here. So it definitely helped. You're definitely not going to score from the rough out here if you miss too many fairways. The fact that the fairways are wet and damp and the ball is not rolling, it does make it quite a bit easier to get the ball in the fairway.
When we got here, to be honest with you, it wasn't firm. It was quite soft when we arrived, and then with all that rain, it's got no chance of drying up I don't think for tomorrow. The greens were definitely a little quicker today than they were yesterday. They were a little sticky yesterday. I thought they had a little bit more speed to them today. I could see them getting a little firmer, a little faster, but I think with all that rain, we're going to be dealing with soft conditions. You know, the penalty here on this golf course is the greens are severe. There's a lot of slope, there's a lot going on, a lot of ridges, a lot of swales, huge humps and bumps. The greens are sectioned off into little areas, and being this soft, we can fire at the flags and stop the ball. If the conditions were - to be quite honest with you, you can't get the conditions very firm and fast or the greens wouldn't be playable in spots to be honest with you. This isn't a place where you're ever going to have the greens rolling 13 and firm because you honestly wouldn't be able to play them. So they're very, very severe to be honest with you."
Dudley Hart: "The fairways are - the Zoysia fairways are so good, if you can get it in the fairway it's like hitting off of a mat, so it's a huge advantage. With the greens being soft after all the rain, it made it that much easier to shoot at pins, even for a guy like me whose average length - I'm hitting a lot of 3-, 4- and 5-irons into greens out there, and it gave me the opportunity to be a lot more aggressive with certain shots that if the greens were real hard, with longer guys hitting maybe 6-, 7- and 8-irons into those greens and I'm hitting 3-, 4-, 5-s, I wouldn't be able to get to certain pins. So it was a combination of the fairways and the soft greens probably helped out, even though it played a little bit longer, but it still probably helped out an average-length guy like myself a little bit more."
Bellerive: A strong, classical Trent Jones design, with a recent makeover from the "Open Doctor"
Let's take the final skill statistics from the top 3 finishers of the 2008 BMW Championship played here. This gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Now we shouldn't pin too much on a single tournament played in 2008 in very, very soft conditions, but the BMW Championship does throw up some interesting statistics which make logical sense. Bellerive has massive green complexes, the likes of which are rarely seen on the PGA Tour. So despite hitting 70% of greens in regulation, winner Camilo Villegas only ranked in the mid-pack across the 70-man field. Where he excelled was in the accuracy of his approaches, from which he was able to access the defined sections or quadrants of the greens where pins were positioned. That accuracy - he ranked 2nd across the tournament for Proximity to Hole - proved pivotal, as he also ranked 1st for Putts per GIR on the week. It's also worth recognising on a course where greens are described as having 'a lot of slope, there's a lot going on, a lot of ridges, a lot of swales, huge humps and bumps,' that strong putters came to the fore. Villegas across 2008 ranked 15th for Putts per GIR on the PGA Tour, whereas Dudley Hart, Jim Furyk and Anthony Kim all ranked in the top 40 for Strokes Gained Putting across 2008.
Winners, Winners, Winners!
15 of the last 18 PGA Champions (83%) had already won a tournament in the season prior to winning the PGA Championship. That is a trend worth noting, although 2 of the past 5 Champions namely Jason Dufner (2013) and Jimmy Walker (2016) have been winless in the calendar year entering the PGA Championship.
|PGA Winner||Season Wins|
|2017||Thomas||Kuala Lumpur, Kapalua, Waialae|
|2015||Day||Torrey Pines, Glen Abbey|
|2014||McIlroy||Wentworth, Hoylake, Firestone|
|2011||Bradley||TPC Four Seasons|
|2007||Woods||Torrey Pines, Doral, Quail, Firestone|
|2006||Woods||Torrey Pines, Doral, Hoylake, Warwick Hills|
|2005||Mickelson||TPC Scottsdale, Pebble, TPC Sugarloaf|
|2004||Singh||Pebble, Houston, New Orleans, Warwick Hills|
|2000||Woods||Pebble, Bay Hill, Muirfield, Pebble, St Andrews|
Better Use Bridgestone
With the PGA Championship in its regular August spot on the PGA Tour schedule, there are no doubts that the World Golf Championship status Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone year after year proves to be a real indicator of who will win the PGA Championship. Since the Akron-based tournament became the PGA ‘warm up’ in 2006, the winner of the PGA Championship has always been in the Bridgestone field and has always finished in the top 28 of the tournament. That statistic was as tight as top 22 until last year when Justin Thomas stretched it to 28th, but it's worth noting for this year that he finished well on Sunday. He shot a closing -3/67 which was within the top 10 best Sunday scores.
|PGA Winner||Bridgestone Finish|
With Bellerive sure to place a premium on Greens in Regulation from distance, similar to Firestone, decent form in Ohio prior to tee-off in Missouri still appears a great correlation. From a tournament before momentum perspective, 2016 saw the Olympic Golf Competition creating massive changes with the WGC Bridgestone Invitational moving to July. Instead the RBC Canadian Open directly preceded the PGA Championship, where Jimmy Walker finished fast on Sunday to grab 11th spot at Glen Abbey.
Excellent immediate tournament form was key to both Mickelson and Singh’s triumphs in 2005 and 2004 respectively. Mickelson finished 10th in Colorado before jumping on his private jet to New Jersey and winning the following weekend at Baltusrol. Singh won his prior tournament 2 weeks before the PGA at Warwick Hills, before travelling across to neighbouring Wisconsin to capture his 3rd Major at Whistling Straits. Even Rich Beem in 2002 won at Castle Pines (The International) and then won a fortnight later at Hazeltine.
Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green
We all love a statistic and in the era of the PGA Tour's Strokes Gained analysis we have plenty to wade through. Looking at PGA champions last tournament performance since 2010, it's fascinating to see that there are real similarities across the Strokes Gained Tee to Green numbers. Thomas, McIlroy (x2), Dufner and Kaymer all ranked within the top 10 of that category at Firestone the week before. In outliers Jimmy Walker and Jason Day, they still ranked in the top 27 for the category and finished 14th and 12th respectively in their warm-up event, with Jason Day ranking in the top 10 for Greens in Regulation. It's clear to deduce that those struggling to keep the ball in front of them immediately prior to playing the final Major of the year ultimately don't win it.
|PGA Winner||Prev Tournament Finish||Greens in Regulation||Strokes Gained Tee to Green|
Driving Distance is the Key
So what’s the key player attribute that a PGA Championship winner needs in his arsenal to get over the line? Well with the PGA Championship being played on a stretching Par 70, a premium advantage will inevitably return to longer drivers of the golf ball. In recent times that's always been the case in this eent. Taking 2013's exceptionally tight Oak Hill set-up out of the overall picture, every winner of the PGA Championship since 2004 has been a 290+ yard hitter from the tee:
|PGA Winner||Season Driving Distance (Yards)|
Author Steve Bamford, preview updated 17th July 2018 . Our 2018 US PGA Championship tips will be published on Tuesday 7th August. You may also want to read our other Major previews: US Masters Preview | US Open Preview | Open Championship Preview
Steve Bamford's final US PGA Championship tips for 2017 were published here