25th July 2016: Steve Bamford has published his final US PGA Championship tips - read his thoughts here.
The US PGA Championship is the final chance to capture a Major title each season and the 98th US PGA Championship is being held on the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey from Thursday 28th July to Sunday 31st July. '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 2016 sees the PGA Championship return to Baltusrol for the first time since 2005 when Phil Mickelson captured his second Major title. The PGA Championship in 2016 follows just 12 days after the last putt has dropped on the 18th green at Troon which hosts the Open Championship - this is because 2016's final Major has had to move forward by 2 weeks to accommodate the Olympic Men's Golf Competition in Rio de Janeiro.
Now into our 7th season, Golf Betting System will be hunting for profit once again with our US PGA Championship tips from Paul Williams and Steve Bamford. Golf Betting System has full 2016 coverage with US PGA Championship tips, long shot and alternative market selections, a full range of free course and player statistics plus our famous statistical Predictor Model.
2016 sees the PGA of America sticking to its mantra of testing the world's best on a stretching golf course. The track has received a makeover since 2005 from the 'Open Doctor' Rees Jones which will see it play as a very long 7,462 yard par 70. That places it on a very similar level to Chambers Bay last year which stretched out to circa 7,500 yards if the USPGA wanted it to. The Lower Course though will provide a far more classical test with tree-lined fairways in a rolling parkland setting. Sounds like the perfect setting for a shootout between Spieth, McIlroy, Day and Fowler with interlopers such as Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose and the ever-popular (especially in these parts) Phil Mickelson looking ripe for this extended test.
So what do you need to know about the Lower Course at Baltusrol? 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) and Jason Day (2015) 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. Buccaneering Phil Mickelson won the last time the PGA Championship visited Baltusrol and despite his length he tactically played safe from the tee, maximising more approach shots from the fairways. Could 2016 be a case of 'horses for Tillinghast courses?'.
What to Expect at Baltusrol
The Lower Course is a classical A.W. Tillinghast design from 1922. Tillinghast is synonymous with 'Big Apple' golf courses which are always technical, stretching designs. Think Bethpage Black in New York State which hosted the 2009 U.S. Open (Lucas Glover -4/276, par 70) and the 2012 Barclays (Nick Watney -10/274, par 71) tournament. Or Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey, which again hosted The Barclays in 2008 (Vijay Singh -8/280, par 71) and 2014 (Hunter Mahan (-14/270, par 71). Tillinghast courses clearly pass the test of time so don't expect the Lower Course to be totally taken apart.
The Lower Course will play as a 7,462 yard, par 70 across the 2016 PGA Championship which puts it on the same scale as the 2011 PGA Championship which again was played on a long par 70 at the Highlands Course, Atlanta Athletic Club. As we know, the PGA of America do like to test players with long courses. Average green size plays out at 6,402 square feet which is small for such a long golf course. The classical Tillinghast design features Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens and rough length has been set at a challenging 5 inches which will be very similar to that the players faced in 2005. It's also worth noting that the PGA of America will want relatively fast green conditions - nothing as fast as Oakmont, but on the faster side towards 12 on the stimpmeter. With the last 3 Majors hosted here being won by Jack Nicklaus (1967 US Open + 1980 US Open), Lee Janzen (1993 US Open) and Phil Mickelson (2005 PGA Championship), all types of player have won around the Lower Course, but with a new longer layout and the fact that the PGA Championship roll of honour is dominated by longer types, it makes sense that a long but accurate game should have a real advantage.
The Lower Course has undergone many changes since 2005 with Rees Jones being responsible for most of these upgrades. The variety of adjustments promises to pose different challenges to the field of 156 than back in 2005. Bunkers have been deepened to restore their challenge which is synonymous with Tillinghast designs. New fairway bunkering has also been added to cater for modern driving distances. New collection areas surrounding the 1st, 5th and 12th greens have also been added to again create a Tillinghast feel.
Distance-wise the 5th, 13th and 15th holes have new back tees to bring the Lower Course's total yardage closer to 7,500 yards. That's not excessively long for courses these days, but the par 5 1st and 7th holes will play as par 4s leaving no par 5s on the front side. This is sure to bring a level of frustration to many players, making patience a real factor. The back nine concludes with a pair of par 5s with the 17th playing at 650 yards from its tips and the 18th at 553 yards. It's all set up for a magnificent finish. Baltusrol features few water hazards, but the pond on the left side of the 18th green has been increased in size so as to be far more in play for second shots and more intense fairway bunkers have been inserted which will force a lay-up. Plenty of work has also been carried out on the Lower Course's set of 4 very challenging par 3s. The 195 yard 4th, known as the 'Famous Fourth', is Baltusrol's signature hole and it has similarities to the 12th at Augusta with water guarding the front of the green. All of the other par 3s, namely the 9th, 12th and 16th, will play at well over 200 yards.
When asked about specific tests that the PGA of America are looking for in the revamped Lower Course renovation, Rees Jones said "The priority is to test the player’s ability with every shot in golf. The pros don’t have to hit long approach shots much anymore, and that’s a pity – throughout the game’s history the approach shot with a wood or a long iron to a well-protected green has been regarded as the supreme test for the best players. So that’s why par 5s which the pros will almost always seek to reach in two, or even drivable par 4s, have become increasingly important in today’s championship golf. Converting par 5s into long par 4s is something which the PGA have done quite often, and so, as long as you don’t overdo it, I think it’s a good idea. We want the players to have to hit every club in the bag, not just a parade of drivers and very short irons and really that is one of a few ways in which we can accomplish that strategy.”
As ever course set-up will be key. Back in 2005, fairways were tightened to an average of 27 yards between 260-330 yards from the tee. Back then the PGA of America decreed 4" of freshly installed thick, lush bluegrass rough. Firm conditions also made scoring difficult on a course that features Penn A4 Bentgrass greens which are infested with local poa annua. When the course was softer with little wind across the opening 36 holes in 2005, Phil Mickelson led at -8/132. However strong winds and a fast drying course took the winning score back to -4/276.
Below are some revealing comments about the course in 2005 from players:
Phil Mickelson: "I think Baltusrol is just a very hard, straightforward, fair test of golf. I can't say enough good things about it. If it does rain and stay wet, it will play longer, but I also think it will allow for lower scoring, because of two reasons. One, the ball will stay in the fairways a lot easier than if they firm up; and two, hitting shots into the green, although we might be hitting a long iron, a 3 , 4 or 5 iron, having the ball stop quickly on those fast greens is going to be a huge help. So if it stays wet, I think we'll see lower scores than if it dries out.
I think that Augusta is a course where length is a big factor, no question. But here, the rough is so penalizing well, the difference between here and Augusta is that the fairways are, one, a little tighter here, and the rough is a lot thicker. If you do hit it into the rough, you are having a very difficult time saving par, so even though you might be a slightly shorter hitter, hitting out of the fairway allows you to get a lot closer to the green and make pars and birdies.
The first seven holes are by far the meat and toughest part of the course in my opinion. If you can somehow squeak through those first seven holes at even par, you should be able to have a pretty good round. Now, it doesn't mean that the last 11 holes are a pushover; they certainly are not that, but you have shorter irons in if you can hit the fairways and more birdie opportunities; whereas 3 and 7 are converted par 5s, they play very difficult, you'd be very thankful just to get a par there. The 4th hole is one heck of a hole; it's one of the toughest par 3s we'll see, it's just a very difficult test of golf. The first seven holes are by far the toughest."
Vijay Singh: "Yeah, this is a long golf course, but I think it's you know, I played with Tom Pernice, who is not one of the longer hitters out there, and I mean, sure, you've got two par 4s that are really long, close to 500 well, two of them are 500 plus, and the other two is 490. The golf course is drying out a little bit and the roughs are playable. The roughs are not impossible to get to the greens with. I didn't hit every fairway yesterday and neither did my partner. They were comfortable getting on the greens from the rough. The rough is very, very deep but it's playable. You can get unlucky and not get to the greens.
The greens are so big over here, they are probably some of the biggest greens the PGA has ever had, and it's not difficult to hit the greens from wherever you are, but to get close to the pins is another factor. So you can be hitting long irons from the fairway. I mean, if I'm hitting a 6 iron, the shorter hitters are going to be hitting 3 iron; they are probably going to be hitting a 4 iron or a 3 iron. The greens are very receptive and they are holding shots from whatever you hit. Yeah, it is long and it favours the longer hitters, but I don't think it favours that much. I think it's going to favour whoever putts well this week is going to have a good chance. You've got to hit the fairway but at the same time, you've got to putt well. This is going to be, the guy who putts well is going to win the golf tournament right here."
Thomas Bjorn: "It turned into some hell of a golf course today, I have to say. It was a completely different golf course to what we've seen the other three days. It's firm greens, it's difficult to keep it in the fairways, the wind blew, and it blew in that direction that the first seven or eight holes or nine holes became very, very difficult. So it was a complete change from the first two days. I wouldn't say it's damage control, but it's certainly a question of keeping big numbers off the card and just try and take your chances when you get them."
Padraig Harrington: "It's a very fair golf course, it's all there in front of you. It's not tricked up in any way, so it's just there's not much you can say except for it's really a fair course. It's a difficult enough golf course, but I don't think anybody can have any complaints about it. There's not a huge amount of wedge shots out there, that's for sure. That's something that normally would be pretty strong in my game, but it's not required. Chipping and bunker play and putting is going to be important with the longer shots in, and sometimes if you miss the fairway off the tee, the rough isn't as heavy as some of the other majors. It's not that you're going to be able to hit the green, but you should be able to advance the ball forward. Chipping and putting always is important at every major, but this one is probably asking a little bit more. A player who hits a lot of fairways and greens this week will do well. It's a solid golf course. I think to be honest, it can be played a number of ways, but it doesn't suit one player in particular."
So, to summarise, 11 years on from Mickelson's 2005 win the PGA of America prefer lower scoring. A softer course with little wind should see a typical double-digit under par PGA Championship winning score; tougher, faster conditions on the other hand, as the PGA of America expect, would see that target move towards single digits under par.
Baltusrol: A Tillinghast original parkland course which is hard, but fair.
An Honest Test Where Natural Putters Thrive
Let's take the final skill statistics from Phil Mickelson, Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington from the latest 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. This gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
• Driving Distance: 63rd, Driving Accuracy: 29th, Greens in Regulation: 24th, Scrambling: 19th, Putting Average 14th.
With a course the length of Baltusrol and the fact that the PGA Championship roll of honour is dominated by longer types, you would expect the 2005 stats to highlight that Driving Distance was key, especially with Phil Mickelson triumphing. However Lefty played very cagily on the measured holes, taking shorter clubs off the tee for position. Remember the rough was particularly long, so a level of accuracy was definitely needed from the tee. Instead of outright power, Phil eventually won because of his natural gift with the putter. A trend that continues with Thomas Bjorn who is an exceptional putter when on form and Lee Janzen who won the 1993 US Open here.
Winners, Winners, Winners!
14 of the last 16 PGA Champions (88%) had already won a tournament in the season prior to winning the PGA Championship:
|PGA Winner||Season Wins|
|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
Prior to 2016, there was no doubt that the World Golf Championship status Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone proved to be a real indicator of who would win the PGA Championship. Since the Firestone based tournament became the PGA Championship ‘warm up’ in 2006, the winner of the PGA Championship had always been in the Bridgestone field and had always finished in the Top 25 of the tournament. However with the Olympic Golf Competition creating massive changes in the 2016 golf calendar, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational was played from 30th June to 3rd July, creating a gap of 3 weeks filled by the Open Championship and RBC Canadian Open following the cancellation of the Greenbrier Classic.
|PGA Winner||Bridgestone Finish|
With Baltusrol placing a premium on Greens in Regulation from distance, similar to Firestone, decent form in Ohio prior to tee-off in New Jersey still appears a great correlation so it will be fascinating to see if this trend continues in 2016.
For a view of what 2016 could look like it's also worth going back prior to 2006 to look at PGA winners and their direct form. 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.
Driving Distance is the Key
So what's the key attribute that a PGA Championship winner needs in his arsenal to get the job done? Well with the PGA Championship being played on a stretching 7,400+ yard par 70, an advantage will inevitably return to longer drivers of the golf ball. In recent times that's always been the case: 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 25th July 2016. Our 2016 US PGA Championship tips will be published on 26th July. You may also want to read our other Major previews: US Masters Preview | US Open Preview | Open Championship Preview
Steve Bamford's final selections for last year's US PGA Championship were published here