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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

PGA executives might have surprise in store for Bethpage Black's layout on 18th hole

Craig Thomas hits out of a bunker in

Craig Thomas hits out of a bunker in the second round of the New York State Open Golf Championship at Bethpage State Park - Black Course on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - One of the last stops that PGA of America executives made on their way to Whistling Straits was Bethpage Black, where they will bring their major championship four years from now. The visit left them saying they can hardly wait, and that they might have a surprise or two for the layout of the Black's 18th hole.

When there is a minor criticism of the Black -- other than it is just too darned difficult -- it is that the finish lacks drama. For years, there have been all sorts of ideas about how to lengthen, toughen or otherwise spice up the last hole. No one has ever come up with what they considered the right answer, but that could change by the 2019 PGA Championship.

"Do you have any suggestions?" Kerry Haigh, the chief championship officer for the PGA of America, joked during an interview Wednesday at the site of this year's championship, beginning Thursday.

There was talk before the 2002 U.S. Open about re-routing No. 18, abandoning the current fairway and using the one on the adjoining first hole of the Red Course. That would add length and a different angle. "I've heard that," said Haigh, who is responsible for the course setup. "We've got one or two other ideas."

Among possibilities mentioned over years have been to build a new green farther back, closer to the clubhouse (which might be impossible because of the space needed for grandstands) or simply using No. 18 on the Red. Without giving specifics, Haigh said the whole hole issue did come up last month.

"I think we had a really good, positive meeting with all the folks. There may be a tweak or two, but nothing has been decided," Haigh said, adding that he is not certain what par will be. The U.S. Golf Association played the Black at par 70 for the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens, the PGA Tour uses par 71 for The Barclays (as do local tournaments and public golfers). "That was certainly part of the analysis when I went around to look at the holes and see how they played," he said.

The bottom line for Haigh and Pete Bevacqua, the PGA of America's chief executive officer, is that with or without tweaks, Bethpage holds up and stands out. "Spectacular," Haigh said. "We know it is a wonderful test of golf and I can't wait for 2019."

It is more personal for Bevacqua, who grew up in Bedford, N.Y., and used to come down to play the Black with his dad.

"You know me, I couldn't be more excited about it. It's a bit of a homecoming," he said. "We're excited about the golf course, we're excited about what might happen on 18. We'll see. We'll obviously work with our friends at New York State and see what happens. But so far, so good."

On the recent trip to Long Island, he brought some guests and they all brought their clubs. "The course looks phenomenal," Bevacqua said. "You're always reminded when you go out and play it how unbelievably hard it is. But it was in spectacular condition. I mean, you could play the PGA Championship on it tomorrow."


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