Bethpage was a flooded mess because of downpours at the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens. Bethpage was worn out for the 2012 and 2016 Barclays because of heat and traffic.
This time, officials are saying with fingers crossed and breath held, Bethpage might finally be Bethpage.
For the PGA Championship, which starts welcoming fans to practice rounds Monday, could finally be a normal healthy week for the Black Course — if forecasts hold true. Dealing with the weather always is a major “if,” witnessed by the previous two major championships. But the place at least has a fighting chance, for a change.
To begin with, the grass will be far less stressed than it was for the two PGA Tour playoff events held in August 2012 and 2016. By that time of year, the famous and popular New York State public course has been trammeled by daily-fee golfers (for whom the facility exists). In ’12, Ian Poulter tweeted about “greens like concrete.”
It also will be good news for the PGA if — as expected — there is no deluge, as there was for each of the Opens in June.
“Basically every plan is out the window,” said Craig Currier, who was the Bethpage superintendent for those storm-ravaged tournaments. “Half the time, you can’t cut. It’s frustrating. The bigger problem is outside the gallery ropes. It can get destroyed and you spend most of your time making it manageable for people to get around.”
Currier is now the superintendent at Glen Oaks Club, but maintains a strong interest in Bethpage Black because it is maintained by Andy Wilson and Mike Hadley, two of his former assistants and still two of his close friends. “I’ve been over there a couple times this week and it looks fantastic,” Currier said Sunday. “Hopefully, they’ll get some good weather to be able to show it off.”
Acknowledging that there is a chance for some rain in the next few days and admitting “I don’t think it’s going to be rock hard by the weekend,” he did say, “The greens are perfect right now. I think they can probably get them rolling [on the Stimpmeter] however they want.”
He also said that if there is significant wind, the pros “are going to find it a lot harder than they’ve ever seen it.” Currier wouldn’t be surprised if the winning score is 10 under par, or slightly worse, adding, “But these guys are so good . . .”
For the PGA and the Black Course, it will be a relief if the talk is just about the golf. In 2002, “rain” and “wind” were spoken with the same edge as stronger four-letter words. Because of the conditions and the setup, some golfers couldn’t reach the fairway on No. 10. After having finished one exasperating round, Paul Azinger said, “They asked me at the start of the week, ‘Would you sleep in your car to play this course?’ I said, `Yeah, sure!’ Now? I tell you what: No way, bubba.”
Then 2009 was even worse. The event did not end until Monday afternoon. “It was a travesty,” said Dave Catalano, then the park director. “The weather was so bad, it was just a shame. Nobody got to enjoy the course, nobody really got to see the course, even though attendance was huge. It just wasn’t fulfilling.”
Judging from pros’ practice rounds recently, this tournament should be better.
“Talking to people who have played, including people who have played this past week, they couldn’t get over how good the golf course was,” said Charlie Robson, former head of the Metropolitan PGA who worked both Opens as a rules official and is now general chairman for the PGA Championship. “If we don’t get a real torrential downpour, I think we’re going to be OK. I really do.”
PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: JUST THE FACTS
What: 101st PGA Championship.
When: May 16-19.
Where: Bethpage State Park (Black Course).
Length (par): 7,459 yards (35-35—70)
Field: 156 players (136 tour pros, 20 club pros).
Prize money: TBA ($11 million in 2018).
Winner’s share: TBA ($1.98 million in 2018).
Last year: Brooks Koepka blocked out the cheers for a charging Tiger Woods with two birdies on the back nine at Bellerive for a 4-under-par 66 and a two-shot victory over Woods. In oppressive heat in St. Louis, Koepka finished at 264 to set the PGA Championship record and tie Henrik Stenson (2016 British Open) for lowest 72-hole score at all majors. Koepka became only the fifth player to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year, and the first since Woods in 2000.
Spieth Slam: Jordan Spieth gets his third attempt at winning the PGA Championship to become the sixth player with the career Grand Slam. He tied for 28th and tied for 12th in his previous two attempts.
Bethpage champions: Tiger Woods (2002 U.S. Open), Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open), Nick Watney (2012 Barclays), Patrick Reed (2016 Barclays).
Key statistic: Brooks Koepka is a combined 47 under par in his last five PGA Championship appearances.
Noteworthy: None of the five players with the career Grand Slam completed it at the PGA Championship.
Quoteworthy: “We thought it was smart. It looks brilliant now.” — PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh on the PGA Championship moving to May in a year that Tiger Woods won the Masters.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Monday: Practice rounds, 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Tuesday: Practice rounds, 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Longest drive contest, Hole 16, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Wednesday: Practice rounds, 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Thursday: First round, 6:45 a.m. (No. 1 & No. 10 tees). TV: TNT, 1 p.m.
Friday: Second round, 6:45 a.m. (No. 1 & No. 10 tees). TV: TNT, 1 p.m.
Saturday: Third round, 8 a.m. (No. 1 tee). TV: TNT, 11 a.m., Ch. 2, 2 p.m.
Sunday: Final round, 8 a.m. (No. 1 tee). TV: TNT, 11 a.m., Ch. 2, 2 p.m.
NOTE: Schedule subject to change