Storms could create hurdles for Champions Tour at Fox Chapel
June 27, 2013 4:00 PM
Colin Montgomerie clips the fairway on the 10th hole while hitting at the Accenture Pro-Am Wednesday afternoon.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The tournament is a major, much like the U.S. Open. The course is an architectural jewel, with tilted fairways and treacherous greens, much like the Merion Golf Club.
And it has a certain amount of nastiness because of thick, sticky rough that is akin to what players faced two weeks ago in suburban Philadelphia, not what is standard fare on the Champions Tour.
On top of all that, the character of the Fox Chapel Golf Club has been altered by a heavy thunderstorm that dumped 3 inches of water on a golf course that, two days ago, couldn't have been playing any more perfect. Just as it did at Merion.
Now the question remains: Do the players competing in the 30th Constellation Senior Players Championship that begins today find it easier to navigate the sloping fairways and porcelain-like greens because they are softer?
Or do they find a golf course that plays longer than the listed 6,696 yards with rough rendered even more penal because of all the moisture?
"It's like playing Merion -- there's really no mystery," said John Cook, a nine-time Champions Tour winner. "You just go point to point and you have to figure out a way to get the ball around the golf course the most efficient way. It's not hit-and-blast."
When it first played host to the tournament in 2012, Fox Chapel was hailed by all as one of the great architectural designs in the country. Tom Watson called it "a hidden gem." Kenny Perry said it was his favorite course he played all year.
This year, the players are saying much the same on the eve of the 72-hole tournament that is the third of five majors on the Champions Tour. But they have noticed a little more bite in the layout because of the thick rough.
Steve Elkington, a Champions Tour rookie who is making his first appearance in the tournament, even went so far as to call the rough at Fox Chapel "mini-U.S. Open style."
Greensburg native Rocco Mediate, a Champions Tour rookie who is playing Fox Chapel for the first time in years, couldn't get over how the thick the rough is for the championship, saying he doubted the winning score of 14-under 266 posted by Joe Daley in 2012 would be eclipsed.
"It's not any deeper; it's lusher and more sticky, which means the ball is not coming out," said Cook, who also has won 11 PGA Tour titles. "Last year you could advance the ball up the fairway and maybe get it running pretty good. Not this time. It's not going anywhere."
Former Masters champion Larry Mize shared the same sentiments.
"I drove it in the left rough on No. 16 and I couldn't get it to the green," Mize said. "I remember last year hitting a flyer and being able to get in on the green a little easier, so I think it's definitely thicker and a little longer. It will be a factor putting that ball in the fairway."
Even Colin Montgomerie, one of Europe's all-time greatest players who is making his Champions Tour debut, was surprised at the thickness of the rough.
"The rough is quite severe," said Montgomerie, who led the European Tour's Order of Merit a record eight times in his career. "Most of the people said the courses are not set up much different from a PGA Tour event, and I see that."
"It's a major, so it should play hard," said Fred Couples, the 2011 champion and 36-hole leader last year at Fox Chapel. "When you have greens like this, I prefer them to be rock hard so you can bounce shots up there. Maybe once in a while you'll hit it too hard and you'll hit it over the green, but at least that way you get used to it."
Couples' reference was to a number of holes at Fox Chapel that allow players to run shots onto the green. As many as eight holes (Nos. 1, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, 16 and 18) have greens with no hazards in front of the putting surface.
But with a chance for rain the next couple days, it is unlikely players will have opportunities to play those shots because the entry points to Fox Chapel's greens will be softened by the moisture.
"The greens are the protection for this golf course, a lot like Merion for the U.S. Open," said Corey Pavin, a 15-time winner on the PGA Tour and the 1995 U.S. Open champion. "They can put the pins in some pretty difficult spots to get to. Anytime the greens are a little bit softer, it's going to make it a little easier to play. But the rough being wet and a little thicker is going to make it more difficult if you don't hit the fairways."
After playing a practice round Tuesday with Mediate, Elkington raved about the Seth Raynor design and said it's a shame the rain could impact some of the holes.
Elkington loved the course so much he drew a caricature of himself, along with Mediate, hoisting a beer and toasting the layout on his website, secretinthedirt.com.
"I could sit here for an hour and talk about all the little nuances of the Redan hole and all the different features you have on this course," Elkington said. "It's going to be a treat to play for four days."