If you want to think like an American, then you must think big. Big portions, Big Apple. You name it. They supersize it. And when it comes to golf, it’s no different.
The home stars of the PGA Tour are generally big hitters, playing big golf courses where accuracy and strategy pale in comparison to brute strength and power. As a result, a USA team typically excels on a forgiving layout where wide fairways, little rough and quick greens are the cocktail of the day. Such a cocktail Whistling Straits is not.
The rolling, sandy hills of the links-like Wisconsin course should play to the strengths of Padraig Harrington’s team, particularly if the wind gets up on tournament week.
“It’s only an advantage when it’s a home venue – Whistling Straits has nullified some of that,” Harrington believes. “If we were going to a Hazeltine or a Valhalla it would be a lot easier for the home team to set the golf course up to suit themselves, but because it’s a windy place, there’s not a lot you can do, really. The golf course is kind of the golf course.”
Where Thomas Bjorn was praised for setting up Le Golf National by putting a premium on accuracy, or where U.S. Captain Davis Love III opted for wide fairways and short rough in a home win at Hazeltine in 2016, Stricker’s hand may be forced into a more neutral set-up. No trickery. Just a week where the best team wins.
“For an away captain, that’s nice,” Harrington says. “The last couple have been heavily biased towards the home team.”
“Here at Whistling Straits, this is a much more natural golf course. I’m interested to see what Steve has in store but it doesn’t look like you can do a lot with this golf course.
“As much as it was obviously designed and built there, it looks like it’s just in a natural setting all its life and it’s going to present its way. Even the weather could be very changeable the week of the Ryder Cup.
“So in many ways, this is a golf course that is just going to test the players on its own merits.”
You only have to look at the venue’s history as a PGA Championship host course to get a feel for its playability. The Pete Dye design threw up Vijay Singh in 2004, Martin Kaymer in 2010 and Jason Day in 2015. And if you want to clutch some straws alongside us by digging deeper into those results, Singh overcame Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco in a playoff. Kaymer beat Bubba Watson in a playoff and Day defeated Jordan Spieth in what came down to a two-horse race for the Wanamaker Trophy.
“It’s a good course for the Europeans,” says 2014 winning captain, Paul McGinley. “If you could pick any golf course in America that would be most suited to the Europeans, it would be Kiawah Island or Whistling Straits.
“Just look at how many Europeans were in the top-20 at the PGA Championship when Phil Mickelson won. Also, look at the history of Whistling Straits and how many Europeans have played well there in the PGA Championships over the years. It’s certainly got a lot of nuances that we see on European-style courses.
“Yes, the fairways are going to be wide, but the wind whips in off Lake Michigan and you can get inclement weather. It’s also a golf course which takes a lot of learning. It’s a Pete Dye design and we know he likes to fool around with the visuals and add an intimidation factor.
“Put the potential for inclement weather on top of that and those are dynamics which work away from the stereotypical golf courses we see week-in, week-out, on the PGA Tour.”