US PGA Championship: What can expect from Southern Hills? Players say short game will be crucial

Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas have led the chorus of praise for the Oklahoma course.

Mention Southern Hills Country Club to many golf fans and one feature stands out: the 18th green.

It was there, during the final round of the 2001 US Open, that the world's finest players - the three leading contenders for the title no less - were made to look like floppy-wristed, mind-frazzled hackers.

Mark Brooks three-putted for bogey.

Stewart Cink three-putted for a double bogey

And Retief Goosen was only 12-feet from the flag after two blows, with two putts for the title.

And he three-putted as well.

Mark Brooks called it "a very bizarre turn of events".

Paul Azinger, referring directly to the 18-inch miss which cost Cink a place in the Monday play-off with Brooks and eventual winner Goosen, called it "the saddest things I've ever seen watching sports".

The curious truth is that the green was not too quick, but too slow: in order to accommodate a brutally slopey front two-thirds of the putting surface the grass had been cut high.

Cink described it as "fringe" grass and it caused havoc.

Six years later, when the course hosted the PGA Championship, changes had been made with a reconstruction of both the ninth and 18th greens.

Ahead of this year's visit there have been more alterations, this time to the trees that line the fairways. Where once they were dense, now they are less so.

How will it play this week? Let's take a look at the details, the history, the stats and what the players who have already visited the course have been saying.

Southern Hills CC

The Oklahoma track is a Perry Maxwell design that will this week play as a par-70 set to 7,546 yards with bent grass greens and Bermuda grass down the fairways and around the greens.

The US Open winners there have been Tommy Bolt (1958), Hubert Green (1977) and Goosen in 2001.

The PGA Championship winners have been Dave Stockton (1970), Ray Floyd (1982), Nick Price (1994) and Tiger Woods (2007).

Billy Mayfair and Tom Lehman won the Tour Championship there in 1995 and 96.

Insight

Maxwell also designed Colonial Country Club, home of the Charles Schwab Challenge, and Merion, host of the 2013 US Open.

Justin Rose has won at both of those tracks and he was not alone in being a Colonial winner in the top 10 at Merion.

Southern Hills winners Bolt, Stockton, Price and Lehman all won at Colonial, Mayfair was second there.

Of those Southern Hills winners, Woods, Goosen and Price have all won at Firestone, while Floyd and Green lost play-offs and Mayfair was twice second at the host of the old World Series of Golf/Bridgestone Invitational.

Like Southern Hills, Firestone was a tough tee to green test, tree-lined, with small greens. It did, however, feature thick rough around the greens, not the run-offs typical at this week's venue.

Player perspectives

Tiger Woods played a practice round earlier this month with the club's director of golf Cary Cozby on the bag.

Cozby told Golf Oklahoma: "Whoever wins here is going to have to be a great chipper."

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth had a bit of a buddy trip there two weeks ago and both loved it.

Thomas said: "I was blown away with just how good of a golf course it was. It challenged kind of all facets of your game."

Spieth was no less gushing, saying: "I thought the golf course was fantastic. I loved it. It was a great test. I really enjoyed playing it."

Let's get specific.

What about the long game?

Thomas: "I thought tee to green it was excellent. You have to work the ball quite a bit.

And the short game?

Thomas: "You really, really have to be good around the greens. You can't fake your way around it.

"It's tough to chip. I mean the balls roll off the green, they go pretty far away. You get some grainy, elevated greens to where it's difficult to get the ball around the hole and over the course of the round in a tournament that can be quite a few shots.

"The person who does that the best is going to have the best chance of winning."

Spieth: "The green complexes are perfectly fitting to the holes. The greens play maybe three quarters of the size that they actually are.

"There's a lot more run-offs than I remember into Bermuda chipping areas and into run-off areas that are mowed. So you can be left with a lot of really delicate little shots.

"And they have that hydronic system so they can cool it off and make it firmer, make the firmness whatever firmness they want. So they have the ability to essentially control exactly what almost score to par that they want, obviously weather dependent.

"I think it's going to be a really firm and fast PGA and I think it's going to be one of the higher scoring PGAs that we have seen."

And what of the famous Oklahoma wind? Spieth said: "We did play it in 35mph winds, so we saw it, we saw the teeth of it. That could change."

READ MORE: Justin Rose 'motivated' to win more tournaments ahead of US PGA Championship

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