By Dan Reardon
The PGA Championship celebrates its centennial edition this week at Bellerive Country Club in suburban St. Louis. In the family of golf majors, the PGA is still younger than the Open Championship and U.S. Open, which both date back to the 19th century. The Masters, born in the 1930s, is the youngest of the four.
Bellerive has its own historic genealogy to add to the cachet of number 100. In 1965, the then five-year-old course hosted the U.S. Open, still the youngest U.S. Open site ever. The 1992 PGA Championship at Bellerive was the organization’s first sellout in its history. Bellerive is also one of the few sites to host the U.S. Open, the PGA, the Senior U.S. Open and the Senior PGA.
The Robert Trent Jones-designed course opened in 1960 and has received two facelifts from his son Rees over the years. The 2005 upgrade moved fairways and bunkers and expanded putting surfaces. It’s currently a par 70 that plays 7,329 yards long. The par-3 sixth is Bellerive’s shortest hole at 213 yards, and with little room for error, can be one of its most difficult. For nearly a half century, the hole played the highest to par in U.S. Open history.
CBS Sports’ Gary McCord returns to Bellerive for the first time since 1992, when Nick Price broke through for his first major win. He gives his thoughts on this week’s tournament.
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Each week on TOUR we see distances off the tee that are difficult to comprehend. The weekend at Firestone, with as much player history as any course on TOUR, was a clinic for that sort of firepower. What is the definition of a long golf course these days?
I don’t think there is a long golf course in today’s world. Last week Rory was playing a driver and seven iron into the 16th hole that was playing at 648 yards… real yards, albeit all downhill. You really have to take notice of that. Somebody asked me [a similar question] the other day, and I said: “I guess 8500 to 8800 yards for these guys to be hitting driver 5 iron to a hole.”
I don’t think there is any way you can stop this. You just take it for what it is and hit it between the trees at 370. Have at it. Nick Faldo and I would talk during breaks that they are hitting sand wedges into holes that we were hitting three irons into.
Bellerive has 11 dogleg holes that move from right to left. In today’s game, how much of a factor is it for a player’s natural shot shape to fit the hole?
Tiger started a philosophy that you better be able to work that ball in both ways. Because at some point, there is going to be a back-right pin, and if you hook the ball, you better be able to get to that back-right pin on the 72nd hole to win. You can’t take a hook and shoot to the middle of the green. He changed that delivery.
And all these good players you see now, these superstars will now play the ball one way or the other. They don’t play their favorite shot. These guys are multitalented and can move it one way or another to get to where they need to go.
Bellerive is famous for their enormous greens. It’s similar to Congressional, where Rees Jones did the same thing. What’s the key to playing greens that size?
I remember at Forest Oaks in Greensboro, we used to play the Greensboro Tournament there. They had massive greens, and you became a little lazy with that fact. You actually hit it on the green, but when you didn’t focus, you ended up with 50-foot putts. Then you’re three-putting 20% of the greens on the golf course. So you really need to focus on the quadrant — Where are you trying hit the ball? — and not just trying to hit the ball on the green.
I had a tendency to wander. I think most guys do. Again, it’s a game of focus and trying to position the ball to shoot the best score, not just getting it on the green.
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Justin Thomas is trying to win back-to-back majors, but he is also trying to win on the PGA TOUR in consecutive weeks. Which is the harder task?
Probably back-to-back tournaments. That has been proven over the history of golf to be the hardest thing, because the press notifies you right away what you are trying accomplish. And [that] it hasn’t been done that often.
Is there a player you have a warm feeling about this week for any reason?
It’s easy to pick Dustin [Johnson] or Justin [Thomas or [Brooks] Koepka or guys like that. [But] I would look at Xander Schauffele. He learned a lot at the British Open, and he has the game to do it. He’s right where he needs to be and is ready to go and make a name for himself. He is playing fantastic. So I look for him to do pretty well.
Instead of a long shot, I want to ask you about McIlroy. Because as good as he was off the tee at Firestone, he never could take advantage of it. Is that something you can fix in one week to be competitive?
It looks like he has been trying to fix it. Rory has a golf game based on his driver swing. And that driver swing leaks down into the short irons, which is the dropping of a plane to the inside on the down swing. With that, the ball is going to hook, and you have one shot. And there is some speed with it.
I saw him middle of the year, and it really looked good. It was going back on one plane and coming down on the same plane. And from there you can do a lot of extraordinary things, but I see him starting to drop it again. If he cleans that up, he might have a shot. When you’re hitting it 370 down the middle of the fairway, you should be able to figure out how to get it on the green somewhere close.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.