CBS and ESPN Ready for Some Wind for PGA at Kiawah’s Ocean Course

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 06: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot from the first tee during the first round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 06, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 06: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot from the first tee during the first round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 06, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The wind and the late Pete Dye will determine how dangerous the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is this week at the PGA Championship. If it were up to Pete, you’d need flame throwers, bazookas and a couple dozen heat seeking missiles to attack it.

As CBS’s Sir Nick Faldo recalled, “When we first went there in ‘91 for the Ryder Cup, you could be 30 feet from the pin and have 2 hits, and you’d be in your pocket. You couldn’t finish the hole.”

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The Ryder Cup is match play. Obviously, in stroke play for the PGA, they can’t do that. They have to count every shot, no matter how many. But Faldo’s comment on the way the course can play hits the center of the bullseye when describing what golfers could face.  Plus it could be windy.

The PGA Championship is on the coast this year. The last time it was played there in 2012, winds reached 30 MPH.  Because of that, CBS is adding an anemometer, a wind meter, according to Sean McManus, Chairman of CBS Sports.

How windy was it? The wind blew 20-30 on Friday.  A thunderstorm rolled in on Saturday.  That’s windy enough.

This week, according to the Weather Channel, winds are slated to be between 10 and 15 MPH every day.  The direction will change, though, and it’s not until Sunday that it will blow from the direction that Faldo said was hardest for golfers.

“If the southwest wind comes, you start in left to right and you finish when you turn and come from 13 in, you finish all the way in the worst professional wind,” he said during a CBS media call last week.

While, we are not meteorologists, what you should know about the lay of the land at Kiawah Island, especially if you are putting money on anyone, is that the land runs mainly east and west, not north and south and not southwest to northeast, as Hilton Head Island does.

The Weather Channel forecast for Kiawah calls  for an easterly wind on Thursday and Friday.   That means it will be mostly into the golfers from the 1st through the 4th  and 15th  through 18th .  It will be downwind on 6th-13th and crosswind from left to right on the 5th and the 14th.

For Saturday, the Weather Channel says to expect north winds for part of the day with the wind shifting to the south, but they give no idea of when.  That could be calamitous.  It means that all but the 5th and 14th will be playing in crosswinds. Those two holes will play either into or down wind, depending on the tee time of the player.

It means that during the north wind part of the day, the 1st through the 14th and 15th through 18th will have a left to right cross wind, the 6th through 13 will have a right to left cross wind and the 5th and 14th will play down wind.

When the wind shifts to coming from the south, it means that the 1st through 4th and 15th through 18th will play with a right to left cross wind, the 6th through the 13th will play with a left to right cross wind and the 5th and 14th will play into the wind.

In the past, Faldo has said that the wind changes when the tide changes.  Ian Baker Finch wrote something similar several years ago before he worked for CBS.

Assuming these two know what they are talking about, and we should, high tide is at 4:47 AM and 5:45 PM on Saturday.  Low tide is at 11:47 AM.  So, look for a wind shift at that time or near that time. It could mean that the leaders will face a different wind than the early tee times on Saturday.

Sunday, the wind is supposed to come from the southwest, the one Faldo says is the worst.

However, talking generally about the challenge for the week, Curtis Strange for ESPN, said the golfers will all need to control their trajectories this week. That, of course, is due to the wind.  But it’s also due to the design.

“This is the type of golf course you’ve got to keep it in play and set up second shots,” Strange added in a media call last week.

“When it was last played at Kiawah, the PGA was played there in August,” Andy North for ESPN recalled in the same call. “I am expecting we’ll see more wind this year in May, and that golf course with even 12 to 15 miles an hour can be really, really brutal.”

So that’s what they expect, but who do they expect to emerge and challenge?

“Anytime you win majors by six, eight shots, whatever it is, it’s ridiculous,” North said about Rory McIlroy. “That was in a stretch where it looked like he was going to do that all the time.”

“Any time Dustin Johnson steps on the golf course, he’s a threat,”  Strange added.

When it comes to Bryson DeChambeau, Strange had an opinion.

“He’s got to drive it straighter. His rank on Tour in driving accuracy is 136,” Strange pointed out. “He’s got to do a little better than that here.”

“When you’re launching it up there and it stays in the air for eight, nine seconds, the wind is going to affect it at some point in time,” North noted. “Judging that is going to be difficult.”

While most at CBS didn’t make a pick for the victory circle, Faldo did offer two alternatives, depending on the weather.

First, he said, it could depend on the draw, depending on how the weather changes during the early rounds: who gets early/ late tee times, who gets late /early tee times and what the weather is during those windows.  However, the two he mentioned were McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, which he noted have two different styles of play.

“If it becomes a real long, pounding test, then obviously the ball strikers have an advantage,” he said, “but if it becomes hard work with the wind and firm conditions and even good shots miss greens, then it’s going to become a real scrambling test and the scrambling there is off the charts.”

In other words, if the wind lies down, look for Rory. If the wind is up, look for the best scrambler, and Spieth has the category covered eight ways to Sunday.  Look no further than his British Open victory with the shot from the practice area.

Both, he added, are highly motivated.  McIlroy to win more majors and Spieth for the grand slam.

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“Career grand slam.  We know how rare that is,” Faldo said.  “If he’s well and he has his strength back after COVID, this is a very real possibility. To me that is story number one of the PGA Championship.”