Retief Goosen Previews Changes at Southern Hills for the PGA

2022 PGA Championship, Southern Hills, (Photo by Gary Kellner/PGA of America via Getty Images)
2022 PGA Championship, Southern Hills, (Photo by Gary Kellner/PGA of America via Getty Images) /

Even though he may not be playing in the PGA Championship, Retief Goosen, winner of the 2001 U.S. Open played at Southern Hills, has great memories of how the course played then versus now. Goosen played it most recently in the 2021 Senior PGA Championship where he finished third.

“It’s a totally different golf course now,” Goosen explained in a pre-tournament interview for the Mitsubishi Electric Classic.  “When I played it, it was narrow, four- or five-inch rough.”

At the time, 2001, it had other challenges as well, including what was, then, the longest par 5 in U.S. Open history.  That record has now been eclipsed several times.   The hole was No. 5, at 643 yards.  The tee, then, had been lengthened 35 yards.  Clearly, the USGA was trying to have an actual three-shot par 5.

That year, Southern Hills also had the longest par 4 in US Open history.  It was the 16th hole, which had been stretched to 491 yards.

These days, that’s nothing for PGA Tour professionals. According to Bob Harig, who at the time was writing for the Tampa Bay Tribune, the green at the 16th was designed for receiving short irons shots, and having that extra length assured that short irons would likely not be the clubs hit to the green.

According to Southern Hills course superintendent Russ Myers in a Golf Digest article, the most sweeping changes from 2007, when a previous PGA Championship was held there, to now is in fairway width.  Myers said that when the earlier championships, particularly US Opens, were held, the fairways were typically 27 or 28 yards wide.  Now, they are 40 yards wide, part of a Gil Hanse restoration project of this historic course.

Goosen thought they looked even wider in May of 2021.

“Now it’s 50-yard wide fairways and 50 yards longer every hole,” he explained.

In addition, there are runoffs.

2022 PGA Championship, Southern Hills, Retief Goosen, PGA, 104th PGA Championship
2022 PGA Championship, Southern Hills, (Photo credit should read -/AFP via Getty Images) /

“The runoffs are ridiculous,” he said. “The ball running 50, 60 yards away from the green. It’s going to be interesting to see how it’s going to play for the regular guys playing there later, but for me personally, I honestly preferred the old school, the old style.”

Speaking of runoffs, Goosen won his second US Open in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills, where he seemed to be one of the few golfers who could land a ball on the treacherous greens and have it stay on the putting surface. Many greens that year had runoffs.

How bad were they?  I remember seeing one golfer hit a ball to a severely elevated green only to have it roll off the putting surface and back down to the bottom of a steep hill where he had hit from originally.  It seemed to be steeper than the elevation of No. 9 at Augusta National. So, there are runoffs, and there are serious runoffs.

Hanse, in the same Golf Digest article, addressed the runoff issue.  He predicted that golfers will have a tough time holding the greens if they hit on the edges of them.  That’s when the ball will get rejected.  At Shinnecock, the unfortunate golfer’s ball landed in the middle of the green and backed off.  That’s when a setup gets unfair.

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However, one thing to look forward to is that Southern Hills in May will at least be slightly cooler than Southern Hills was for the PGA in August.  The biggest problems may be severe thunderstorms and, God forbid, tornadoes!