Terry Diehl Previews Oak Hill for The PGA Championship

1995 Ryder Cup, Oak Hill Country Club,(Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images)
1995 Ryder Cup, Oak Hill Country Club,(Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images) /

With the PGA Championship next week, finding someone with expertise at playing Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester is important.  Luckily, Terry Diehl, former PGA Tour pro and friend of The Golf Show 2.0, was willing to discuss some of his good and bad and ugly-but-memorable shots there.

As Terry Diehl explained, part of the history of Oak Hill had to do with a retired physician who wrote to people around the world and asked for acorns from trees in their countries. His name was Dr. John R. Williams.

He took all the acorns and other tree seeds and planted them in cans and grew them to sapling size and then started his planting program. Diehl says Williams planted literally thousands of trees at Oak Hill, primarily oak and elm.

Diehl, better known as Diehler to his friends and fellow very good golfers, grew up in the Rochester area and was a golf phenom in his youth.

The New York State Golf Association recently inducted him into their Hall of Fame.   

Many years ago, Oak Hill Country Club even planted a tree in Diehl’s honor and installed a plaque on the course to commemorate his accomplishments. That was then. But things change, as you’ll soon find out.

"“The last time I was there, (I noticed) they chopped my tree down.” – Terry Diehl"

Fairly recently Oak Hill went on a chainsaw program, much like Oakmont did before the 2016 U.S. Open, which was won by Dustin Johnson. Oakmont looked fairly bald compared to what everyone had become accustomed to seeing. We may find something similar at Oak Hill. Terry Diehl did when he played with two old friends.

“The last time I was there, (I noticed) they chopped my tree down,” Diehl explained.

Then he noticed that the plaque was also gone and asked about its demise.

“They’re going, like, ah, we threw it in a creek,” he continued.  At first, he didn’t believe that, but they just said they’d get back to him, and so far, they haven’t!

“I found out they chopped down Nicklaus’ and (Lee) Trevino’s trees, too. So, I’m in good company,” he added.

As far as memories, Terry Diehl recalled playing in the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, which Jack Nicklaus won, his last major until the miraculous 1986 Masters. After the third round, Diehl was in fifth place, tied with Curtis Strange. He played with Strange and Gil Morgan on Sunday.

In the final round, Terry Diehl birdied the 3rd, and, as we all know, birdies are precious at majors.

He didn’t quite hit his tee shot in the center on the 4th, and ended up in a bunker on the right. That bunker is deeper now, he contends.

"“I was hitting a 6-iron out, and it kind of hit the top of the bunker, corkscrewed down, hit a guy in the foot in the gallery, and it went about 30 yards to the right, out of bounds on Kilbourn Road,” he recalled."

He called for a ruling, knowing he was probably going to have to drop in the bunker. At that time, a drop was over the shoulder, ensuring a plugged lie would result.

"Years later Strange told him it was the worst break he’d ever seen anybody get."

“Make a long story short and wind up making a seven,” he said. “I was basically in shock the rest of the round. I made a couple birdies and a couple of gratuitous bogeys, but, you know, I never really got back in it.”

Years later Strange told him it was the worst break he’d ever seen anybody get.

One of Diehl’s friends was a marshal at the tournament and kind of tried to get the rules official to call the ball in instead of out saying something like, come on, he’s from Rochester, he can’t be out of bounds.

But there was payback to come. In the early 1990s, Terry Diehl bought a house four doors down from the fourth green.

“I had a couple dogs, and I trained the dogs to go to the bathroom in this bunker. So, eventually the superintendent grabs me one day said, uh, Diehler, you know, I know the story. Our guys are tired of cleaning the dog stuff out of the bunker,” Diehl laughed. “Revenge is mine!”  ( Diehl doesn’t live there anymore. He’s semi-retired and living in an undisclosed location in Florida.)

Now, back to the renovation, besides cutting down thousands of trees, several holes were switched around, totally changed, or made otherwise unrecognizable. In other words, prepare to be confused if you have been there before and don’t know why the holes look different.

Wholesale changes have been made. For example, according to Diehl, the late Dan Jenkins once wrote a story about the 18 best golf holes in the U.S. for Sports Illustrated.

“Two holes in there from Oak Hill. Number five and number 18. Those were two of the first holes they changed,” Diehl said.

Terry Diehl, PGA Championship, Oak Hill Country Club, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino
1995 Ryder Cup, Oak Hill Country Club, (Photo by Timothy A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images) /

The 18th is where the 1995 European Ryder Cup team memorably sang “Philip Walton, we love you!” when he made the winning putt.  However, its proximity to the clubhouse was going to cause congestion, a very serious bottleneck, so it has been changed. To what remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, what people want to know is, based on his expertise,

Who does Terry Diehl think might win?

“I think the whole tournament is going to be weather dependent,” Diehl said.

"“I was looking at the history of the scores. (Jason) Duffner shot 10-under, which is the lowest ever shot there, and, you know, somebody could get to that number if you have great weather.”"

But, he noted, it’s Rochester in May. It could be snowing. However, the key to winning, he noted, is mastering the greens. He cited the 1968 U.S. Open where he said Nicklaus outplayed Trevino, because Nicklaus kept hitting the ball pin high.

"“You hit the ball pin high, you get these rainbow type putts because Donald Ross, and a lot of the, you know, Mackenzie, Tillinghast, they would build the golf courses so they drained from back to front,” Diehl explained. “They’d be receptive for the shots coming in, so a lot of the holes you’ll see players look at yardage, but they’ll ask their caddies what is it to the front edge.”"

As Terry Diehl noted, there’s nothing more frightening than having the ball above the hole in a major when the greens are running at 12 or 13 on the Stimpmeter.

“At 15 footer above the hole, with the U.S Open, you know, it’s like how do you stop it?” he asked.

If the weather takes a turn for the worse, Diehl said look for a mentally tough player. Somebody who can take a golf punch and keep going.

Next. 2023 AT&T Byron Nelson Power Rankings. dark

His pick to win is going to be a bit controversial. He’s going with Brooks Koepka because he’s strong, his game is coming back, and he’s now healthy.

See the Oak Hill course as it is now.

You can watch the full Terry Diehl interview, including more amazing and hilarious stories here: