Flicking on to PGA Tour coverage through most of the year delivers pretty much the same viewing experience. You’ll see the same players hiding under their baseball caps as they putt their way round courses that look almost identical week after week. The layouts are lush and impossibly green with tree-lined fairways leading to sprawling and receptive greens surrounded by wide and shallow bunkers, filled with perfect white sand.
The view rarely differs when we’re treated to the “Fabulous overhead pictures from the MetLife blimp… Snoopy 1 on the east coast, Snoopy 2 on the west… MetLife for the ‘if’ in life.”
I can’t believe the commentators actually have to pitch the advertising slogans like that on American TV. I remember, when I first started watching US golf coverage in the 1990s, I found it hysterical that Gary McCord’s magic white pen (the one he used for drawing swing planes and target points on the screen) was sponsored by, Just for Men. Every time he got it out, he or one of his co-commentators would say, “Gary McCord’s telestrator there. Brought to you by Just for Men. Blends away grey in just five minutes.” Incredible stuff.
Anyway, the MetLife (for the ‘If’ in Life) blimp generally looks down on manicured, straight edged golf holes surrounded by “desirable real estate.” But this week at the USPGA Championship, the aerial shots are rather different. Looking down on Whistling Straits is like staring at a child’s butterfly painting – there isn’t a straight edge in sight. The fairways are difficult to identify as they pick their way through a rash of bunkers. The terrain is undulating with steep drop-offs towards the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan beside greens that perch precariously on the land’s edge.
What I’m trying to say is, the course looks great. While watching last night I found myself thinking I would love to go and play Whistling Straits – it’s a feeling I’ve rarely experienced when watching US golf. Of course I’d love to have a go at Augusta and Pebble Beach looks alright, but the majority I could take or leave. Whistling Straits, however, seems pretty special. I actually went to my computer before bed to see how easy it would be to get to Kohler, Wisconsin. Milwaukee is the nearest big city – that’s where Happy Days was set – and Chicago is only a couple of hour’s drive. Luckily I’d only had a couple of glasses of Rioja or I might have woken to find an email confirming my flight reservations.
I have to say though, it must be a pretty tough track for the paying punter. The top pros are pretty good at plotting their way round any course and avoiding the hazards (although none of them will be able to do that for four rounds at Whistling Straits – there are nearly 1,000 bunkers!) but your average Joe who has little idea of the possible direction of his next blow, could have a complete nightmare out there. I would guess, during high season, there are some pretty slow rounds played at Whistling Straits.
I’ve put my standard host of bets on this week and, unusually, some of my men are still in the running with the first round almost completed. Nick Watney and Matt Kuchar are up at the top of the leaderboard while Ryan Palmer and Martin Laird (250-1) are under par. When I saw Soren Hansen at 300-1, I thought I had to have a small flutter – seemed long odds for a former Ryder Cupper. But, those bookies know what they’re doing – he’s six-over through 13 holes.