USPGA Championship 2013 blog: driving key

It might sound slightly superfluous to suggest driving will be important at a major championship, but you simply won’t be able to win the USPGA Championship Oak Hill if you’re not keeping your ball in the fairway.

Oak Hill’s East Course is one of the toughest driving courses in the United States, a product of narrow fairways, undulations, thick rough and thousands of oak trees peppered around the property.

In 2003, only three players were under par at the end of 72 holes. In 1983, when Jack Nicklaus triumphed, he was the only played to finish in the red.

I’m not suggesting that’s entirely down to the difficulty of finding the fairway, but it’s certainly a contributing factor. It’s simple. If you’re not hitting the short grass on a course with thick rough and firm, undulating putting surfaces, you’re struggling to make par.

Next week, I strongly suspect the winner will come from high up in the PGA Tour’s Total Driving category, because the combination of accuracy and distance is the key to succeeding around Oak Hill. Many will use driver sparingly this week to keep the ball in play, but those who have faith in finding the fairways with the big stick will have a significant advantage.

Glancing at the top 15 in the current Total Driving statistics, I see many players who I’m expecting to contend next week: Justin Rose (1), Henrik Stenson (3), Keegan Bradley (4), Hunter Mahan (8), Billy Horschel (12) and Adam Scott (13) amongst them.

Oak Hill is a ball striker’s course, and many of the players above rank highly in that category. It’s a tough one to call, as all majors are nowadays, but those who are able to put their ball in play consistently will have the advantage.

That’s not to say someone who ranks low down in Total Driving won’t win next week, but
I’ll be using that ranking as a starting point when I consider where to stake my money for the USPGA Championship.