(CBS San Francisco)- This week’s PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park will look different than any major that we’ve seen before. No fans will be in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic and the golfer’s take on a Harding Park course that presents a variety of different challenges.
CBS Sports golf reporter Amanda Balionis says that the lack of fans will actually test golfers in a different way on this particular course.
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“I think that really just allows the golf course to show all of its teeth. The rough won’t be trampled down. The rough is around three and a half inches right now, but it’s going to be really thick and unpredictable and continue to get worse,” said Balionis in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “I was just talking to Michelle Wie West before this and you can’t really see how big those trees are or appreciate how big they are on television. She said the fact that there are exposed trunks can really cause more chaos than you’d expect because you can see crazy bounces and landing areas.”
Aside for the potential hazards that golfers face for not keeping the ball in the fairway off the tee, the greens will be different than what they’re used to from a normal West Coast stop.
“The greens have been resurfaced so they’re not the bumpy Poana that we’re used to seeing out West but there’s just enough Po left in it that you’re going to see some putts do things they’re probably not supposed to do in probably some
big-time moments especially as the week rolls on and things start to firm up a bit,” said Balionis.
Those challenges are ones that golfers on the Tour are used to adjusting to each week. Each course presents differing lengths of rough, a different speed to the greens and whether it’s trees, bunkers or both, different hazards to avoid with wayward tee shots. But, one other aspect that will be interesting to watch this weekend is the weather. The temperature is shaping up to be in the mid-50s to low 60s with winds anywhere between 10 and 18 miles per hour with the added element of fog throughout the weekend. Balionis says the fog, which she has affectionately named Carl, has made a huge appearance already this week. Combine those weather factors and there’s likely to be less length to shots than guys are used to.
“It’s been 55 degrees. Cold, fog, the ball is not going to go as far as we’re used to seeing the last six weeks,” said Balionis. “Accuracy is going to be key, length is going to be key and as always putting down the stretch will be as well.”
The PGA Championship is the first-ever major held at TPC Harding Park, a course that has seen its share of challenges over the years. At one point, things got so bad that the course’s fairways were used as parking lots for the 1998 U.S. Open held at Olympic Club. Just seven years later it held a WGC event at which John Daly remarked that the renovation of the course was so good “They need to park cars at the Olympic Club and play the U.S. Open over here.” For Balionis, this is the part she loves about the PGA Championship. It’s held at courses that the public can go and play to test their mettle at the same place the pros do.
“I think that, to me, is one of the coolest things about the PGA Championship. We get to see public courses, municipal courses that me or you can go out and play. Harding Park is really the epitome of that,” said Balionis. “When you go an roll up there, the clubhouse is a pretty average clubhouse, it’s not an intimidating place like Bethpage Black that has all of those signs “Beware” and stuff. TPC Harding Park is one of those courses that makes you feel like you belong and you can get around on.”
“It’s Going To Be Who Can Be Longest And Straightest Off The Tee”
Make no mistake, the course is made more difficult for the professionals, Balionis says, but the point remains that it becomes a connection point for growing the game with fans able to access the same course that the best in the world played. Speaking of the best in the world, they will be out in full force this week. The field, as you would expect for a major, is stacked with all of the big names fans could hope for. So, with the challenges the course presents, who’s game best measures up?
“It’s going to be who can be the longest and straightest off the tee. If Brooks Koepka can straighten out a couple of the things we saw last week, he is very much going to be in play here going for that three-peat,” said Balionis. “Rory McIlroy, you cannot ignore Rory McIlroy this to me, screams his name.”
Kopeka, coming off a T-2nd last week at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, appears to have rounded back into form after being hampered by a knee injury in the beginning of the return to play. McIlroy, looking for his first major win since 2014, has struggled a bit since the return, his best finish being a T-11 at the Travelers. Outside of that he’s finished T-32, T-41, T-32 and T-47. But, he won the WGC-Cadillac Match Play at Harding Park back in 2015.
Another player that Balionis likes this week who is a bit more off the beaten path is Daniel Berger. Currently 20th in the Official World Golf Rankings, Berger finished T-2nd with Koepka and others last week. Balionis points to his recent track record and his game as reasons she believes he could be in the hunt.
“Daniel Berger is another one, someone that maybe would be considered a little bit of a sleeper but very few players have been as hot as he’s been so far with the restart,” said Balionis. “He’s long off the tee, extremely accurate and his putter has been as good as it’s ever been in his career.
Then, of course, there is the talk of the golf world this summer, Bryson DeChambeau. The 26-year-old has inspired plenty of conversation based on his physical transformation and increased length off the tee. That excitement generated each week by seeing what he can do has been a consistent theme since the restart.
“Bryson DeChambeau, you can never count him out now, I love that someone other than Tiger Woods has become must watch golf, you never know what he’s going to do, what he’s going to say,” said Balionis. “He’s worked his butt off and legitimately changed the game. If he can overpower this golf course and keep it straight? He could be one that we see rise very quickly up the leaderboard.”
Balionis will be on course talking with players as part of THE CBS coverage this weekend but she will also be part of this month’s episode of We Need To Talk, which is set to air at 3 p.m. EDT heading into CBS’ golf coverage at 4 p.m. Balionis says she’s loved her experience working on the show and that she hopes it becomes more of a norm and less an exception when it comes to all-women hosted, produced and anchored sports talk shows. Balionis says it’s been powerful to highlight women’s experiences like that of Michelle Wie West who is juggling being a new mother, a broadcaster, a Solheim Cup assistant captain and looking to play in the event next year.
“Talk about a powerhouse. She just had a baby, she’s about to broadcast a major and on top of that has accepted the assistant captain job for the Solheim Cup oh and by the way in between her newborn baby’s naps, she’s taking the baby out to the driving range to get her game dialed in because she hopes to be playing on that Solheim Cup team next year,” said Balionis. “Those are the things that women, we just we grow humans, we have humans and then keep on working and that’s just an experience that is so unique and so powerful. It’s wonderful to be able to talk to those women about that and see how they literally do it all and still have such high expectations for themselves in their career. I have to think it’s hugely motivational and inspirational and hopefully eye-opening too for our male counterparts.”
We Need To Talk airs this Saturday for the first time on CBS beginning at 3 p.m. EST/PST and leading into the network’s golf coverage beginning at 4 p.m.
Watch the PGA Championship, Saturday, August 8, 4:00 – 10:00 p.m. EST/PST and Sunday, August 9, 3:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on CBS.