In the three years that the Kemper Open has been held at Congressional Country Club, the golfers of the PGA Tour have debated what type of player has an edge on the famous, scenic layout in the rolling Maryland woodlands.
When the first peg is stabbed into the first tee Thursday to begin another Kemper, those arguments will continue. Does Congressional favor the gargantuan driver, or the pure striker of the temperamental long irons, or the indefatigable and imaginative scrambler?
All of those cases can be made, with recent past champions at the club, such as Craig Stadler ('81-82), John Mahaffey ('80) and Dave Stockton ('76 PGA) epitomizing each type. Nonetheless, what's absolutely certain, but often forgotten, is that Congressional is essentially a thinking man's golf course.
For those who walk the course or watch on television this week, a primer in pro golf's brand of brainwork may be helpful. The pro thinks his way around a golf course--especially a classic track such as the 7,173 yards of Congressional.
Let's take a tour of Congressional, inspecting which holes favor which types of players, discovering where the wise player becomes cautious and where he summons his courage.
The first hole, a 403-yard par 4 that bends gently left, is a fair introduction. Long drivers can carry the fairway traps and have a short iron to the green. A nerve-settling par should be routine. The last two years, Craig Stadler played both No. 1 and No. 2 with seven consecutive pars; then, in the final-round of '82, he birdied both.
The player's true introduction to the rigors of Congressional comes at the second, third and fourth holes: a 215-yard uphill par 3 surrounded by traps, a brutal 453-yard par 4 to another elevated green, and a 420-yard dogleg right par 4 where an errant drive can lead to a big number. No. 2 is Congressional's way of saying, "Gentlemen, start your long irons." If you can't hit those devil sticks, you can't manage Congressional. At the wide open third, the gorillas let out the longest drives they possess. The tee shot at No. 4 demands a blend of length and accuracy. Block it right and you'll need a visitor's pass to get out of jail.
"At 2-3-4, keep the ball below the hole, even if you let a stroke slip. The double bogeys are above the hole," says tournament director Labron Harris Jr., a former winner on the PGA Tour. "If you're one or two over par after the first four holes, you still have a chance for a good round."
Any player who reaches the fifth tee even-par has a chance for a bluebird day. Why? Because the next seven holes are Congressional's birdie land. In '82, Jack Nicklaus began a binge of six birdies in seven holes here. Stadler has played these holes in 12 strokes under par the last two years (with 16 birdies); he's 11 under par on the other 11 holes, which means he makes birdies at almost twice that pace.
This seven-hole heaven includes three par 5s--the strategic 542-yard sixth, the difficult 602-yard ninth and the easy 493-yard 10th.
The sixth has a beautiful grandstand where you watch third-shot wedges pepper the flag. The ninth is as tough as they make par 5s; because of a deep ravine in front of the green, all but fools and Fuzzy Zoeller will lay up.
Both of these holes show why such players of middling power as Tom Kite have a chance to win here; few get home in two strokes, so the finesse wedge players can gain strokes on the big boys on these par 5s, rather than losing them. Ironically, the short 10th also minimizes the advantage of power players. Almost everybody can get home here.
The seven-hole stretch starts and ends with manageable par 4s of comfortable length. For some reason, players have a tendency to lose their concentration on these holes. The 409-yard fifth demands a drive in the fairway if the pin is tucked right behind traps; roll an inch into the rough and you can't hold the green. The pastoral 395-yard 11th hardly seems a task, but many players misclub themselves here.
The 166-yard elevated seventh and the dainty 362-yard downhill eighth were both played a tad under par by the field in '82 and neither should cause grief.
In all, the field played these seven holes just .06 stroke over par last year, with Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 10 all playing under par.
The 12th is an idyllic, out-of-the-way 188-yard par 3 that requires a demanding, well-defined shot; it's target golf at its best. The left side of the green is open and safe, the right is trapped and tricky and closer to the stick. Stay below the hole. It's slick up top and the back trap is a nightmare.
Next comes the roller-coaster 13th and 14th, 445- and 439-yard par 4s with elevated tees and greens. They "epitomize thinking man's golf," says Harris.
You need a huge drive on the 13th to avoid a downhill long-iron shot to an elevated green; except for the buried lie in the parking lot, that may be the toughest shot in golf. Finding a way to get your approach anywhere near the pin in a big-league task.
If the wind is left to right at the 14th, nobody wants to hit; they all just stand up there throwing grass in the wind, stalling and whimpering. The majestic sight from the tee is intimidating. Even if you hit the tilted fairway, you'll probably still undo yourself. The pin's usually tucked right and those PGA egos can't get themselves to aim 15 yards left of the hole, as they should.
The 554-yard 15th, with traps in front, is another typical Congressional par 5 almost nobody can reach in two; Seve Ballesteros got there last year, so now they've let the rough grow in front. Everybody ends up with the same half-wedge third shot.
The 16th is a 211-yard par 3. There's no thinking involved. There's no preferred place to miss. Just aim at the stick. The hole's tee markers should have this inscription: "Shut up and hit a good shot." In '81, Stadler birdied this hole the last three days.
The 411-yard 17th hole--last birdie before the Clubhouse--resembles the fifth and 11th holes in that it favors a risky draw off the tee and rewards a pure drive with a good kick and a short iron to the green.
All this leaves is the best hole on the course--the world famous 465-yard 18th with its lake, its woods, its glorious downhill sweep, its spectacular clubhouse. And it's 4.47 stroke average--the highest of any par 4.
The required drive is clearly defined by the woods: hit a 280-yard draw. Don't hook under the willows, and don't push it right into the evergreens. When the pin is back left on the final day, as the gods of golf intended it, the potential champion is faced with a long-iron shot that tests his faith.
Left and long is water and oblivion. Right are traps, and the prospect of a gruesome sand shot. A man with a one-stroke lead on the 72nd hole could do worse than leave his second shot safely short of the green. That's how Stockton won the PGA.
Congressional is an emotional roller coaster for the great player. It's challenge is as much mental as physical. As history proves, it is a test that only the best can pass. SCHEDULE/ADMISSION
Today: 9 a.m.--Practice for professionals. $6; 9 a.m.--14-hole scrambles tournament for amateurs competing in Wednesday's pro-am, Gold Course; 5 p.m.--Clinic by Bobby Clampett and Scott Simpson, practice tee. Clinic is free with any Tuesday admission.
Wednesday: 7:30 a.m.--Pro-am tournament. $15 (grounds only), $22 (grounds and clubhouse).
Thursday: 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.--First round. $15, $22.
Friday: 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.--Second round. $15, $22.
Saturday: 9 a.m.--Third round. $15, $22.
Sunday: Time to be announced, depending on NBA playoffs--Final round. $15, $22.
USA Cable will televise Friday's second round on a delayed basis from 8 to 10 p.m.; CBS will televise live Saturday (3:30-4:30 p.m.) and Sunday (2-4 p.m. if there is an NBA playoff game; 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. if there is no NBA game). Tickets for the week are $60 (grounds only) and $90 (grounds and clubhouse); children's tickets (grounds only) are available today for $2 and Wednesday through Sunday for $5 daily, if child is accompanied by a paying adult.