FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The Black Course on Long Island’s Bethpage State Park, long treasured as more inhumane than its intra-park neighbors the Blue Course, the Red Course, the Green Course and the Yellow Course, could use a break if not a mulligan. As it stages its third major golf tournament beginning Thursday, a PGA Championship that has moved on the schedule from August to May, it seeks its first turn of fine golf theater after two duds.
Good promise is there, right from the 8:24 a.m. tee-off at the 10th hole by reigning Masters champion Tiger Woods, reigning U.S. Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka and reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari. It’s a very respected course with a very remunerated 156-player field. Player after player seems to fancy the new April-May-June-July calendar of majors.
The 7,459-yard horror seems ready to reward both might and accuracy.
Molinari called it “long, very long and extremely long.”
Woods said, “There’s a lot of property.”
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy said, “Length is definitely going to be a big factor this week.”
Serial major contender Xander Schauffele called it “this monster golf course” and said, “It’ll wear you out.”
Koepka said: “It’s almost 7,500. Wet, it’s going to be playing about 77 [-hundred]. That’s a long golf course.”
With that, he used a word that has ruined bygone days here: “wet.”
The forecast as of Wednesday did not look particularly wet, which must have come as some relief to those who wish something momentous for Bethpage Black. It had sunshine peeking from the graphic Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, with only Friday looking rainy in a cold month around the nearby metropolis.
Past woes began with the 2002 U.S. Open, when the course Golf Digest ranks No. 8 among U.S. public courses became the first publicly owned course to hold a U.S. Open. Woods had won seven of the previous 10 majors, including the 2002 Masters. He grabbed a lead and kept it all four days even if it did not mushroom into the fascinating length of, say, his 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (15 shots) and British Open at St. Andrews (eight shots).
He won at Bethpage by three. He played Sunday with one Sergio Garcia and zero suspense. Phil Mickelson sort of made a Sunday charge and sort of didn’t. Woods, then 26, finished in near-darkness on Sunday. He pulled the ball out of the cup, stood up, pumped his arms. Nobody remembers much else about the competition. It featured no memorable shots replayed and discussed in tipsy circles among the golf-addled.
If anything, that tournament stands out for two sideshows: the relative verbal barbarism of the New York crowds (an exhausted topic), and the relative wailing of Garcia (then a budding topic), whom fans needled for his waggle (by then an old topic). On the tournament’s second day, Garcia played during an afternoon rainy enough to foil even the squeegees (as opposed to the drizzle of the Woods-graced morning), and Garcia made the comment, “And I don’t know, if Tiger Woods had been out there, I think it would have been called.”
On the Saturday morning, he left a note in Woods’s locker, apologizing. On the Saturday evening, the king of the game, Woods, ruled that Garcia’s apology had been “awfully nice,” and that it “shows me a lot.” Etiquette had been restored.
All told, it wasn’t exactly Ali-Frazier.
Bethpage Black tried again with the 2009 U.S. Open, when it became the pitiable victim of celestial unkindness. Determined waves of rain caused its Thursday round to finish on Friday, its Friday round to finish on Saturday, its Saturday round to finish on Sunday and its Sunday round to finish on Monday.
The winner, Lucas Glover, played zero holes on Thursday, 31 on Friday, five on Saturday, 19 on Sunday and 17 on Monday. David Duval contended and told reporters on Sunday, “It’s been so screwy, I barely remember it’s Sunday.” Ricky Barnes contended heavily and said: “It’s kind of like being stuck in an airport and they won’t refund you. But you’ll come back and you’ll get to your destination every once in a while.”
Humanity had failed, yet again, to invent retractable-dome golf. It was famed sportswriter Dan Jenkins’s 200th major tournament, so Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson asked Jenkins if it had been the worst.
“So far,” Jenkins deadpanned.
With a third try in a second kind of major about to get underway, the game carries still the glow of Woods’s triumph last month at Augusta, at age 43. Only Woods, of course, can compare it to the 7,214-yard grind on which he won 17 years ago.
“There are more par fours over 500 yards now than there were then, certainly,” he said. “When we were here in 2002, this was one of the biggest ballparks you’ve ever seen, and it’s only gotten bigger.” He said, “In order to win this one, driving is going to be at the forefront,” and he cited “a component to stamina as the week goes on.”
While staying out of the rough is always a good idea in golf as well as life, doing so here seems to be central to the players’ stated priorities. “You’re not going to make too many birdies,” the muscular Koepka said, “and when you can, you really need to take advantage of it because there’s not too many holes where you step up on the tee and you’re like, ‘Man, this is an easy hole, I can really take advantage of it.’ ”
He summed it up: “Take care of the par-fives and just try to hang on on the rest of them.”
Amid this enormous state park with horse rentals, indoor-outdoor tennis (including clay courts), cross-country-ski trails and hiking, and with the Long Island Rail Road dispensing passengers onto shuttle buses given the limited parking, Bethpage Black tries again. As said Schauffele, a 25-year-old with a large future, “You definitely can’t fake it out here.”
Not faking it in pristine weather would be preferable, not to mention due.