JOHNS CREEK, GA. – Phil Mickelson has begun to dabble in course design, and he has certain principles he likes to see. For major championships, for instance, he prefers when organizers make the easy holes easier — to set up scoring chances — but make the hard holes harder, so good decision-making and execution is rewarded. He does not like courses with forced carries over water and no bail-out areas, because he feels they penalize the every-day golfer.
With all this in mind, don’t count Mickelson as a fan of Rees Jones, the renowned architect who helped tweak Atlanta Athletic Club in the 10 years since it last hosted the PGA Championship.
“Modern architecture, there are some great ones,” Mickelson said, “but the guy that redid this one — you know, it’s great for the championship, but it’s not great for the membership.”
Mickelson’s views on Jones are nothing new. At the U.S. Open in June at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, he called the 18th hole “the epitome of a great golf hole,” but the par-3 10th — completely designed by Jones — is “the complete opposite,” he said.
Mickelson is particularly appalled here by the par 3s, the shortest of which is playing 184 yards. The 15th is at 260 yards with water at the front right.
“It’s a perfect example of how modern architecture is killing the game, because these holes are unplayable for the member,” Mickelson said. “You have water in front and you have a bunker behind, and you give the player no avenue to run a shot up. . . .
“Now, for us out here, it doesn’t make a bit of difference, because we are going to fly the ball to the green either way. And that’s why I say it’s great for the championship. But it’s a good reason why the number of rounds are down on this golf course amongst the membership.”
Mickelson opened his PGA with a 1-over 71, and he started with a three-putt at his first hole, the 10th.
“I spotted the field two shots right at the get-go,” Mickelson said. “Didn’t happen again the rest of the day, and I’m not going to let that happen again the rest of the week.”
Club officials suffered nearly a calamitous embarrassment Wednesday evening when course maintenance workers gouged the 14th and 17th greens with mowers. Though the staff worked quickly to patch the affected areas, they were deemed to be ground under repair, and players were allowed free relief if the patchwork interfered with their putts.
“It’s a little bit like cutting yourself with a razor on your wedding day,” said Ken Mangum, the director of golf courses and grounds at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Exactly how this happened couldn’t be ascertained.
“Nothing mechanical,” Mangum said. “No operator error. It occurred almost simultaneously to two mowers, and we’ve checked the mowers, we’ve checked the people, we’ve checked everything. They’ve already mowed the rest of the golf course, so it’s a little mystery to me why it happened.”
The PGA Championship grants 20 entries to club pros from around the country, and Rockville native Danny Balin — who works as an assistant pro at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. — got his second taste of a major. Balin, 29, missed the cut a year ago at Whistling Straits and opened with an 81 Thursday that began with a double bogey at the second and a triple at the fourth.
“The first four holes kind of just got me,” he said. The low club pro was 43-year-old Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, who shot a 1-under 69. . . . Fairfax native Steve Marino began his PGA Championship with a 71 that included a pair of double bogeys on his first nine, the back, but four birdies, including one at his final hole of the day, the ninth. … The most shocking round of the day may have come from 19-year-old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa, whose 85 included five double bogeys and one triple, and he didn’t make a single birdie.