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Azinger, Team USA looking for luck -- and points -- at short 13th
By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Ever since Valhalla Golf Club was announced as the host of the 37th Ryder Cup, one of the most anticipated sub-plots would be the if Team USA could gain an advantage by setting up the course to cater to its strengths.
"Europe has done a great job of exploiting an advantage on us for a long time," explained Team USA Captain Paul Azinger. "I am looking for anything I can get. This is the first time that we have done this, and it might just be a perception thing. But if I can get a perceived advantage, then I am going to hunt it down."
From a barely perceptible first cut of rough, intended to be as non-penal as possible for the longer-hitting Team USA and thus often referred to as "Azinger's Cut," to the speed of the greens, Azinger's quest certainly has Team USA feeling like it has left no stone unturned to find an edge.
Perhaps nowhere might this perceived advantage come into play more than on the signature hole of Valhalla Golf Club, hole no. 13.
Nicknamed "The Island," this short, downhill par 4 would seemingly be a respite from the strenuous test that this Jack Nicklaus design presents -- under most circumstances. Even the water, which cuts across the fairway about 300 yards from the tee and then surrounds the green, and the e;evated green, which is built up 20 feet high and protected on its banks by large boulders, would seem to serve more as a backdrop than a true test of skill for the world's best players. But in this week's Ryder Cup, with the emphasis placed on birdies and eagles, and where a series of routine pars might mean a lopsided loss, hole no. 13 promises to be a pivotal and action-packed setting; where the water and the stone wall are now menacing, and where wild swings might mean how the momentum seems to change -- or how some players attack their tee shot.
From the championship tees, the hole is a less-than-menacing 350 yards. Well, that is if they are trying to make a 4. Though there may be a few players that see that as an opportunity to break out the driver, most will play it conventionally and hope that they can stick a wedge shot close enough to make a birdie. But if the hole is played from any of the other tee boxes (which it most certainly will for at least one session this week), birdie may not be enough. If the hole, as rumored, will play from the most forward tees for one of the fourball sessions, the entire length of the hole becomes an almost "have-to-go-for-it" 260 yards. At this length, even one of the Junior Ryder Cup team members was able to put his tee shot onto the green during a Wednesday "friendship match" against their European counterparts.
PGA Director of Tournaments Kerry Haigh may have tipped his hand when he said altering the tee locations on the hole "would be exciting and great for spectators." But keep in mind, though the distance is not an issue for these players, the pressure can be overwhelming. The famed 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass still gets plenty of knees knocking; this hole -- from the forward tees -- will play twice as long.
The longest hitter on the U.S. squad, J.B. Holmes, could find going for the green tempting regardless of the set up. Holmes gave fans a thrill when he drove the green on no. 13 during Tuesday's practice session. At the time, it was playing 338 yards tee to the front of the green.
"That was just for fun," Holmes explained. "They (the crowd) wanted me to hit a driver, so I hit my first shot down there (in the fairway), then I hit a driver and happened to a hit a good one, and it ended up on the green."
The U.S. squad may be looking for a few more good ones from Mr. Holmes to recapture the cup.