Eubanks: An unfamiliar Medinah awaits
Though it has played host to a U.S. Open and two recent PGA Championships, Medinah Country Club has undergone extensive renovations lately. As a result, when the Ryder Cup tees off players will be greeted to something far different than what they remember.
With such a rich history, you would think players would be ready and willing to talk about the No. 3 course at Medinah, especially those who have won championships there.
But there's a problem: The Medinah that will host the 2012 Ryder Cup matches is not the same course that hosted the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships and isn't close to the same course that hosted the 1990 U.S. Open.
Renovations at Medinah have been as prevalent as the Chicago Bulls wins and the Cubs missing the playoffs. Seven green complexes and all the bunkers were redesigned in 2002 in an attempt to strengthen the place after Tiger and Sergio's famous battle in 1999. But that didn't stop Tiger from posting four rounds in the 60s in 2006 for an 18-under-par total, tying the PGA Championship scoring record.
With the Ryder Cup looming, Medinah members brought in Rees Jones to rebuilt the remaining 11 greens and create an entirely different 15th hole, a drivable par 4 with a brand new pond guarding the right side.
About the only thing that hasn't changed at Medinah is Lake Kadijah.
According to Jones, "I felt that the 15th was a hole where the risk-reward challenge could be strengthened. I felt a pond adjacent to the 15th green would give it plenty of the risk-reward element. It's now an important part of the round and extends one of the great finishing tests in golf. The 15th is now the shortest par-4 on the course. We've built a flexible hole for the members and a drivable par-4 for the match play format of the Ryder Cup."
No. 4 and No. 6 at The Country Club in Brookline were drivable fours for the 1999 Ryder Cup, and the 10th hole at the Belfry was pivotal in 2002 when European Captain Sam Torrance moved the tee forward and made it drivable. But the first drivable par-4 ever built from scratch for the Ryder Cup was the 15th hole at the Twenty Ten course in Wales, a blind shot of less than 300 yards over trees to a well-guarded green.
When Andy North and Paul Azinger saw the 15th at the Twenty Ten course for the first time, North joked that, "Corey (Pavin) could even reach this one. He'd at least give it a rip."
Now, a classic course, Medinah, has completely rebuilt a hole to make it a drivable four for the Ryder Cup.
"I haven't played it since the changes," Tiger said. "I'd have to almost equate it to how Bay Hill has gone through its renovations over the years and even Torrey Pines."
It's no accident that Tiger picked two examples of newly renovated courses where he has experienced great success. He's won at Torrey Pines before and after the changes and has mastered every iteration of Bay Hill.
"Even though they've made some major changes over the years, I still like playing (Medinah)," Tiger said. "The time we played in 1999 was way different than 2005. It was a completely different golf course, but I still liked it. I'm sure this is probably the same."
Not exactly the same. The redesign of 15 created room for Jones to expand the 16th, stretching the tee back so that the hole measures 500 tree-lined yards. It will no doubt be one of the toughest driving holes of the week.
"Moving the tee back and shifting the landing area to the right brings the dogleg back into play," Jones said.
Even with the changes, Tiger anticipates a lot of holed putts and a great deal of excitement throughout the week.
"As far as it being a match-play golf course, I think that it is set up for the ability to make a lot of birdies," Tiger said. "The two times that we've played the PGA there, they set it up pretty hard and we still made a bunch of birdies. If we get the right kind of weather, and then being match play, where we naturally can be more aggressive, I can see there being a boatload of birdies there."
He should know. Nobody has made more major-championship birdies at Medinah than Tiger. Captain Davis Love and his teammates certainly hope that trend continues.