Ryder Cup 2016: Hazeltine is ready for the world's greatest players
Fourteen years after the PGA of America awarded it to Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, the Ryder Cup with all its particular noise-making, flag-waving patriotism finally is just 25 days away.
Back then 2016 seemed so far off, there was no guarantee that advancing golf-equipment technology wouldn't render even big, brawny Hazeltine National obsolete in 14 years' time.
But now listed at a maximum 7,674 yards that at U.S. team captain Davis Love III's direction will play considerably easier, Hazeltine National will be ready.
Members have hit off artificial-turf mats for the past month to protect fairways. Come Tuesday, there will be no play at all for the next three weeks, all in an effort to make Hazeltine National -- already dressed up with corporate tenting and grandstands galore, accessorized with American-team red bunting and dotted with 10 large videoboards -- look its best.
The home team gets its first look at this revised Hazeltine next week, when Love will use a PGA Tour break between the FedEx Cup playoffs' BMW Championship and the Tour Championship to bring many of his first 11 players to Chaska.
Love is coming to Hazeltine National next Monday to name the first three of his four captain's picks. He will announce the U.S. team's 12th and final player during NBC's "Sunday Night Football" on Sept. 25, the night before both teams fly to Minnesota for the three-day biennial competition that begins that Friday.
Love will stay -- or return -- to accompany players on their practice rounds.
"It looks like I'm going to be up there a lot that week, if I'm going to see everybody play," Love said.
'Ace in the hole'
Call it the home-course advantage for a team that already has had vice captain and Minnesota's own Tom Lehman out to Hazeltine National multiple times this summer to strategize the only course other than Pinehurst's No. 2 to hold a Ryder Cup, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Amateur.
Love calls Lehman "our ace in the hole" and said he has relied upon everyone from Hazeltine National club pro Chandler Withington to two-time Masters champion and 1999 Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw, whose course knowledge there dates to the 1970 U.S. Open.
Love intends to have himself, Lehman or vice captain Steve Stricker on site throughout the week as players such as Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson -- "as many guys as possible," Love said -- come and go on their own schedules. Some will fly in for more than a day, some for a day's round.
Love pointed out that is how many of his players prepare for major championships: They visit before tournament week to get their work done early.
"Some guys want to play early, some want to play late," Love said. "Phil's always on his own schedule. Between Tom, Steve and I, one of us can be there whenever anybody wants to play. They don't need to be baby-sat, but it's nice to have somebody around when they're there."
Getting home-field edge
As home team captain, Love will consult with PGA of America chief championships officer Kerry Haigh on how a course that already has swapped parts of each nine for the competition will be manicured and set up.
The course as played in the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships will not be the same one Ryder Cup week: Holes 5-9 will be flopped with holes 14-18. The picturesque 16th hole that bends around Hazeltine Lake will now be the seventh hole.
That is being done so fans by the thousands and thousands -- and many revenue-producing corporate tents -- now can line the final four finishing holes without spectator space being cramped or limited to a hilltop on only one side of the fairway.
Love has said he wants little rough grown. He also has said he wants a course that could include three par-5 holes longer than 600 yards each set up shorter to make it conducive to birdies and eagles that will stir the American home crowd.
Statistical analysis of his team that says its strength is its wedge play rather than length off the tee, though, could change his plans.
European star Rory McIlroy noted Love said he wanted similar things when Love was the U.S. captain in 2012 at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.
"Can't remember how that turned out," McIlroy deadpanned.
He was referring to Europe's Sunday charge from behind that again brought it the Ryder Cup.
Love said he wants his players to feel "prepared" for Hazeltine National before they arrive for Ryder Cup week. The 12-man European team -- already finalized last week when captain Darren Clarke made his three wild-card picks -- won't see the course until it arrives that last Monday in September because of a condensed schedule in both Europe and the United States caused by golf's return to the Olympic Games this summer.
Europe has won the Ryder Cup six of the past seven times, and eight of the past 10.
Both teams will have three practice days -- Tuesday through Thursday afternoon's opening ceremonies -- before the first ball is struck early Friday morning that week.
"You can still figure out how to play a golf course," said three-time European Ryder Cup player Henrik Stenson, the British Open champion who is playing toward the Ryder Cup despite a small tear in knee meniscus cartilage. "You know what it looks like. I've played there before [the 2009 PGA Championship]. We've still got plenty of time to play practice rounds, so I don't see that being a big issue whatsoever."
This article was written by Jerry Zgoda from Star Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.