I was officially the last unskilled person to play in this week's PGA Championship to play a round on the legendary Bethpage Black Course. I hit my first shot of this majestic first tee box at 13 o'clock. April 28, played in 4 hours, 20 minutes and shot 85.
The only rounds that followed mine were those of players such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who made their scouting trips before the tournament. Believe me, the quality of golf has been significantly improved compared to what I have produced on this cold and cloudy day.
Perhaps the best news that I received when I arrived on the course – aside from stopping the rain – was to see that the back tees were closed for public play. Because, for this break hole by hole, I'm pretty stupid to have planned to play the tricks to make you live the experience.
Instead, I played the middle tees, about 6,700 yards (which is about 500 yards less than the pros will play this week), hit 9 out of 14 fairways, 5 out of 18 greens in regulation and took 35 putts.
What follows is a detailed look at the strategy the pros will use, thanks to the contribution of Rob Labritz – director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, which is in the PGA field this week and has won four new awards. York State opens on the black course – with a review of how I played each hole. (Note: distances shown are those of the tournament.)
(Illustrated lessons by bestapproach.com)
No. 1 (430 yards by 4)
Labritz: It is the pilot on the trees on the left and the sand in the green. In the wind, you may need to aim for the tee shot on the left side of the fairway.
Cannizzaro: In the wind, I hit the driver up to the first cut, 3-wood at 80 meters, a 12-foot angle and two rolls for the bogey.
No. 2 (389 yards by 4)
Labritz: Hybrid on the right side of the t-shirt, but you must be careful not to go too far right because there is a tree hanging above that could block your approach shot. Short iron or corner in the green.
Cannizzaro: I hit the driver on the right side of the fairway, the hybrid shorts left in the rough, the pitching wedge at 20 feet and two putts for bogey.
No. 3 (230 yards by 3)
Labritz: You have to choose the right place on the green, which is moving away from you back and forth. You can not hit this green long. Above the green is dead. You do not want to go there.
Cannizzaro: Highest point of the tour. I stuffed an iron 8 to 20 feet and drained the putt for my only birdie of the round.
No. 4 (517 yards by 5)
Labritz: If it's a bit more windy, you can pass over the left fairway bunker for a chance to play that green in half. If you can not cope, you can stand on the right and make a three-hole hole.
Cannizzaro: I hit one of my best records of the day on the fairway, then 5 woods over the massive cross bunkers and 9 iron up the front of the green at about 4 meters (40 feet), from where I doubled for par.
No. 5 (478 yards by 4)
Labritz: That's pretty much hitting a good reader. If you get to the right side above the garbage area, you'll get a better shot at the green. You must hit the fairway. All that remains and you do not reach the green.
Cannizzaro: I sprayed my drive in the right trees but I pulled a good lie to the right of the bunkers. With 200 yards on the green uphill, I hit a fair-play 6 across the fairway, then an iron 7 shorts, a corner kick on the green and a doubled for a brace, the first real defect on the map.
No. 6 (408 yards by 4)
Labritz: Risk-reward hole. You can take a driver down the hill if you wish or you can simply hit a small hybrid or an iron at the flat spot at the top of the hill and place a medium iron in the green. It depends on the wind and the conditions of the course.
Cannizzaro: I bumped into the driver right next to the fairway in the right turn, hybrid before the green, gap wedge at 30 feet and two putts for bogey.
No. 7 (524 yards by 4)
Labritz: Longer hitters will carry it to the right corner of the trees. Hit a good record and you can do it in half. If you do not hit a good record, you have to take your bumps.
Cannizzaro: I bumped the driver over the bunkers on the fairway, and with 278 in, I overcame a woodshed 5 in a left fairway bunker. Then we tore an iron 5 just below the green and hit a gap at 12 feet and a doubled for a bogey 6 (it was configured as a par 5).
No. 8 (210 yards by 3)
Labritz: You must stay below the hole. If you do that, you have a good chance for birdie. Depending on the tees, you can climb into tees and hit a corner or do all the way home and hit 5-Iron.
Cannizzaro: I hit the hybrid on the green at 20 feet below the hole and doubled for the par.
No. 9 (460 yards by 4)
Labritz: This will be interesting depending on the location of the tee. If the tee is back, you must hit the father although you think. If the tee is open, you can challenge this fairway bunker and make a small iron.
Cannizzaro: I hit the driver on the fairway near the corner of the bunkers. At 180 yards from the end, I overtook a hybrid at 70 yards from the hole, I hit the gap at 35 feet and doubled for a bogey.
No. 10 (502 yards by 4)
Labritz: Depending on where they placed the tee, if the wind is in you, you must aim for the catwalk, the narrowest fairway in America. For longer strikers, if the tees are a little up, they have a chance to have a short to medium iron in this green. For the shorter ones, they will probably have a hybrid or a 3-wood.
Cannizzaro: I hit the driver in the right niche, then a crisp iron from 5 to 90 meters, a 20-foot angle and a doubled for a boguey, which seemed to be an equal foot for this simple deadly.
No. 11 (435 yards by 4)
Labritz: It is essential to reach the fairway, which is very narrow. You must avoid the bunker on the left, because it has a big enough lip and you will have a hard time going green.
Cannizzaro: The fairest ride to date, in the center of the fairway, 5 woods in the wind of 190 meters and on the green 10 feet above the hole. I burned my lips with my birdie putt and settled down.
No. 12 (515 yards by 4)
Labritz: If the tee is very far, you have to hit it to the right of these crossed bunkers. If the tees are a little up, you can challenge these bunkers and return them to give you a medium long ironing.
Cannizzaro: I took on the left side of the bunkers with a broken drive. I pulled it too far left, but I was lucky with a good lie. I hit 6-iron just below the green, then gap wedge at 5 feet and do the rescue putt.
No 13 (608 yards by 5)
Labritz: It's important to make a good decision. If you get it down, you can go for the green in half. You must avoid these bunkers left, but you must also keep it away from this tree on the right. If you have the opportunity to go in two, it is good; if not, hit the bunker and get a good distance.
Cannizzaro: Downwind towards the fairway, 5-fairway wood, 8-iron shot to the left of the green, then gap wedge to 18 feet and two putts for bogey.
No. 14 (161 yards by 3)
Labritz: They have enlarged the green, so you can go from a corner to an iron 7 or 6 now. Just a good golf hole.
Cannizzaro: I hit 7-iron at 8 feet below the hole and burn the edge of the cup with my birdie putt, settling for by.
No. 15 (457 yards by 4)
Labritz: You must hit the fairway. Otherwise, it's a hole of three shots. Once on this green, you have to be at the right level. This is the most severe green of the course.
Cannizzaro: I hit the driver in the wind and I blocked it right, then I topped an iron and advanced it 10 meters. Hit 5-Iron again, this time pulling it into the rough left. Then hit Iron 9 on the green and the 3-footed 50-foot for a disabling triple round bogey.
No. 16 (490 yards by 4)
Labritz: Hit him in the fairway. Do not overcook it on the left because it puts the tree in play. Green rather benign.
Cannizzaro: Driving to fairway, but still had 228 yards in the green. Hit 3 short woods to the left of the green and gap wedge almost in the hole, but two wagered from 8 feet to bogey.
No. 17 (207 yards by 3)
Labritz: It's a little harder than you think. He plays very long since the back tees. You must overtake the big bunker at the front and hit it at the proper level of the green. If you hit a long iron, it is difficult to keep the green that escapes you. High and long is the advantage.
Cannizzaro: I hit 3-wood in the right side bunker, splashed with a 20-foot sand wedge and two putty for bogey.
No 18 (411 yards, par 4)
Labritz: Depending on the wind, you can hit the driver or the iron 4 off this tee. You must hit the fairway. You do not want to land in the left or right bunkers. You can have very bad lies in these bunkers, and once you do, it can be dangerous to go green.
Cannizzaro: Hit what I thought was a good player, but he hit in the left bunker. Hit an iron that pinched the lip of the bunker and fell below the green, then hit the bevel and dubbed it for a 25-foot bogey at the end of the round.
Postscript: The black course can be intimidating for the amateur player. It's only on foot, without carts (unless you are John Daly). Every hole is his own adventure, and you have to treat it that way. If you gather all this, the course can be overwhelming and your score can turn into huge numbers. It's as big as golf and it requires respect.