|Unpredictable Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Forms Backdrop of Challenges for the Strongest Field in Golf at the 94th PGA Championship|
|The 156-player roster, assembling this week at Kiawah Island, S.C., features the top 103 players in the current Official World Golf Ranking.|
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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Twenty-one years ago, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., made its debut on the world golf stage. With its fanfare, one of the most distinctive layouts anywhere provided a bagload of challenges.
Those challenges have not changed on the eve of the 94th PGA Championship, the first major to be contested in South Carolina, which suits legendary architect Pete Dye just fine.
"We've tried to keep up with the changes in the game," said Dye. "The pros hit the ball so much farther today, and I believe that the work done has made it even better than when we started. It is in excellent shape, and credit superintendent Jeff Stone and his crew. It's up to the players now. You cannot predict the wind from day to day."
Dye's observations were echoed by those among the strongest and deepest all-professional field of the year, competing Aug. 6-12, in the Season's Final Major. The 156-player roster features the top 103 players of the current Official World Golf Ranking. The field includes 32 major champions, 71 international players representing 21 countries, and all three of the year's major winners. They will compete on the longest course in major championship golf – 7,676 yards – or two yards longer than the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
While a majority of the marquee players in the field are seeing The Ocean Course for the first time this week, two PGA club professionals – Darrell Kestner of Glen Cove, N.Y., and Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash. – have the edge in familiarity. Kestner and Coston competed in a pair of PGA of America premier events on the layout – the 2005 PGA Professional National Championship and the 2007 Senior PGA Championship.
"Expect everything when you play here," said the 58-year-old Kestner, the PGA head professional at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y., and the oldest player in the field. Kestner is now marking his 18th major championship appearance, and is competing in a major in five separate decades.
"When we played here in 2005, I saw a lot of things that I had not seen before in golf," said Kestner. "I saw my first golf ball blown off a tee. That week, we had a storm, and we had a difficult time with the bunkers. The sand was flashed over the embankments, which led to a lot of lost balls. By 2007, you got the feeling that a lot of learning went on, the grassing was improved around the bunkers, and the playability vastly improved.
"What is exciting for me are the greens. The paspalum grass is exquisite. The slopes are so subtle."
Coston, 56, is a PGA teaching professional at Semiahmoo Golf Resort in Blaine, Wash., and was the Low PGA Club Professional in the 2007 Senior PGA Championship. He finished sixth in the 2012 PGA Professional National Championship.
"The biggest thing I notice is how long the course is playing now," said Coston. "The second hole, for example, you've really got to hit it to get it over the marsh. I've always enjoyed coming here, though, and it's great to be back."
The Ocean Course staff, guided by PGA head professional Stephen Youngner, is anxiously awaiting Thursday's opening round.
"We have been very pleased to hear players talk about the condition of the course and the greens," said Youngner. "Jeff Stone and his crew have done an excellent job getting us ready. We have had rain the past two days. However, this course drains very well. Just normal summer weather patterns for us."
Defending PGA Champion Keegan Bradley, who last week grabbed the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, is joined by 13 past Champions in the field. They are: Rich Beem (2002), Mark Brooks (1996), John Daly (1991), Padraig Harrington (2008), Martin Kaymer (2010), Davis Love III (1997), Shaun Micheel (2003), Phil Mickelson (2005), Vijay Singh (1998, 2004), David Toms (2001), Tiger Woods (1999, 2000, '06, '07), and Y.E. Yang (2009).
The 32 major champions competing at The Ocean Course own a combined 58 major championships. They are Beem, Bradley, Brooks, Angel Cabrera, Stewart Cink, Darren Clarke, Ben Curtis, Daly, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Lucas Glover, Retief Goosen, Harrington, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson, Kaymer, Paul Lawrie, Love, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Micheel, Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy, Jose Maria Olazabal, Louis Oosthuizen, Webb Simpson, Charl Schwartzel, Singh, Toms, Bubba Watson, Woods, and Yang.
The Ocean Course adds to its distinctive résumé over two decades by joining PGA National Golf Club of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and Valhalla Golf Club of Louisville, Ky., in hosting the PGA of America's four premier championships – the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid and the PGA Professional National Championship.
Reigning PGA Professional National Champion Matt Dobyns of Sea Cliff, N.Y., the PGA head professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, N.Y., heads a delegation of 20 PGA Club Professionals earning a berth at the PGA Championship. The 20 earned berths through their performances in the PGA Professional National Championship in Seaside, Calif., in June.
Should the current field remain intact by Thursday afternoon, it would boost the 94th PGA Championship as the strongest field (based upon Official World Rankings) in history. Since 1994, the PGA Championship has featured the most ranked players among any major championship and has brought together the most international competitors in any U.S. major.
Golf's best professionals began competing for the PGA Championship's Wanamaker Trophy in 1916. Past Champions span both the legendary and recent stars of the game: Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, and Keegan Bradley.
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