Having played PGA Championships at Hazeltine National in 2002 and again in 2009, Justin Rose respected the big ballpark as a worthy major championship test.
He was less than enamored with it as an arena for the singles session of the 41st Ryder Cup.
“If we were all to be honest about it, I thought the setup was incredibly weak,” Rose said. “I thought it was very much a pro-am feel in terms of pin placements. They were all in the middle of the green.”
Certainly, the numbers supported Rose’s contention because in 202 holes of golf, there were a whopping 122 birdies and three eagles. The most explosive match was Phil Mickelson (10 birdies) vs. Sergio Garcia (nine birdies), but all over the board, the red numbers were incredible.
In Match 1, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy both shot 32 on the outward nine. Brooks Koepka had an easy win over Danny Willett thanks to an eagle and four birdies in 14 holes, Dustin Johnson and Chris Wood combined for 13 birdies, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson put up 12 birdies and an eagle, Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer for 10 birdies.
“I don’t quite understand that, to be honest with you,” Rose said. “We want to showcase our skills. We want to be tested.”
Knowing the European team needed to win at least 7 1/2 of 12 singles points to retain the cup, Rose wasn’t making excuses; he was just answering a question as to what he thought of Hazeltine.
“This course can be as tough as you want it to be, there’s no doubt about it,” Rose said, though he then shrugged. It certainly wasn’t tough on this day.
“Even 18, if you hit a good drive down there, you’ve got a wedge into the green and if you hit a wedge to the middle of the green, you’re within 12 feet of the pin.
“Coming down the stretch, it was a little soft.”
It’s a biennial situation with the Ryder Cup — the home team picks the course and usually sets it up in a way that plays into the home team’s strength.
With Europe needing a huge rally in singles, Rose’s teammate, Rory McIlroy, agreed that the course set-up favored the Americans.
“If anything, with the position the Americans found themselves in (leading by three), it was more beneficial to them,” McIlroy said. “Every pin where there was a hole with water was sort of put on the other side. I think for us, it was tough.”
The Euros came in knowing that Hazeltine was devoid of rough, a clear advantage to a team that drives it long and wildly, like the U.S.
“For example, that first morning with Rickie (Fowler) and Phil (Mickelson), they might have hit two fairways between them the whole day and still came out on top,” McIlroy said. “It just seemed that bad tee shots maybe weren’t getting punished as much as they should have been. Again, that’s all home advantage. You can do that. That’s what Ryder Cups are all about.”
Sour grapes? Not at all. They’re guys who know the Ryder Cup landscape and were asked about it.
“Look at it out here, it’s all red … any little advantage you can get in the Ryder Cup when you’re the home team, you have to try to take,” McIlroy said.