Crooked Stick Golf Club north of Indianapolis is hosting this week’s BMW Championship for the second time in five years. If you took a poll asking what people know about the course, two boxes will hog the checkmarks.
Fans of competition will recall it as the track at which John Daly burst on the scene at the 1991 PGA Championship. Indeed, with that country strength of his, it was 25 years ago last month when he was the only golfer to card four red numbers. Daly started the week as ninth alternate and completed it with a three-stroke victory.
Meanwhile, devotees of the sport’s history, particularly the evolution of its architecture, might be more inclined to cite that Crooked Stick is one of Pete Dye’s earliest designs (1964). Without it, Daly doesn’t dominate. Those same voters might add the bonus that Dye lives beside the fairway at the par-4 18th hole.
Crooked Stick has gone on to host other prestigious events, including the 2012 BMW Championship. The soaking left behind by Hurricane Isaac that week left Dye’s test vulnerable. The field averaged 70.536 on the stock par 72. Champion Rory McIlroy prevailed by two at 20-under 268. He converted two eagles and 23 birdies despite ranking 45th in strokes gained: putting with a negative measurement (-0.273). Twenty-nine who competed here in 2012 are back this week, including the Ulsterman whose confidence is soaring after a two-stroke victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
For just about all intents and purposes, it was target practice four years ago. Greens average only 4,500 square feet, so good putters are muted of that weapon even when the surfaces are prepared to run as fast as 12.5 on the Stimpmeter. Consider that eight of the 11 who finished inside the top 10 on the leaderboard concluded the week inside the top 20 in greens in regulation and/or proximity to the hole. Seven of that same 11 also cracked the top 20 in strokes gained: putting but none of the top eight ranked among the top 10 in the stat. And since the turf was damp, length mattered. Six of the top seven on the final leaderboard were among the top 15 in measured drives for the week.
Mother Nature’s impact must always be included in the context of any tournament, but the exposure of Crooked Stick’s weaknesses sparked sweeping changes when the track touched 50 years of age in 2014. For starters, the par-3 third, par-4 10th and par-3 13th can now play longer than they did in 2012. As a result, Dye’s test has increased by 70 yards to 7,567. Elsewhere, several hazards were either added, eliminated or modified. The most noticeable might be the new pond left of the green at the par-3 17th hole. In all, eight holes were directly affected, while some 90 bunkers were overhauled with new sand and drainage. Approximately 400 trees were removed. With improved airflow, a more consistent rough cut at three-and-a-half inches is all but guaranteed.
It’ll be interesting to see how these modifications influence scoring and course management since the weather conditions will evoke memories of 2012. For the first three days of the tournament, there is a decent chance for rain and thunderstorms. They’ll signify a cooling that will take daytime highs from the upper 80s into the mid-to-upper 70s by the weekend. A challenging wind is forecast to accompany the transformation. The good news is that the field sits at just 69 as of Monday. Only Henrik Stenson (resting a sore right knee) has elected not to compete.
Source: Power Rankings: BMW Championship