Watching the U.S. Open at Merion last week and seeing precious few red numbers on the scoreboard, I scratched out a list of the toughest courses I’ve played.
No. 1 would be Sahalee, even though I haven’t played it in 30 years. At that time, the Sammamish, Wash., course, host of the 1998 PGA Championship, was long with narrow, tree-lined fairways and challenging greens. An errant drive usually led to bogey or double.
The Creek at Qualchan’s Mark Gardner, Pinehurst’s Ron Barker and The Fairways’ Kris Kallem revisit the toughest courses they’ve encountered and address three other topics in the latest edition of the Pros Roundtable:
What’s the toughest course you’ve ever played?
Gardner: The toughest course I’ve ever played would probably be Pinehurst No. 2. I played in a tournament that used three of the courses (at Pinehurst) but we played No. 2 twice and I shot 77-72.
Barker: Chambers Bay, where the U.S. Open will be held in 2015. It was tough for me because it was a Pacific Northwest event and they played it mostly from the back tees, which was well over 7,000 yards. That is a long way for a 60-plus-year-old to be playing. I believe I shot high 70s the first day and mid-80s the second.
Kallem: University of Idaho Golf Course, final round of the 1990 UI Collegiate Invite. I was in the first group off at 8 a.m. It was 33 degrees and as I was teeing it up the snow began to fly. We managed nine holes in a near whiteout and lost at least a dozen balls between the three of us. I won’t tell you the score I shot the previous day which put me in the first group, but let’s just say my teammates nicknamed me “Gretzky” on the bus trip home.
If you’re between distances on an approach shot, do you take less club and swing harder or more club and swing easier?
Kallem: I favor knock-down shots with my irons so I tend to take more club and punch it. Controlling the trajectory helps me control the distance.
Gardner: Between distances it is best to take more club and swing the same but choke down on the club an inch or so. The easy swing never seems to work for me.
Barker: I would normally go with more club and swing easier. It is much easier for me to control the distance and trajectory of a shot with a controlled, tempo-type swing than trying to kill it.
The summer work season is just beginning for many high school and college students. What were your best and worst summer jobs?
Barker: Probably my worst job was working at the D&C Roasters at the old Bunker Hill smelter plant in Kellogg. It was always hot and dirty. When you finished your shift, you looked as though you came out of a coal mine.
The best summer job was working as a wine salesman for a distributorship in Coeur d’Alene while in college at NIC. I supplied most of the stores in the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls area. I met a lot of great people.
Kallem: I’ve worked at The Fairways since my senior year in high school so this place has to qualify as both. The worst is a tie between raking bunkers and cleaning a clogged toilet. The best is spending an evening teaching. You could say I’ve experienced every facet of the business.
Gardner: Working at Wandermere in the pro shop. The Rosses and Browns are great people and the place was just a fun atmosphere. The worst job – Smith’s Nursery, just because of the heat in the greenhouses.
Tiger Woods has won 14 majors, but none since 2008. Do you think he’ll break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18?
Gardner: I think Tiger could catch Jack if he would play in a few more tournaments between the majors to keep his game sharper. I hope he doesn’t though. I’m a big Nicklaus fan!
Barker: If he continues to putt like he did at the U.S. Open I would say he has no chance. However, Tiger being Tiger, he will find a way to become the great putter he once was and will definitely break Jack’s record.
Kallem: I don’t think he will. Life has beat him up a little and I think that plays a huge role in one’s ability to focus, remain confident and perform at the highest level. And the rest of the field has become much better. But I do hope he makes a run at it for the sake of intrigue. That would be great for the game.