Rozner: Kemper's closing stretch can cause PGA championship nightmares

  • Here's a look at the approach to the 18th green, the final hole on The Gauntlet closing run at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, site of this week's KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

    Here's a look at the approach to the 18th green, the final hole on The Gauntlet closing run at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, site of this week's KPMG Women's PGA Championship. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/27/2018 4:17 PM

It is now known as "The Gauntlet."

In 1989, it was merely a nightmare for Mike Reid and a dream come true for Payne Stewart.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The 32-year-old Stewart won the first of his three majors at the PGA Championship here at Kemper Lakes just under three decades ago, and it was the final three holes -- the newly named Gauntlet -- that crushed Reid and lifted Stewart to victory.

In perhaps the best back nine played at Kemper given the circumstances, Stewart came home with a 5-under 31 and made up a 6-shot deficit on Sunday, including 5 in the closing three holes, with birdies on four of the last five. Reid, in tears when it was over, lost by a shot after missing a 7-foot birdie attempt on 18.

Following the par-5 15th, which is no gimme depending on the hole location, The Gauntlet features water on all three holes and begins with the long par-4 16th that demands a fairway off the tee and a precise approach, with water to the right the entire way.

No. 17 is a par-3 over water with no bailout, as missing to the wrong side means bringing 3-putt into play, and there's no easy up-and-down from the bunkers. When the pin is tucked on the left, it's like the right-side Sunday pin on the Island Green at TPC.

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Also like Sawgrass, No. 18 will force players to cut off a huge portion of the dog left if they are attempting to find bird on the last. That means flirting with water left on the tee shot. The green is also guarded by water on the right.

So, ya know, good luck with all that.

In 1989, Reid bogeyed 16 when he found the water with his tee shot and made double on 17 when he chipped out of the thick, greenside rough and 3-putted.

At the Senior Open in 1997, Jerry McGee was felled by a triple-triple finish.

Payne Stewart used a birdie putt on the 18th hole at Kemper Lakes to win the PGA Championship in 1989. Stewart, who trailed by six strokes at the start of the day, had birdie on four of the last five holes to win the tournament.
Payne Stewart used a birdie putt on the 18th hole at Kemper Lakes to win the PGA Championship in 1989. Stewart, who trailed by six strokes at the start of the day, had birdie on four of the last five holes to win the tournament. - Associated Press/1989 file

Kemper will offer the same potential for drama come Sunday at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, when the leaderboard could see significant changes as those in front scan the horizon in search of the clubhouse.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And the players were giving The Gauntlet plenty of attention during practice rounds.

"To me every hole is pretty tough, and the last three holes are really, really tough," said Ariya Jutanugarn, the World No. 2 and U.S. Open champ. "It's going to be a great finish."

Jutanugarn, who is among the longest hitters, has no intention of pulling driver on 16 or 18. Others may have no choice if they are chasing.

"Those finishing holes are amazing. They're going to be a great challenge coming in," said Michelle Wie. "There's a lot of water. It's tough. The greens are definitely tough.

"No. 16 is a long hole and it's a very tricky green. No. 17 is a great par-3. Depending on where they put the pin, it changes the hole completely. No. 18 speaks for itself, water on both ends. It's just a great layout."

Defending PGA champ Danielle Kang, who birdied 18 at Olympia Fields last year to defeat Brooke Henderson by a shot, added wind to the equation.

"There are a lot of water holes coming in," Kang said. "No. 15 is long and 16 is long -- like a 5-iron (approach) over the water -- but then the green is very narrow, so not a lot of landing spots.

"And then 17, you've got that par-3 with the wind blowing into it and it's a long hole. If they ever tuck it in the back, sometimes bogey might be a good score.

"And 18, it's like a wind left to right, but it's a right-to-left hole. It's interesting and I like it. It's a very challenging golf course."

The front offers some par-4 opportunities, like the first, second and ninth, but the par-5s are shaping up as 3-shot holes because of the soft fairways -- at least the first two days -- and by the time the players make the turn they might be thinking par on the back will make for a good day.

Water, wind, rough and length made longer by the heavy rains makes for a championship course worthy of this week's major.

And then there's The Gauntlet. Run it at your own risk.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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