CHASKA, Minn. — Paul Azinger pulled the driver from his bag because there really is no other option at Hazeltine. The sign post on the opening hole has two words and two sets of numbers that serve as a not-so-subtle welcome to the PGA Championship.
490 yards. Par 4.
If that’s not enough, the wind was in his face.
A stream of fans were crossing the fairway about 200 yards off the tee, and as a marshal frantically waved his arms to stop the traffic, Azinger told him not to worry. He figured even he could keep the ball in the air that long, and he then ripped a shot that travelled well over their heads.
No need to put the cover back on the driver or any of the fairway metals for most players in the PGA Championship.
The final major gets under way Thursday, already in the record books without a single shot having been hit that counts on the card. Hazeltine National measures an official 7,674 yards, making it the longest course in major championship history.
The previous record was 7,643 yards last year at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open. Before that, the record belonged to Medinah No. 3, which was 7,561 yards for the 2006 PGA Championship. And before that, it was 7,514 yards at Whistling Straits for the ’04 PGA.
You get the picture.
“Looking forward to playing a major one day that does not promote itself as the longest ever,” Geoff Ogilvy said on Twitter.
The buzz word this week is long.
Scott Verplank, who is more on the short side of driving distance, was asked how many players could talk about Hazeltine without mentioning length or some variation of the word. “Zero,” he said.
“The best hole on the course is No. 16, and it’s the second-shortest hole,” he said of the 402-yard signature hole that runs along Hazeltine Lake. “The shortest one is No. 14, the one the same length as the par 3 before it.”
The PGA Championship bills itself as “Glory’s Last Shot” because it is the final chance of the year to win a major. That takes on particular significance for Tiger Woods, whose five victories this year do not include the kind he covets the most.
Woods is trying to match Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen with his fifth PGA Championship victory, and continue toward a more obscure record. Hagen won a major six years in a row; Woods is at four.
The world’s No. 1 player came close seven years ago at Hazeltine, closing with four straight birdies to finish one shot behind Rich Beem. The course was a mere 7,360 yards for the 2002 PGA Championship.