Blustery winds, marshland waste areas and even alligators welcomed the world’s best golfers to formidable Kiawah Island on Monday for the first official practice round of the 103rd PGA Championship.
The resort’s Ocean Course will be the longest venue in major golf history at 7,876 yards, 135 more than the mark set by Erin Hills when it hosted the 2017 US Open.
It’s a par-72 layout Golf Digest has called the most difficult US course, with oceanside beauty and peril lurking on every hole.
“There aren’t a lot of bailout areas,” said 2003 PGA winner Shaun Micheel. “There are a lot of things out there that are lying in wait for you.”
Alligators are typically kept at a distance by security and course workers but there’s nothing to stop the biting winds that swap direction.
“When the wind gets going out here, there’s nothing to stop it,” said Rickie Fowler, who received a special exemption into the field of 156.
“It can blow pretty good. There are no trees to stop it. When the wind gets up it can blow pretty hard out here.”
Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who snapped a four-year win drought last month in Texas, can complete a career Grand Slam with a victory along the South Carolina coastline.
“I feel like iron shots in the wind and controlling distances is a strength of mine, and hopefully that’s what it comes down to,” Spieth said.
Seventh-ranked Rory McIlroy, coming off a victory two weeks ago at Quail Hollow, won the 2012 PGA at Kiawah by eight strokes and seeks his first major title since taking the fourth of his career at the 2014 PGA.
The 32-year-old Northern Ireland star was out in shorts on Monday, joining other contenders in testing the greens and chipping areas around the holes.
Consistency, patience and shotmaking precision will be tested with draws and fades needed for ever-changing challenges. Organizers will swap tee distances as well as pin placements to alter every hole, with sandy waste areas waiting to punish errant shots severely.
The PGA, as it has since 1994, boasts the toughest field in golf with 99 of the world’s top 100 players in the field.
Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner, has been idled by leg injuries suffered in a February car accident.
Everyone seeks the $1.98 million top prize from an $11 million total purse. There are 35 major winners in the field, 16 of them past PGA champions, with a combined 56 major triumphs.
Three-time major winner Vijay Singh withdrew Monday with a back injury. The 58-year-old Fijian won the 2000 Masters and the 1998 and 2004 PGA Championships and reached the world number one ranking in 2004 and 2005.
American Wyndham Clark, ranked 150th in the world, will replace Singh in the field of 156. American Brandon Hagy moved atop the alternates list followed by Taiwan’s C.T. Pan.