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Southern Hills, Dornick Hills and Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club – the 2007 PGA Championship Part 2

Part one is below this entry. See you from Augusta next year.


It was fitting that Woods went off early Thursday because it set the stage for him close the proceedings on Friday with fireworks. Much like a headlining rock band rightfully having the stage for themselves to end the gig and sending everyone home singing and screaming for more – a smattering of club pros and newbies to the Tour aside – Woods fired not only the last shots of the day, but ones that resounded throughout the course and record books.

The day began as every other did that week. A steamy Thursday evening that offered no relief from the sweltering heat of the day gave way to a Fry-day (I mean Friday) scorcher. Graeme Storm fell out of the sky and off the leaderboard. Daly faltered with a 73 as did Padraig Harrington. Woody Austin held fast, but barely so. Players jockeyed for position and little seemed remarkable. Then Woods set sail.

Just like a “skull and crossbones” struck fear into the hearts of merchantmen at sea, Woods’ name rising up the leaderboard like a streaking skyrocket makes Tour players’ stomachs plummet to their feet and their hearts fill with dread. It was a stirring, swashbuckling performance Woods delivered. The field was sailing in calm seas with full sails, then with an awful finality, brutally swift, they were taken.

Like cannon fire crippling a ship, so too did Woods’ fusillades fly straight and true, striking the enemy in the vitals, all but mortally wounding them with still half the tournament to go. With his swing perfectly on plane and sticking to his game plan of position off the fairway, (he teed off on ten with a seven iron, for goodness’ sake…a seven iron!) he then fired short-iron approaches to the flat portions of the greens and rolled in the straight putts. Woods incomparable preparation and laser precision brought him closer and closer to the enemy. No amount of sail canvas, sturdy main and mizzenmasts or well-steered rudder could escape him when he spotted sails on the horizon.

Birdie followed birdie. Players’ spirits, once strong and courageous, melted with grim resignation. He makes even the most resolute opponent seem weak and querulous in the face of his barrages. Being continually outshown is an occupational hazard of being his contemporary. The gnawing fear in every player’s mind turns to dismay when he is on his game and charging.

It’s not football; you can’t tackle him or direct the play to the weak side. It’s not baseball; you can’t walk him or hit him with a fastball to intimidate him. It’s not basketball; you can’t give a hard foul and stand over him administering a warning to stay out of the paint or pay the price. When Woods is on and when he’s charging, players can only watch helplessly as he streaks toward them. When he comes for you, you’re his.

And fire away he did, guns blazing. Another birdie – this time a thirty foot putt – he was two behind, inching closer. Stevie, get ready to sight the cannons. A chip in on eleven and suddenly he’s just one back. Now to strike. Woods and Williams, a two man man-o-war shredding the rigging with grapeshot, blasting away the rudder with cannonade, felling the mainmast and suddenly, there he is in the lead! Your ship is crippled and he is boarding you in the smoke from the full broadside. With a two-iron for a cutlass and a nine-iron for a blunderbuss he cut a terrible swath through the helpless, hapless field. They were powerless to do anything but watch and wait for their ship to founder as Woods made off with the spoils.

They better pick tougher courses because one of these days, he’ll fire two 63s in one major. With Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach slated for the U.S. Open, watch for it. In fact Woods could take the next three consecutive U.S. Opens – Torrey and Pebble, which he owns, sandwich Bethpage, where he won in 2002. Sure, as the tournament played out, Austin and Els made gallant charges like General Stark during the Revolutionary war – “We’ll win the day or Molly [his wife] will be a widow!” – but still by Friday, even though Woods’ lead was merely one, he field was essentially reduced to flotsam and jetsam, a shipwreck in lost latitudes.

We all know Woods lipped out his putt for a major championship record 62. The putt was two-thirds down before spinning away. That record will have to wait until Pebble. As a result, I made a decision that on paper looked questionable, but which ultimately paid superb dividends in the long run. I decided to forego attending the tournament on Saturday to travel three hours to Dornick Hills Country Club, Perry Maxwell’s first golf course and the site of his grave to compare that course with Southern Hills. On the way back, I would stop halfway and explore Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club, another Maxwell design, this one from his time working with Alister Mackenzie.

Why would I do such a thing? When so many would kill for a media credential to any major championship, why would I skip moving day? To understand Maxwell and the tenets of his design strategies, it is necessary to see the architect’s progress over time. Who knows when I would get the chance to return to Oklahoma. There was still Sunday for the competition. Besides, as the light of the risen moon left us to reflect on the proceedings, there were simply two inalienable truths: Woods is the greatest frontrunner in sports history and no thirty-six hole leader in a major at Southern Hills had ever lost.


My old girlfriend Britt was unbelievably finicky. “Come on” I said, “I’ll take you to Angelo & Maxie’s for a great steak.”

“Well maybe” she replied ambivalently, “but it needs to be cooked perfectly or I don’t like it.” Okay, note to self: stick to sushi.

Then when we were curling up on the couch I said “Mmm, you smell great, girl. You smell like strawberries.”

She didn’t even look up from the TV and muttered, “I don’t like strawberries.” Boy, flattery will get you everywhere, won’t it? Better try flowers and some candy. That can’t possibly fail.

“You’re going to make me fat” she groused. “I’m training to run a half marathon.”

“That’s it, I’m outta here” I thought to myself. But I got as far as the kitchen when the line from the rock song “Reconsider” by Marwood came to mind. “I swear I’ll leave, but we both know I won’t.”

Why? Easy. I’m just like her. Because when it comes to golf courses, they can sit in my lap and make little cooing sounds in my ear all they like and I’ll still care less about whether they have a PGA Tour pedigree or $22 million clubhouse and more about whether they have solid strategic design features and character-rich green complexes. So although by Sunday’s end seven majors will have been contested at Southern Hills, I found two other Oklahoma designs by Perry Maxwell that I like more.

Understand – we are splitting hairs between a fantastic course and a transcendent one, between the outstanding and timeless. There is no question Southern Hills is a triumph of a course and rightfully holds a place in golf history. However, there are many other Maxwell masterpieces too, courses that deserve the same reverence for a different reason.

Dornick Hills Country Club is Parry Maxwell’s first golf course. Three hours from Tulsa and ninety minutes from the nearest city of note (Oklahoma City to the north, Dallas to the south), the course is undiscovered by the golf world at large but golf historians, collegiate teams and ardent Midwest golfers know it is far more than just a hidden gem.

The course is a shrine to Maxwell’s memory. He is buried in the family cemetery, located atop a steep hill off the 7th fairway. A prominent NCAA Intercollegiate tournament is named in his memory and is one of the premiere college events on the calendar. Most importantly, a few minor changes aside, the course remains largely the same as it did when the eighteen holes were finally completed in 1923.

Shortly before her untimely death in 1919, Maxwell’s wife, Ray Woods Maxwell encouraged her husband to study golf course architecture. Maxwell was most enamored with National Golf Links of America (NGLA) and modeled many holes at both Dornick and Oklahoma City G&CC after C.B. Macdonald’s template holes. He also invented some templates of his own and they are among the best holes on the property, which tumbles up, down and into the teeth of the most severe rises and drops.

Take for example, the par-3 4th hole (190 from the tips, 150 from the regulation tees). Many people denigrate severely uphill par-3s, but Maxwell never flinched from making the most severe features of the property integral to his golf holes. Why bulldoze or avoid a terrific natural feature when you can incorporate it into a great hole? Maxwell and Mackenzie a part of the pantheon of the greatest designers because their designs are bold.

Chris Clouser (pronounced “Closer”) authored the best work on Maxwell. In his book The Midwest Associate he examines some of Maxwell’s templte holes. “One such hole” he said in an interview for Cybergolf, “is a drive to a plateau, then a drop shot.” The par-4 5th at Dornick is a solid example of both this template and how Maxwell loved to use specimen trees to force shaped shots. The tee shot must travel 240-260 and must be center or right-of-center or a large elm with overhanging branches will block the approach shot. The hole turns 90-degrees left and is two clubs downhill to a green set obliquely behind a bunker. It’s a heroic shot similar to the tee-shot at the 5th at Bethpage Black. If the tee shot is not long and straight, forget hitting the green in regulation.

The sixth hole is one of only three flaws on the golf course. Let’s examine all three now and get them out of the way. Someone stuck a little tree – as small and useless as the Hinkle Tree at Inverness right smack in front of the green. Great – we have a bunker in the sky. Sources say the tree may be removed and most agree that it has no use. Next, the first and second hole seem not to fit with the rest of the course, but they were not as Maxwell originally designed them and now serve to simply get the player to three tee, where the solid architecture starts in earnest. Finally, the twelfth hole is all wrong.

On the tee of this hard-left-bending hole, greenside trees are directly in the center line. Worse still, even from “Position A,” the right edge of the fairway, the only play is a hard draw. “I was in the best spot possible” said one participant in the Oilman’s tournament “and I had no shot.”

Look, he Mona Lisa has no eyebrows (there’s a sure bar bet winner for you). So it’s like Britt said to me about relationships, “nobody’s perfect and if they are, then that’s their flaw.” By the way, when she asked me what I thought her flaw was, I responded that she was perfect.

The rest of the course is fascinating. A short but perilous par four appears at seven. A drive and a pitch for most, you can try to drive the green, but water on the right, sand on the left, and uneven lies as you approach the green defend par admirably. The kidney shaped green features many swales. The eighth green, fronted by bunkers, has a back portion that flows away from the player, testing distance control.

The back nine features equally atmospheric moments. The eleventh green, a two-tiered, curvy beast comes back to the clubhouse so during tournament time spectators have easy access to more exciting golf. The fourteenth, another short, but sexy par-4 plays uphill to a heaving green set in a sea of sand. With all the equipment advances, now it can be driven where in Perry’s day it could not, but that leads to more exciting swings – a two or a six? Take your chance, glory or defeat.

The 13th and 15th require shots shaped around a wide variety of trees: pecans, cedars, oaks, elms and many others. The exquisite and unique 16th plays directly to the base of a forty-foot cliff with the flag sitting directly on top of this mountain, sarcastically winking at you like a bawdy harlot sitting at the bar, enticing you to come to her. Such a hole would never be built today and the brilliantly used rock face would be dynamited out of existence.

Begun in 1914, Maxwell tinkered with the design until he died in 1952, changing both the sequencing of holes and the routing. While no majors have been contested here, many major champions have played in the Maxwell during their college days including David Duval, Mike Weir, Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk. The PGA Tour held the Ardmore Open at Dornick in the ’50s. Many state amateur championships have been contested on these thin and twisting corridors.

Even with all this, the most powerful moment of the day was seeing Maxwell’s grave, high on a steep, almost vertical hill just off the seventh fairway and overlooking the hole on one side and the lake of the old “Rod and Gun Club” on the other. It’s a difficult climb up the rugged, craggy, almost perpendicular hill, especially in long black pants and wing tipped shoes. (I always dress impeccably whenever a guest at any private club). The rock is friable and crumbles easily, even under my mere 134 pounds, making footing treacherous. With yardage book in one hand, “Gatorade Rain” in the other, I grasp at whatever I can for support. One foot at a time, I grab long grass here, hug a tree there, and find footholds wherever I can.

Finally, I crest the hill and a singular site greets my eyes. A semi-circle of Ionic pillars topped with a capstone stands sentinel over eight gravestones and one bench. The first, Puritan Holt Woods, was laid to rest in 1931; the last, Herbert Earl Deskins, passed in 1985. Oaks, elms and red buds – a tree with pink blossoms serenely shade the area. In the third row from the top, there are the markers of the doting wife Ray, and Perry Duke Maxwell next to her, 1879-1952

What a final resting place; as quiet and moving as one could ever wish. God grant me the same pleasure one day. A wall separates the graves from another portion bordered by a wrought-iron fence which leads to the expansive vista of the lake.

The climb down is harder, both on my legs and on my heart. I must tear myself away from the place of reflection and restful repose. Only Mike Strantz’s 11th tee at Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore Course), the last hole he ever built, moved me more. It occurs to me that perhaps Mike and Perry are playing together in Heaven today, as though waiting for me to commune with them. It’s good to meet you too, Mr. Maxwell. Keep a weather eye on Mike for me; in fact both eyes, as often as you can spare them.

So what did I miss at the tournament by coming here, another “Tiger walk?” Sure he is making history, but many other pens and keyboards will tell that tale. Seeing Perry and his legacy resonating through the decades is more compelling than a Saturday of Woods’ death stares and fist pumps. Tiger may be “Who’s Now,” but who cares “Who’s now?” Nobody, that’s who! Perry Maxwell echoes through eternity in ways Stuart Scott, Erin Andrews, the chumps in “Chuck and Larry” and Glenn Jacobs (the “mastermind” behind “Who’s Now”), refuse to understand. It’s not what you do for a living that makes you great, it’s what you do for others. Are you working for the game’s greater glory or merely your own?

Similarly, Oklahoma City Golf & Country club is also a triumph. Greens swerve every which way. They are canted sidehill, then away from the player, then back to front. Template holes abound from the par-5 5th, with a giant knoll semi-hiding the green which is a punchbowl and sits one club downhill to the pint-sized par-4 8th modeled after the “Sahara” hole at NGLA. At a mere 280 yards, it screams to be driven, but sits in an ocean of deep bunkers. The green is hidden behind a hill and the fairway plays directly into the teeth of the hill.

That is the strength of OCG&CC, the fiercest terrain is used to be a plateau that must be challenged off the tee. Holes feature alternate shot requirements; fade off the tee, then draw into the green. The next hole requires just the opposite, keeping the player off balance and preventing him from finding a groove.

After crossing a road, the 10th through 14th play over, along and around a burn as deep, serpentine and ubiquitous as the fabled Barry Burn at Carnoustie. It has no name, but I call it Scary Burn. (America has its own Carnoustie!)

Darkness fell as I approached the 16th hole, so I will return to Oklahoma City next May and report further. I gratefully accepted Dornick Head pro Steve Ramsey and Maxwell Collegiate Tournament director Bob Bramlett’s invitation to cover the Maxwell for Cybergolf.

Just like Britt may be picky about steaks, I picky about golf courses. Look, Southern Hills is terrific. It’s a piece of golf history, there’s no question. Run don’t walk to play it. But Southern Hills is a big Ribeye. It’s a solid steak, but it has some fat on it (a sameness to a few holes) and you have too like dealing with that to choose it over other choice cuts. That’s fine if that is your personal preference.

By contrast, Dornick Hills is a porterhouse with the course itself as the huge, delectable T-Bone and Perry’s grave as the strip steak portion you get as a bonus. Oklahoma City G&CC is a chateaubriand; hugely impressive in presentation, but much more importantly, the greatest substance of all. The routing is impregnable and the fascinating, boldly twisting greens cement its place in the pantheon of not only Maxwell’s greatest work, but among the country’s greatest courses. Failure to list Dornick and OCGCC in a list of Maxwell’s masterpieces is a colossal blunder. They must be mentioned in the same breath as Southern Hills, Crystal Downs, and Prairie Dunes.

And just as all that talk about food made me hungry, Britt was standing in front of me. Her bag was in one hand, her jacket in the other, floral flip-flops on her long, thin feet.

“I’m hungry. What do you want for dinner?”

Think fast! Think fast! What’s the right answer?

“Why don’t you pick?” I answered wisely.


Other than Woods’ 69, which gave him a three-shot lead over Stephen Ames of Trinidad and Tobago, the only other person who made headlines Saturday was Boo Weekley. The good news is he shot a 65. The bad news is he adds poorly. As he said himself, “I was never good at math” but you’d think he could get to five, even using his fingers and toes. Boo, keeping playing partner Sergio Garcia’s score, gave him a four on the 17th hole, not the five Garcia actually got. For whatever reason, Garcia failed to catch the error himself. He was subsequently disqualified for signing a card that had a score less than what he actually carded. That was a ghastly error.

It would take ghastly errors on Woods’ part to blow a three shot lead on Sunday and that has never happened. He was a perfect twelve for twelve as he arrived at the course. With three birdies in the first eight holes, it looked like the rout was on. The lead was a massive five shot and Woods looked as impregnable as ever.

Then something funny happened on the way to the winner’s circle. First, as Woods leapt into the air to celebrate his birdie at eight and five shot margin, he landed awkwardly, his foot coming down on a sidehill slope. TV overplayed it, fearing he was injured, Woods downplayed it saying it was nothing, but whatever it was for real, Woody Austin and Ernie Els started their charge at exactly the same time. Tiger may be a great golfer, but he’s not Fred Astaire and he’d do well not to reprise his little Twinkle Toes moment because had he actually hurt himself a la Martin Grammatica, it would have been worse than embarrassing.

Further, Els and Austin decided that if they were going down, they were going down swinging hard and dug deep for courage and fortitude. Tiger bogeyed nine. Most thought it just a hiccup, although the TV broadcast was making it sound as though Woods’ Lindy Hop moment was to blame.

Then Austin went on a three birdie run right in Woods’ face. As the last fell at the par-5 13th, he was only one back. As the crowd screamed, finally awakening for another player, Austin pulled on his ear, trying to rouse them into further exaltation. While it actually looked more like a soccer mom reprimanding a fractious child, his spirited sent a message.

Meanwhile, Els, silent this year until the British Open where he also charged on Sunday to a fourth place finish, birdied 13 and 14. He was just two back. “He’s been swinging better since the Memorial” noted The Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo in a short chat with Cybergolf. “He’s got Josh [his swing coach] here and they’ve been working well all week. His putting was inconsistent, but he really did well in that stat this week.” Els finished second in putting and was leading the field after three rounds. Els also had changed equipment to Callaway before the Masters and took several months to get comfortable. “It started to click at the Memorial” he told Cybergolf. The resurgence showed with his excellent finish at Carnoustie, one fatal triple bogey aside.

On the other hand, Woods, usually lethal in the clutch, played the remainder of the round 1-over. Still, not to be outdone, he did what champions do when challenged – he responded. As I have said in college – whether talking about a sport I played or a job I had to do – when there’s no other option, you have to cope.

After his last bogey of the day at the 14th and seeing his lead dwindle to just one over Austin, “I just did some serious yelling at myself going up to the 15th tee.” It worked.

Few people know that when Phil Mickelson was practicing at Winged Foot for the 2006 U.S. Open where he authored one of the game’s greatest tragedies and morality plays, he would close each and every day by playing 15-16-17-and-18, all par-4s. “I wanted to make four pars because I knew winning the title could depend on that.”

That was prophetic.

Anyway, once again, Woods did what Phil could not. He played the four closing holes, also all par-4s, in 1-under. “I just kept telling myself Ernie and Woody were making runs, but I still had the lead and if I made pars they would have to come get me. If they made a birdie to tie, I could birdie the same hole and I’d have the lead again.” Woods’ birdie at re-established his two-shot cushion and gave him the comfort zone to coast home. Woods hit his last four fairways and greens of the tournament to close with precision. It was the hallmark of a true champion. True grit in the clutch, self-reliance, diligence, courage and fortitude; he can do it on command. Maybe he does set a life example when he plays.

There was so much more wisdom to take from the event as well though, provided by player and pundit alike: Spander’s search for the perfect words, Parascenzo and the Irish crew’s camaraderie, the fire of Harrington, the diligence of Els, the fearless spirit of Austin, the drive of Woods, the kindness of Ben Curtis. Golf certainly does mirror life and offers the most accurate view into a man’s soul, angel or devil, prince or pauper, octogenarian or toddler. That’s what to take from this tournament and any other, not merely “Tiger Woods won again,” although he once again gave us an enduring masterpiece too. Yet the game and its life lesson overshadow any and every player, whatever their accomplishments.

Speaking of masterpieces, as we glided in for a landing, a singular sight graced my eyes, providing the ultimate capstone to a memorable, historic weekend. From the window of my Puddlejumper, I saw the curvature of the Earth in all its majesty and grandeur and on the horizon, a ruby-red sun, blazing with clear, absolutely prismatic light. It burned fiercely before winking under the horizon leaving a spectrum of color in its wake, leaving me to reflect on touchdown at LaGuardia and – forty minutes later – a table at Sarabella’s Ristorante in Forest Hills within touching distance of “Dan and Dave” plinking and plunking their way through Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” and a glass of ten-year-old-tawny and a dish of penne arrabiata.

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