“We know what we’re in for.”
That’s the message from Jason Day’s coach Colin Swatton as the world’s best golfers prepare for one of the game’s fiercest tests when the Black course at Bethpage State Park in New York hosts the US PGA Championship this week.
Iconic architect A.W. Tillinghast made no apologies for the strength of the test that he helped create in 1936, describing it variously as a “sabre-tooth tiger” and a “man killer”.
That infamy compelled golfers of all abilities to submit themselves to 18 holes of perverse punishment and after the 1990s renovation by Rees Jones sleep in their cars overnight for the privilege.
Bethpage Black last hosted a tournament of note in 2016 when the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs came to New York’s most famous ‘muny’, a week in which Day and Adam Scott finished tied for fourth at the Barclays tournament at seven-under par.
Day also played the 2012 Barclays at Bethpage and would have finished much higher than tied for 24th if not for an uncharacteristic third round of six-over 77.
It is that history – and the positive memories that he can draw upon – that makes Swatton believe Day is well positioned to contend for a second PGA Championship title.
“The good thing is that Jase has played that course a number of times in larger events, FedEx Cup events and things like that,” Swatton told Australian Golf Digest. “He’s been there when the course has presented its teeth, so we know what we’re in for leading into it and we already have track history.
“We have data on when he has played there in the past, so we’re able to extract that data and say, ‘These are the holes that have pushed your button in the past, these are the holes you’ve played well in the past, this is what we think’s going to win, how do we best manage our best plan moving forward in order to create that?’
“I think we’ll do pretty well.”
One of eight Australians – along with Kiwis Ryan Fox and Danny Lee – to have qualified to play in what is now the year’s second Major, Day comes in after his best greens in regulation performance at Augusta National where he was tied for fifth.
Bethpage Black boasts some of the most difficult approach shots to elevated greens that the players will see all year, but Swatton says Day’s reputation as a poor iron player is over-stated.
“I don’t necessarily think he’s that bad as an iron player,” Swatton said. “I think there are times when Jase becomes a little bit too aggressive and potentially fires at pins that don’t necessarily need to be fired at. That’s why sometimes his GIR stats from an iron play aren’t as good as they need to be.
“Augusta National was his best ever GIR. He hit 51 greens out of 72 for the week, Tiger Woods hit 58 for the week. Our goal was to hit more than 51 which we did, but when you run into a buzzsaw, you run into the best player of all time, you don’t get it done for the week.”
Swatton and Day spent time last week together applying the finishing touches to his swing so that upon their arrival to New York they could get straight down to the business of reacquainting themselves with the golf course.
“Once we get to Bethpage it’s about prepping for the tournament,” explained Swatton. “It’s about becoming familiar with the course again, which holes to hit driver, which holes to hit 3-wood, where do we want to leave the ball on the green for the best putt.
“It’s more about the actual game-plan than getting in the right positions in terms of the technical aspect of his swing.”