Dustin Johnson absolutely blitzed the rest of the field in the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs last weekend. He finished an unfathomable 30-under par, 11 shots clear of second-place finisher Harris English. The PGA TOUR and the top 70 players in the current playoffs standings now head to Chicago for the BMW Championship. Each player will get four full rounds this week, as this is a no-cut event.
This year the BMW Championship will be played on the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club, which will be hosting a PGA Tour level tournament for the first time since Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open there in 2003. The 2015 U.S. Amateur, won by a young and slim Bryson DeChambeau, was also played on this course and featured a number of regulars on the current PGA Tour, including Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa.
Other than the few guys in these singular events, we don’t have any course history to work with as we evaluate the course fit, so I will focus most of my article on how the course will set up this week. I do expect this week’s tournament to play much more similar in scoring to the 8-under par winning score for Furyk in 2003 than the birdie-fests we’ve seen over the last few weeks. As I begin to layout the course for you below, I think you’ll begin to understand my sentiment on scoring.
Olympia Fields Country Club – North Course
The classic-style course is listed to be set up as a lengthy 7,323-yard par 70 with narrow fairways and smaller greens. The kentucky bluegrass rough has been grown up, officially listed at “4 plus” on the tournament fact sheet. It also lists the bentgrass/poa annua mixed greens to roll at a quick 12.5 on the stimpmeter, which will be made more difficult by the multi-tier, undulating nature of the green complexes at Olympia Fields.
The fairways and greens are well protected, in addition to the long rough, as there are 85 bunkers and water in play on nine holes. Butterfield Creek serves as the main water hazard as it winds in and out of play throughout the course on both the front and back nine.
It appears the PGA TOUR will stretch this course to its max and the players will start their day with an absolute beast of a par 5. The first hole is listed at 626 yards on the scorecard and will be reachable in two by only the longest players in the field, but those bombers will also have to be accurate to even consider going for the green with their second shot. In reality, par will be a good score on the first hole.
The North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club will have one other par 5 this week, the 606-yard 15th. This dogleg right will feature bunkers in the landing zones off the tee and surrounding the green, requiring length and precision to reach the green in two. It’s doesn’t appear to be any more attackable than the first hole.
There will be four par 3s this week, with two set to play more than 215 yards, and the two others more scoreable at less than 190 yards. The 8th will be the biggest test as it will be stretched out to 251 yards, requiring the players to dial in a long iron, hybrid or even a wood to reach this green. The 13th will provide what appears to be a rare potential birdie as it will play just 168 yards, which is a short iron or wedge for most of the pros.
The par-3 13th appears to be the back end of a brief three-hole stretch of opportunity. The 11th and 12th are both par 4s that will play less than 400 yards. Players will enjoy this quick reprieve since even if they choose less than driver from the tee, they will still have a short iron or wedge into the green. This may be the group of holes where we can expect the players to gather some birdies.
The BMW Championship is likely to be decided across the 12 par 4s at Olympia Fields. Seven of those 12 are set to play more than 450 yards, including the 510-yard finishing hole. As the contenders come down the stretch of this championship on Sunday, they will be met with a long dogleg left with a tee shot into a narrowing landing area protected on both sides by bunkers. The approach will be into a tiered green, protected by four bunkers and a small pond positioned short and to the right of the green.
I expect this lengthy course to play difficultly and favor the all-around players this week. As always, it’s an advantage to be long, but I don’t think Olympia Fields is a course that will suit the bombers better than the accuracy/precision types due to the penalizing rough. This week, it will be more important for players to find fairways and greens, but be strong in scrambling as par will be just fine around this course.
I’m looking forward to a very strong test of golf for the top players this week in what may end up being a preview of next month’s U.S. Open.