Cary Cozby, PGA, Gives Insider's Look at Southern Hills Country Club
Scottie Scheffler shot 64 during a practice round at Southern Hills Country Club ahead of the PGA Championship. But don’t expect to see many scores like Scheffler’s when the season’s second major gets underway in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Cary Cozby, PGA, the Director of Golf at Southern Hills Country Club, who recently caddied for Tiger Woods during a practice round at the course, didn’t see every shot of Scheffler’s round like he did with Woods’, but says Scheffler’s low round isn’t a likely indicator of the scores fans will see during PGA Championship week.
“He played after an 8-inch rain and zero wind,” Cozby said about Scheffler’s round. “I don't think we’re going to have rain, we're going to be dry. If you look at the past champions, there's been a great round one of the [four] days. I think the cut is going to be higher than we’ve ever had here.”
Cozby is right about those past champions and he knows well the history of major championships at Southern Hills Country Club, which has been a formidable test.
Less than three dozen players, combined, have finished under par in the seven major championships staged at Southern Hills Country Club. That’s three U.S. Opens and four PGA Championships in which less than two percent of the competitors managed a sub-par round. And that was before the course underwent a two-year restoration by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner.
Since the PGA Championship was last held at Southern Hills Country Club in 2007, the course underwent a restoration in 2018 and 2019 to return the historic venue to the original, Perry Maxwell design which opened in 1936. The course was lengthened to as much as 7600 yards should Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s Chief Championships Officer, choose to push the course to its limit.
“We’re 450 yards longer and if it stays dry and a little wind, I'll say there’ll be some great rounds,” Cozby said about the scores he’s expecting during the PGA Championship, “but I don't think anyone will do that for four days. If they do, they will have earned it for sure.”
With a forecast full of sunshine and a minimal chance of rain on the weekend of the PGA Championship, Cozby expects the course to test players from start to finish. The Director of Golf knows first hand the pressure cooker that is Southern Hills Country Club because he played the Senior PGA Championship on the course in 2021. Cozby says it demanded his constant concentration, with zero let-up from the opening tee shot to the final putt.
“There’s this constant pressure where, with a barely poor struck shot, you're going to pay a price for it,” Cozby said about his experience competing on the course. “Any of the 18 holes, a great player can make bogey. There's not a hole out there that’s like, ‘oh this is a breather, I can get a birdie look out there.’”
Off the tee, Cozby says the major venue is less claustrophobic than it was in 2007. Tree removal has opened up the fairways, which he expects will entice players to hit driver or 3-wood more often. However, the course is much more demanding when it comes to the approach shot. Cozby says there is little rough around the greens, instead players will encounter tight lies with closely mowed, firm, Bermuda grass. Cozby says the ball could roll as far as 50 yards after a wayward pitch.
“It's gotta be somebody with a really elite short game that’s going to win,” Cozby said about the importance of minimizing mistakes around the greens.
On the front nine, Cozby says a pair of par 4s, No. 2 and No. 7., will be most challenging. No. 2 will play 500 yards and No. 7 at 489 yards. No. 7 is a unique hole in that it is the only hole that does not follow the traditional routing from when the course opened in 1936. The hole was pushed back 40 yards during the restoration.
“There’s some risk-reward,” Cozby said about the seventh hole. “We’re going to see birdies, and some others, on that hole for sure.”
The par 3, eighth hole will be another one to watch during championship week as it plays at a daunting 251 yards and is all uphill. Cozby equates the hole to a mini, par 4 with a tough green. He says the hole can play as difficult as Haigh wants depending on the setup.
The pressure doesn't let up as players make the turn. Cozby says the par 4, 10th hole is his sleeper pick for one of the most challenging holes on the inward nine.
The restoration saw the removal of two critical trees on No. 10 which used to push players into hitting the proper approach shot. By avoiding the trees, they’d land their ball to the right of the green and in perfect position. With the trees gone, Cozby expects players will be more aggressive and will likely find one of the five bunkers surrounding the putting surface.
“There’s one bunker out of five bunkers around the green that is ok. Everywhere is just bad,” Cozby said about the 10th hole. “It's an uphill shot with a lot of wind. I think it's going to be the sleeper hole to watch.”
Players will need to survive the closing gauntlet of Nos. 17 and 18 on their way into the clubhouse. In 2021, Haigh made the par 4, 17th hole reachable during one round of the Senior PGA Championship and Cozby says he could do the same again this week. The par 4, at a mere 371 yards, may provide an opportunity for players to pick up a shot on the field, but the par 4 closing hole will demand players’ full attention.
“Seventeen is one of the best short holes in the world and No. 18 is a punch in the gut with 500 yards uphill into the wind, [to a] crazy green."
Still an active competitor and avid golfer, Cozby absorbed each and every moment he could while caddying for Woods in his practice round at Southern Hills Country Club. As the rest of the world’s top players descend on his course in the coming week, Cozby says he’s eager to learn about their practice, preparation and to see how they fare on the newly-restored course.
“I can’t wait to see what the scores are after the first two days,” Cozby said about the PGA Championship getting underway, “but overall, just see how these guys take on this great course.”
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