The last time Carl Petterson set foot in South Carolina, he left Harbour Town Golf Links
wearing the plaid RBC Heritage
blazer – size XL – which goes to the winner of the state’s lone annual PGA Tour event.
The winner of the 94th PGA Championship
doesn’t receive a blazer – “just” the massive Wanamaker trophy – but Petterson wouldn’t mind at all, if he can take home his first major title.
The hefty native of Gothenburg, Sweden who attended N.C. State and has lived in the U.S. since age 10 navigated Pete Dye’s devilish Ocean Course like a native son on Thursday, firing a crisp, bogey-free 6-under par 66 for the PGA Championship first-round lead. This, on a day when hot early starts seemed to wither in the coastal humidity and the notorious breezes that have earned The Ocean Course
the designation by Golf Digest as the hardest golf course in North America.
So, is Petterson ready to add a PGA to his victory list?
“Obviously, I played well today,” he said. “You know, (the Ocean Course is) a little bit softer” because of rains the previous three days, “so that makes the fairways wider, and the wind really hasn’t blown (Thursday), and the greens are still a little bit soft.
“Under the right conditions, if it got really firm and fast and you had the wind, it would be very difficult. I think we’ve seen it about as easy as it can get (on Thursday). It is still a very good and very tough golf course, but I think we’ve had it under some of the easiest conditions you could probably get.”
The lack of wind benefited a number of previous major winners, among them U.S. Open champs Rory McIlroy and Geoff Ogilvy (both 5-under), defending PGA winner Keegan Bradley (4-under) and even two-major winner John Daly, who also posted a 4-under 68. Not surprisingly, most finished their rounds before winds picked up late.
But not every morning-round player fared so well. Early leader Joost Luiten, a virtual unknown from The Netherlands and the European Tour, blazed around The Ocean Course, shooting a 31 on the back nine and posing a threat to the course record of 63, recorded by Germany’s Alex Cjeka in the 1990s.
But Luiten, 8-under through 14 holes, staggered home at 4-under after bogeying The Ocean Course’s sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth holes. “I played really well and then to finish the round with fur straight bogeys is not a good feeling,” he said.
Luiten was asked if he “woke up and realized (he) was leading the PGA” and admitted do some nervousness. “But I was just a little bit aggressive with my putts on (No.) 6 and 7,” he said. “I was in the birdie mode, and when you are thinking like that, all you want to do is try and make more birdies.”
In previous years, Petterson said, he never had to worry about early success. Thursday was his first round in the 60s in eight PGA Championship appearances, with four missed cuts. “I haven’t contended in that many majors,” he said. “I think I’ve had two top-10s. But I’d love to have a chance and see what happens.”
It’s not so surprising that he hasn’t contended in majors, even with five career PGA Tour victories, his most recent at this spring’s RBC Heritage. “Every major, the golf courses are set up very difficult, so I think if you don’t come in with your ‘A’ game, it’s very difficult to score,” he said.
“Maybe I needed a little bit more experience of playing tougher golf courses, and I feel like I do that fairly well nowadays. So hopefully I can contend some more.”
His five-shot victory at Harbour Town – which has a who’s-who list of past winners – certainly didn’t hurt Petterson’s confidence. That week, he shot rounds of 69-66-65 before coasting home with a 70, and recorded 22 birdies en route to his 14-under finish.
Of course, Harbour Town and The Ocean Course have little in common beyond their South Carolina addresses and Pete Dye’s architectural signature. “Hilton Head is such a unique course with the trees, where here you almost have none,” he said. “Some of the bunkering is the same around the greens, but they’re raised here while (at Harbour Town) they’re mostly on the ground.
“I can see (similarities) because I know it’s the same guy (Dye). And I like his golf courses.”
So far, he likes being back in South Carolina, too.