Photo by Christine Troyke
JOHNS CREEK -- For those outside the ropes, there are fans atop the bleachers and misting stations to cool down. For the players, there are buckets filled with cold, bottled water at every hole.
Better take advantage of it.
They don't call it Hot-Lanta for nothing.
The PGA Championship is back in the Deep South, right in the middle of a summer that's more blistering than usual -- even for these parts.
On Sunday, a handful of players showed up at the Atlanta Athletic Club to get in a practice round, including 2002 PGA champion Rich Beem. The conditions were about par for the course this year -- the temperature climbed into the low 90s, the humidity made it feel more like 100.
The forecast calls for more of the same the rest of the week.
Beem wasn't concerned.
"If I'm worried about the heat, then I must not be in very good shape," he said, looking rather fresh after playing the Highlands Course. "They give you water on every single tee box. If you're not smart enough to drink it, then you ought to collapse."
Over the last two decades, the PGA has generally scheduled its August championship for courses that might be a bit milder in the middle of summer, places like Whistling Straits (Wisconsin) and Hazeltine (Minnesota).
But the Atlanta Athletic Club, actually located in the sprawling suburbs north of its namesake city, has been an exception to the rule. It will become only the fifth club to host the PGA for a third time, serving previously in 2001 and 1981 (in addition to hosting the U.S. Open in 1976).
The club's most famous member is Bobby Jones, whose 1930 Grand Slam is memorialized with a series of plaques behind the 18th green. But he played when it was located just east of downtown Atlanta at what is now East Lake Golf Club, home to the season-ending Tour Championship. Atlanta Athletic Club moved to its current spot along the Chattahoochee River in the 1960s.
No matter the location, it's going to be a scorcher.
The organizers have set up cooling tents around the course, allowing fans to dip under cover for a refreshing mist. Some bleachers have metal fans attached to the top railing, at least providing a bit of a breeze.
The players have to make their own arrangements to deal with the heat. Most will be carrying extra gloves and plenty of towels.
Club pro Marty Jertson is used to playing in these temperatures, being from Arizona. But the humidity presents additional challenges.
"It's totally different," he said. "You've got to switch gloves all the time here. It's a little wet. But I was preparing for the worst. It's not too bad."
The world's best players were at Firestone over the weekend, competing in a World Golf Championship event. Adam Scott pulled away for a four-stroke win, but the guy carrying his bag provided perhaps the most compelling storyline heading into Atlanta.
Steve Williams was recently fired by Tiger Woods, ending a long partnership that produced 13 major championships. Clearly, it didn't end well. Reveling in Scott's win, Williams let loose with the animosity he felt toward his former boss and good friend, claiming he was fired over the phone -- not in person, as Woods said -- after being "incredibly loyal to the guy."
The heat will really be on if those two wind up in the same group on the weekend at the PGA (they're in different threesomes for the first two rounds).
Woods wasn't much of a factor at Firestone, finishing 18 shots behind Scott in a tie for 37th. Still, he was encouraged about completing a tournament for the first time since the Masters in April. He missed three months with a rather mysterious leg injury, a layoff that knocked him out of the U.S. Open and the British Open.
Scott is staying out of the Woods-Williams tiff. Besides, the Aussie probably needs to focus on being properly dressed for the PGA Championship, after getting stuck wearing all-black attire for the final round at Firestone on a rather balmy Ohio day.
"It was poor planning out of the suitcase," Scott said.
No need to bring any black clothes to the PGA Championship.
"This is nothing compared to what we're going to get in Atlanta," the world's No. 1-ranked player, Luke Donald, said after a strong closing round left him tied for second behind Scott. "Hopefully I'll be wearing white every day. Yeah, it's going to be hot and sticky, and get ready to sweat."
At least Dustin Johnson won't have to worry about driving into something resembling a bunker. Every bit of sand at Atlanta Athletic Club is easy recognizable.
A year ago, Johnson lost his shot at a three-way PGA playoff when he grounded his club in a trampled-down bunker on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits. He thought it was only a footpath; instead, he had to take a two-stroke penalty.
Martin Kaymer went on to beat Bubba Watson for the title.