By Jeff Rude, Golfweek
Phil Mickelson sharpened his saber again Wednesday and impaled architect Rees Jones’ renovation of Cog Hill’s No. 4 course. If this were football, the left-hander would have been flagged 15 yards for piling on and another 5 yards for jumping offsides.
“There’s really no shot-making here that’s required,” Mickelson said of the BMW Championship host course. “It doesn’t really test our ability to maneuver the ball because the fronts of the greens are blocked, and the only shot is to hit a high flop shot that stops. Chipping areas, shot value around the greens, penalities for certain misses, all that stuff wasn’t really well thought out.”
It is no secret that Mickelson isn’t a fan of Jones’ work. Jones has renovated numerous U.S. Open courses, prompting his nickname as the Open Doctor. The left-hander, though, talks about his designs as if they are open sores. And he does so without mentioning Jones’ name.
Mickelson’s dissatisfaction can be traced to Jones’ 2001 redo of Torrey Pines South, a course Lefty grew up playing in San Diego. He doesn’t like the new layout, and his play has reflected his sentiment. He won PGA Tour events three times there before the changes, none since.
And so it was that he lobbied Wednesday for other architects to take a crack at Cog’s Dubsdread course.
“I’d love to see a Gil Hanse or a (Ben) Crenshaw-(Bill) Coore or Kyle Phillips or David Kidd or guys that really know what they’re doing come in and create something special here because I think that’s what the (Jemsek) family and this facility deserve.”
Guys that really know what they’re doing.
You might call that a sword to the stomach. But his slashing didn’t stop there in giving his take on a course that has held a Tour event since 1991, including the last two post-changes.
“We all wish that it had turned out differently,” he said. “But there were a lot of other guys to choose from that probably could do the job, and maybe if they just start over, it could turn into something really special.”
Just start over?
Well, unless Mickelson writes a big check, that’s not going to happen. The owners, the Jemsek family, spent an estimated $5.2 million on the renovation, which included a underground SubAir system designed to manage turf moisture and provide optimum subsurface growing conditions.
A source close to the Jemseks said a couple of holes (read: greens) will be redone, probably to better facilitate approach shots if not pin positions. That’s the good news. But Mickelson might choke on his breakast knowing the source said Jones will do the work.
Perhaps the funniest part of Lefty’s news conference is this next part.
“It’s playable; it’s fine for us,” he said. “We don’t have any problems with it. But the average guy just can’t play it.”
For Mickelson to circle around and say he thinks it’s “fine” and that he and some other players “don’t have any problems with it” is perhaps the funniest thing I’ve encountered since the last Chris Rock special.
What’s more, the passionate left-hander took an opportunity to move the BMW event away from Cog Hill for good.
“This will be the last year we play here, so hopefully we’ll make the most of it and then we’ll move on,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll find another course that’s a little more suitable here for us, for this tournament.”
Not so fast.
“That’s his total speculation,” said John Kaczkowski, president and chief executive officer of the Western Golf Association. “Nothing has been decided for 2013. Cog Hill will be considered along with other courses in Chicago. There’s been widespread speculation (about leaving Cog), but the facts are we will sit down after this tournament and see how it did in terms of golf course, ticket and hospitality sales and attendance.”
The BMW will move to Crooked Stick next year because the Ryder Cup is at Medinah, currently in bad condition, in another Chicago suburb next September. It will return to an undetermined venue in Chicago in 2013, then move to Cherry Hills in Denver in 2014. After that, the WGA, which oversees the Evans Scholars Foundation that is funded in part from BMW proceeds and benefits deserving caddies, hopes to hold the event in the Chicago area on a “semi-permanent or permanent basis,” Kaczkowski said.
The mild-mannered Steve Stricker, who won here in 1996, is also among those who aren’t fond of the alterations. But his take is more subdued and should carry more weight because he isn’t a vocal anti-Jones activist.
Like so many others, Stricker accurately says the course looks far better from tee to green, what with deepened fairway bunkers and the like. His problem is that some pins are inaccessible with long clubs for the average pro and some cloverleaf greens are too undulating.
“I feel sad for the Jemsek family,” Stricker said. “It’s too bad. They need to get their money back.”
I’m fairly certain Jones has cashed the check and isn’t in the mood to provide a full rebate.
I’m also certain not everyone dislikes the place. For one, defending champion Dustin Johnson, a bomber whose game suits Cog Hill.
“I like the golf course a lot,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It suits my game. It’s long; it’s hard.”
Nor does owner Frank Jemsek agree with the critics.
“Phil and I have a difference of opinion,” Jemsek said. “I like Rees’ work. I don’t think I like the work to justify my hiring of the guy. I like that he made big greens into three small greens because we were trying to make the golf course more challenging and put the ‘dread’ back into Dubsdread.
“We did a survey of our customers, and almost to a man they like it better now than before, even though 80 percent score higher.”
• Nine spots for next week’s playoff finale at the Tour Championship are up for grabs this week at the 70-man BMW event. The top 21 in FedEx Cup points are mathematically assured of making the top 30 and advancing to East Lake in Atlanta next week.
Three players who began the playoffs outside the top 100 still have a chance. Camilo Villegas has moved from 107 to 47, Ernie Els from 118 to 68 and Chris Stroud from 106 to 70. Els and Stroud need to finish third or better to advance, Villegas fifth or better.
Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.