In previous features on the 2023 PGA Championship, we examined the history of the tournament at Rochester’s jewel, as well as the benefits of a November start on the infrastructure. As the calendar year of 2023 arrives, we are proud to continue our monthly preparation for the Return to Oak Hill, we are excited to present a six-question interview with Mr. Jason Ballard, the Head Golf PGA Professional at the club. To begin our exchange, we asked Mr. Ballard to provide a bullet-point list on his career in golf and at Oak Hill. The six questions follow the list.
- Born and raised in Santa Rosa, CA
- Attended San Diego State University
- Played mini-tour golf in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s
- Received PGA membership in 2004
- Oak Hill’s PGA Head Professional since 2014
- Augusta National Golf Club – Senior Assistant Golf Professional 2008-2014
- Inverness Club – Assistant Golf Professional 2013 (summer)
- Congressional Country Club – Assistant Golf Professional 2008-2012 (summers)
- East Lake Golf Club – Senior Assistant Golf Professional 2004-2008
- PGA National Merchandiser of the Year – Private Category – 2020
Here are the questions.
GolfWRX: The 2023 PGA Championship returns after ten years to Oak Hill’s East course. What will the golfers find different about the course, for the ones who were fortunate to compete there in 2013?
Andrew Green’s 2019-2020 renovation of our East Course has been well received. The goal was to create a sympathetic restoration of Donald Ross’s original vision for the property. We are excited to showcase the changes to the golfing world and challenge the best players in the world. For those that have been on property for past championships, they will notice that some trees have been removed to create better growing conditions for our grasses. All greens and bunkers have been renovated and some new tees have been added to help test the modern-day professionals.
GolfWRX: Driving, Approach Play, and Putting are three skills that a championship and its host course demand of its contestants. What will competitors need to produce, in each of those three areas, to maximize performance?
- Driving: One of the defining characteristics of the East Course has always been the narrow width of our fairways. For anyone that has played Oak Hill during the month of May, they know that the rough will be thick, which was most evident during the 2019 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Fairways average 25 yards wide making accurate driving a premium.
- Approach Play: One of the main goals during Andrew Green’s renovation was to bring back some of the original Donald Ross hole locations that we have lost over time. The new greens create a myriad number of hole locations that will bring in many challenges for players. The approach lines will need to navigate new corners of greens and deep greenside bunkers. A short-sided miss will create a difficult up and down to save par.
- Putting: All 18 greens were renovated since the 2013 PGA Championship and 2019 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Thus, any participants that played here during those championships will need to re-learn the greens. The new hole locations have created new slopes and breaks that have been unseen before in championship play.
GolfWRX: Let’s talk about the opening holes. Will players look toward a fast, under-par start, or will they seek to survive an opening gauntlet, and take advantage of later holes?
Ben Hogan once called Oak Hill’s opening hole the “hardest starting hole in Championship golf”. By modern day standards, hole #1, aptly named “Challenge” is a par-4 at 460 yards that may yield a few more birdies than it did in the 1940’s and 1950’s, however a nervous opening tee shot can find out of bounds to the right. Hole #2 “Breather” is a short par-4 at 405 yards that yielded an eagle hole out during round two that helped catapult Jason Dufner to victory during the 2013 PGA Championship. Hole #3 “Vista” played at 210 yards during the 2013 PGA Championship and and averaged 3.2 strokes, with a new tee added will now play at 230 yards during the 2023 PGA Championship it will play even harder.
GolfWRX: In your estimation, which will be the two most important holes each day on the outward nine?
- Hole #6 “Double Trouble”: This newly restored par-4 was inspired by the original Donald Ross hole and will now play 500 yards during the PGA Championship. The drive will require the player to choose to play towards the bunkers on the left side or tempt the right side of the dogleg along Allen’s Creek. Any drive that does not carry at least 300 yards will find the penalty area. The approach shot will require an accurate shot with the creek to the left of the putting green and a very deep greenside bunker to the right. Any shot that misses the green right will face a challenging up and down to a green that slopes away and toward the penalty area.
- Hole #7 “Creek’s Elbow”: One of Oak Hill’s finest par-4 holes at 460 yards. This is a very challenging driving hole with a tight fairway bordered by trees down the left side and Allen’s Creek along the right. The green has been restored adding hole locations along the edges and corners of the green guarded by a bunker on the front left. A par on holes 6 and 7 will pick up valuable strokes on the field.
GolfWRX: Part two of that question. Which two holes on the inward half will most determine a player’s success?
- Hole #14 “Bunker Hill”: One of the most dramatic and best risk/reward par-4 holes at 320 yards. During the renovation, trees were removed to expand the vistas and encourage the player to try and drive the green. A back hole location will create a difficult approach for any player who laid up off the tee due to this two-tiered green. A new runoff area over the green brings out of bounds in play and creates a very difficult up and down to a green that runs away. A birdie is a real possibility here, however bogey or worse is also in play.
- Hole #18 “Goin’ Home”: The hole is steeped in history; Shaun Micheel’s approach shot from 174 yards to 3 inches to secure the 2003 PGA Championship on the final hole and Nick Faldo’s incredible up and down from 92 yards to save par to help secure the Ryder Cup for Europe in 1995. A very difficult slight dogleg right, par-4 playing 490 yards that will challenge the players to close out the 2023 PGA Championship. Three renovated fairway bunkers beginning at 300 yards off the tee guard the right side of the fairway. Any player that finds these fairway bunkers will need to navigate steep faces that make the approach shot very difficult to find the putting surface. The renovated green now offers multiple new hole locations.
GolfWRX: You are the ultimate insider, with great inside knowledge of the East course. Is there a course-related question that we haven’t asked, that you would love to answer? Please ask it and then, answer it. Thank you for your time.
I get asked quite often what I think the winning score will be in 2023. Previously, the lowest winning score in a major championship at Oak Hill was 10 under par by Jason Dufner in 2013 and just prior to that it was 7 over par during the 2008 Senior PGA Championship by Jay Haas in 2008. It is tough to predict due to the talent level of the best golfers in the game, however the biggest factor will certainly be the weather. I can assure you that Jeff Corcoran, Manager of Golf Courses and Grounds and his team will have the course in excellent conditions to challenge the best players in the world. The good news is that no matter what the winning score is during the 2023 PGA Championship, our members are enjoying the course more than they ever have, and to me, that is what is most important in my day-to-day role as PGA Head Golf Professional at Oak Hill Country Club.
Top photo courtesy of Evan Schiller. Other photos courtesy of the author. His work is viewable on @buffalogolfer on Instagram.
Max Homa’s winning WITB: 2023 Farmers Insurance Open
Driver: Titleist TSR3 (10 degrees, A1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei 1K Black 65 TX
3-wood: Titleist TSR3 (16.5 degrees, C1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue TR 8 X
7-wood: Titleist TSR2 (21 degrees, C1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD XC 9 TX
Irons: Titleist T100S (4), T100 (5), Titleist 620 MB (6-9)
Shafts: KBS Tour $-Taper 130 X
Wedges: Vokey Design SM9 (46-10F, 50-12F, 56-14F, 60-04L)
Shafts: KBS TOUR $-Taper 130 X (46), KBS Hi Rev 2.0 125 S (56-60)
Putter: Scotty Cameron T-5.5 prototype
Ball: 2023 Titleist Pro V1
Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet
More Max Homa WITBs
- Max Homa WITB 2022 (July)
- Max Homa’s winning WITB: 2022 Wells Fargo Championship
- Max Homa’s winning WITB: 2021 Fortinet Championship
- Max Homa’s winning WITB: 2021 Genesis Invitational
- Max Homa WITB 2021 (January)
- Max Homa WITB 2020
- Max Homa’s winning WITB: 2019 Wells Fargo Championship
- Max Homa WITB 2017
- Max Homa WITB 2013
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