Searing heat greets golfers at PGA Championship

Year's final major event to be a hot one

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. --- 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.

On Monday, as most of the players showed up at the Atlanta Athletic Club to begin practicing, the conditions were about par for the course this year: the temperature climbed into the mid-90s, and the humidity made it feel like the 100s.

The forecast calls for more of the same the rest of the week.

"It wasn't too bad," said Wisconsin native Steve Stricker, trying to sound optimistic. "This is what you expect coming here."

Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA champion, wasn't concerned.

"If I'm worried about the heat, then I must not be in very good shape," he said after playing 18 holes on 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 past two decades, the PGA has generally scheduled its August championship for courses that might be a bit milder in the middle of summer, places such as Whistling Straits (Wisconsin) and Hazeltine (Minnesota).

But the Atlanta Athletic Club, in the sprawling suburbs north of the capital, has been an exception to the rule. It will be only the fifth club to play host to the PGA for a third time, serving previously in 1981 and 2001. (It also played host to a 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 the course was 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.

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."

Stricker said the key is drinking plenty of water and munching on a few snacks while out on the course.

"You've got to stay hydrated," he said. "It's so hot, you can probably drink one of those little eight-ounce water bottles every hole."

Scotland's Martin Laird decided to play only nine practice holes each day before the tournament begins Thursday.

"It's already a long week with the heat," he said. "The golf course is long as it is (7,467 yards), and there's some long walk-backs on a couple of the tees. You have to use a considerable amount of energy, and I don't want to be worn out when I get to the first tee."

The world's best players were at Firestone last weekend, competing in a World Golf Championship event. Adam Scott pulled away for a four-stroke win, but the guy carrying his bag, Steve Williams, 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. 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 Tournament in April. He missed three months with a 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 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."

Live updates

KEEP UP WITH THE ACTION on Twitter by following columnist Scott Michaux (@scomic01) and sports editor John Boyette (@johnboyette) for updates throughout the tournament.



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