The ``PGA'' in PGA Championship stands for Professional Golfers' Association. This year it also could stand for Pete's Great Aggravation. Pete Dye is the most controversial course designer in the history of golf. He is today's most famous and most infamous architect, and he thrives on the notoriety.
``Golf isn't supposed to be a fair or an easy game,'' he says. ``My job is to make these great players hit great shots.''
The Oak Tree course here, on which the PGA will be played this week, is the first Dye design to host a major championship. It is the toughest par-71 layout in the nation, according to US Golf Association ratings.
The course features every hazard imaginable and a few that aren't, including length (more than 7,000 yards), water, sand, grass bunkers, railroad ties (a Dye hallmark), trees, and greens that are fearfully tiny and undulating.
``I told them they won't need tall rough or fast greens for the PGA,'' says Dye. ``They can just let the course fend for itself.''
In Oklahoma in August, the unseen extra hazard is the weather, which promises to be hot, humid, and just generally horrid. The wind (nearby Oklahoma City has ranked as the windiest place in the United States) would feel good, except it makes the course play even harder.
Says the diabolical Dye, ``I put some short par-4 holes on the course, but I try to take the long par-4s and jam them into the prevailing winds. That gives the boys a little more of a challenge.''
The boys, many of them, look on Dye about as kindly as they do a Southwestern rattlesnake. They think he's out to embarrass them.
Dye did the spectacular new PGA West course in Palm Springs that was one of the four sites for the Bob Hope tournament. Briefly. The pros got it thrown out for the next one.
``He's always trying to trick you,'' complains one leading money winner who withheld his name.
``He likes blind shots. He'll fake you into playing in one direction when you should be going in another. His whole philosophy is built on deception.''
Dye quickly pleads guilty. His rebuttal is that golf should examine the imagination and the emotions as well as the motor skills. He says Jack Nicklaus has compiled the best record of all time because he has more patience than his rivals.
Dye also points out that people hire him to plot the most arduous courses he can. The Landmark Company built both Oak Tree and PGA West, among other scenic but vicious layouts, and ordered Dye to make them as hard as he could.
So what player should be favored here in the PGA?
Seve Ballesteros leaps immediately to mind. He won the last major championship, the British Open, to reestablish himself as the finest player in the world. His inventiveness and unsurpassed array of recovery shots will stand him in good stead in the war of wits against Dye.
Curtis Strange, the winner of the US Open, has asserted himself as America's best player. He boasts no outstanding strength but is cursed by no glaring weakness.
Sandy Lyle won the Masters, and his trusty 1-iron will be a plus on the tight driving holes. After some early indecision, he is expected to play. Nick Faldo almost won both Opens this season and has demonstrated splendid if unexciting steadiness in the major tournaments. Greg Norman should be recovered from his injured wrist.
Larry Nelson, the victor in last year's PGA, is always dangerous in the majors. Though he has never won the Masters in his native Georgia, his steady play captured the US Open in 1983, as well as the 1981 PGA title.
Ray Floyd could have a final hurrah in him. He won the last PGA played in Oklahoma, at Southern Hills in 1982, leading from start to end.
Then there's the home team, the ``Oak Tree Gang,'' as it's called, which could swell the ranks of usual contenders. It consists of a bunch of fellows who live at Oak Tree, who play out of the club or who played the course frequently while going to school at Oklahoma State University, or all of the above: Bob Tway, Gil Morgan, brothers Danny and David Edwards, Scott Verplank, Andrew Magee, Willie Wood, Doug Tewell, and Andy Dillard.
Several of them race cars and motorcycles together for fun and money when golf gets too dull.
Tway won the PGA two years ago. Verplank won the US Amateur on this very course, and recently won the Western Open a second time to qualify for the PGA.
They agree that local knowledge could help considerably, especially if the wind blows.
If it doesn't, Pete Dye will probably hire a gigantic wind machine to make sure the course plays up to its full demonic potential.