CHICAGO – BMW Championship marshals will be busy this week. But they won't be raising their arms to hush spectators because there won't be any. You know why: COVID-19 protocols.
The marshals will be entrusted to help the PGA Tour's top players find their stray drives.
"The rough is thick and gnarly," said Mike Bruni, the tournament chairman and a decades-long member at Olympia Fields Country Club, which is returning to the national spotlight.
Here are 10 things to know about this week's FedEx Cup playoff event.
1. Dustin Johnson will not shoot 30 under.
Johnson was freaky-good last week at the Northern Trust, lapping the field by 11 shots at TPC Boston and making five eagles. He expects Olympia Fields to yield fewer circled scores.
"Olympia Fields is a real golf course," he said. "It's tough and you're not going to make a ton of birdies. You need to drive it in the fairway."
Last year the field feasted at Medinah, taking advantage of soft conditions. Justin Thomas won at 25 under. With the Chicago area dry and no rain expected until Friday, the greens will be "very firm," competitor Brendan Steele said. "With the slope and speed of the greens, it will be dicey."
2. Tiger Woods is one of six past champions in the field.
But that won't necessarily give them an advantage. Woods won this event twice at Cog Hill – five times if you count the Western Open, which the BMW replaced. Johnson won at Cog Hill and Crooked Stick in Indiana. Rory McIlroy also triumphed at Crooked Stick. Jason Day and Marc Leishman won at Conway Farms, and Billy Horschel took the hardware at Cherry Hills in Colorado.
Olympia Fields is a new course for most, but not all, of the pros. Bryson DeChambeau won the 2015 U.S. Amateur there, throttling Derek Bard 7 and 6 in his final match. The Chicago Tribune described DeChambeau at the time as a "strapping 6-foot-1, 190-pound physics major at SMU." Now he's a cartoonish 240 pounds and can snap a driver just by leaning on it.
Matthew Wolff was low man at the 2018 Fighting Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields, firing 65-69-70 for Oklahoma State. Cal's Collin Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship earlier this month, finished one shot behind.
And four players in this week's field – Woods, Adam Scott, Paul Casey and Charles Howell III _ played there in the 2003 U.S. Open, won by Jim Furyk.
3. A slew of big names are missing.
How tough is it to be in the top 70 in FedEx Cup points? Consider who did not make the cut: Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson, who shot a 61 on Monday in his PGA Tour Champions debut.
The field shrank from 70 to 69 after Webb Simpson opted out, citing fatigue from playing four straight weeks. Simpson, third in the FedEx Cup standings, canceled a Wednesday practice session with Pat Goss, Northwestern's director of golf and player development.
4. Stay home, be safe.
The world's best male players are returning to Olympia Fields for the first time since the 2003 U.S. Open, and Chicago-area golf fans will not be able to see them.
"It's disappointing to say the least," Bruni said. "But the spirit remains intact. We're welcoming the 70 top players to Chicago and raising funds for the Evans Scholars Foundation."
Not even Olympia Fields members are permitted to attend, unless they are among the 300-plus volunteers required to wear masks at all times. Media credentials were limited to 68, including some TV personnel, PGA Tour Entertainment and public relations, after 235 were approved last year at Medinah.
5. Olympia Fields has been doing this for 100 years.
The club hosted the 1920 Western Open, five years after it was founded. (The first club president: Hall of Fame college football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.) Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus won Western Opens at Olympia Fields, and Hagen and Jerry Barber won PGA Championships. Danielle Kang won a thrilling Women's PGA Championship in 2017, sinking what she called "the hardest two-footer I've ever had to putt" to edge Brooke Henderson.
The North Course checked in at No. 75 in Golf Digest's latest "America's 100 Greatest" ranking. A $2.9 million restoration improved conditioning and bunkering and unearthed some bunkers that were pivotal to Willie Parker's original parkland design.
Club members are thrilled the tour will use the course's "traditional" routing, as they play it every day, with a 510-yard 18th hole and a green fronted by four bunkers. The "championship" routing flipped the nines and allowed for grandstands by the 18th green that won't be needed this week.
6. Tiger Woods has left his mark at Olympia Fields.
During the second round of the 2003 U.S. Open, Woods faced a 250-yard approach on the par-5 sixth (No. 15 this week). Blocked by trees, he reached the green with a massive cut to set up a two-putt birdie. Playing partner Ricky Barnes called it the greatest shot he'd ever seen Woods hit, telling Golf Magazine, "It was unbelievable power."
Woods finished 3 over for the week, tied for 20th.
7. Wednesday will feature an intriguing charity exhibition.
The standard wagering game at Olympia Fields is the six-point Scotch Game: two points for low team total, two for low best ball, one for "prox" (closest to the pin in regulation) and one for a birdie, doubling the point total for a sweep.
According to club lore, members at Olympia Fields invented the Scotch Game. So the format is right for a Wednesday match featuring DeChambeau and Kevin Na against Morikawa and Max Homa on the back nine. PGA Tour Live and Golf Channel will provide coverage from 2 to 4 p.m.
The BMW Championship will create a full-tuition and housing scholarship, valued at $125,000, in the name of the winning team. Each point accrued by the winning team is worth an additional $1,000, and viewers can join the fundraising effort at bmwchampionship.com. Olympia Fields members will match all online donations during tournament week.
8. Dustin Johnson is No. 1 in more ways than one.
Johnson returned to No. 1 in the world rankings after posting the tour's largest margin of victory since Mickelson won by 13 shots at TPC Sugarloaf outside Atlanta in 2006. He's also the favorite this week at 7-1, according to the FanDuel Sportsbook.
Others of note:
– Jon Rahm: 19-2
– Bryson DeChambeau: 11-1
– Justin Thomas: 12-1
– Rory McIlroy: 16-1
– Collin Morikawa: 20-1
– Jason Day: 29-1
– Tiger Woods: 31-1
– Matthew Wolff: 33-1
– Matthew Fitzpatrick: 50-1
– Bubba Watson: 90-1
– Kevin Streelman: 210-1
– Jim Herman (longest odds): 420-1
9. There's no shortage of ways to watch.
For the traditional viewers out there, Golf Channel will provide coverage from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, and NBC Sports takes over from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Paul Azinger will be NBC's lead analyst, and as of Monday he had never been to the property. Asked on a conference call what comes to mind when he hears Olympia Fields, Azinger mentioned 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk: "That's all I've got for you, buddy. I'm sorry."
Brandel Chamblee, who will handle pre- and post-round analysis, said what immediately pops into his mind is an "epic choke from Bobby Jones" in the 1928 U.S. Open. Jones went 7 over during a five-hole stretch in the final round and lost to Johnny Farrell in a 36-hole playoff for Farrell's only major title.
10. Louis Oosthuizen really wanted to be here.
He birdied the 72nd hole at TPC Boston in near darkness after a weather delay to claim the final spot in the field.
"I couldn't really see much," Oosthuizen said, "but it ended up being a good last hole for me."
Charles Howell III and Jason Kokrak eagled the final hole of the Northern Trust to stay alive in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Only the top 30 advance to next week's Tour Championship in Atlanta, so Oosthuizen & Co. will need to go low to make it.
"My caddie said fourth (place) might get it done," he said. "Third, definitely."
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