Bunker Mentality

The madcap magic of Medinah

Bunker Mentality

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Medinah CC

Medinah Country Club, set out in a vast, sprawling piece of land in a Chicago suburb, is one of the strangest yet most fantastic venues in the world of golf. The men who created this unique club were inspired in equal measure by the mystical and the magnificent, and that seems to have rubbed off on the golf championships which have taken place here.

We look at the top five things that have made Medinah so magical over the years.

What's in a name?

Almost every golf club in the world is named after one of three things: the course location, some striking feature of the local environment or - occasionally - the name of some venerable grandee of the game.

Not Medinah: the course's founders, a group of men from a Masonic organisation called the Shriners, were inspired by the romantic notions of the great eras of the past from across the world. After considering alternatives based around the court of Louis XIV, they settled on naming their new club after the iconic Middle Eastern city - and designed a clubhouse to match, with minarets and colourful tiling straight out of a Hollywood set designer's Arabian Nights fantasy.

The town which later grew up around the club borrowed the same name, making it seem to later generations as if Medinah was just another golf course named after its location. But now you know different.

Hale Irwin's putt

It's June 17 1990, and the final day of the US Open at Medinah after four days of birdies at an uncharacteristically low-scoring US Open. Journeyman pro Mike Donald looks all set to be the last man standing, holding off the challenge of a Nick Faldo at the very peak of his powers as the tournament enters the final few holes.

Up ahead on the 18th, however, something extraordinary is happening. Veteran star Hale Irwin - who was only given a spot as a special favour by the USGA - has launched a far-fetched attempt to come from five shots back on the final day and thus become the oldest ever winner of the tournament.

Irwin arrives at the last looking as if he must make a birdie to have any chance of getting into a play-off, and it seems his hopes have disappeared as his second shot to the 18th leaves him on the far side of the treacherous green, 45ft from the cup. Only a miracle could keep him in the tournament, and he hits his putt almost nonchalantly, with three putts far more likely than one… yet the miracle promptly arrives. The ball tracks the hole all the way before dropping, as it does so detonating an explosion of noise from the crowd watching a 45-year-old re-live his glory days.

Irwin goes bananas, galloping into a lap of honour around the edge of the crowd and high-fiving anyone and everyone in one of the most unforgettable climaxes to a Major championship.

The drama was not yet over, however: a rattled Donald started to lose his swing, but pulled off superb par saves on the 16th and 17th to make it into an 18-hole play-off on the Monday. Donald appeared once again to have ended Irwin's dream as he led by two shots with three to play, but a 2-iron straight at the pin on 16 from Irwin closed the gap to one shot and Donald's par putt on the last slipped by the edge. With the scores tied Irwin then birdied the first sudden-death extra hole to claim the title, and he remains the oldest winner of the US Open.

The brutal start and watery finish

In his first practice round at Medinah ahead of the 1975 US Open, Jack Nicklaus walked up to the 8th tee shaking his head in disbelief. "I can't ever recall playing a course with four par-5s in a row," he said.

Medinah has no such thing, but the long, uphill par-4 4th and 6th holes (the latter of which is over 500 yards) and the par-5 5th and 7th holes (the latter of which is over 600 yards) make this course a proper brute. In 2006 it became - at 7,657 yards - one of the longest courses ever to stage a Major (Kiawah Island last month became the new record-holder at 7,676 yards) and with tree-lined fairways it has always been a slog for all but the best.

It's not just length, though: water comes into play in all but one hole from the 12th to the 17th, a stretch which has decided several Majors at the venue and promises drama aplenty.

While the course is tough, you can expect plenty of birdies. The newly-redesigned par-4 15th, for example, is set to offer players a chance to defy the lake by trying to drive the green, while Davis Love III has personally overseen a widening of fairways and thinning of rough that is designed to get the birdies flowing and the home crowd pumping.

Sergio's sprint up the fairway

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Sergio Garcia scissor-kicks his way up the 16th at the 1999 US PGA Championship

It seems hard to believe now, but back in 1999 people were questioning whether Tiger Woods really was an all-time great in the making. He had taken the world of golf by storm in 1997 with his Masters victory, but despite several decent chances he had failed to close out the deal in a Major since that moment - and then he arrived at Medinah for the 1999 US PGA Championship.

On top of that, a new Spanish star was coming through the ranks: Sergio Garcia, an amazing amateur golfer who had turned professional just a few months after shining at the Masters and who had won in just his sixth start as a professional. 'El Niño' was the youngest player in over half a century to even be in the field, but he had led after the opening round and was one off Woods's leading score going into the final round.

Woods pulled clear halfway through the final Sunday, at one stage leading by five shots… but Garcia kept on chipping away and had closed to within a shot when he drove into the trees of the tough 16th.

The next shot made him famous throughout the game: with his ball sitting in among tree roots and over 200 yards from the green he hit a seemingly-suicidal cut shot that curved around the dogleg and scampered up the hill. Garcia had closed his eyes at impact, but chased after his ball and jumped into the air several times like a giddy schoolboy chasing a paper plane, trying to see where it had gone.

The miracle escape shot saw him save par, and even though Woods hung on to win it seemed certain that the game had witnessed the first duel of a classic rivalry. Sadly, it didn't turn out that way: Woods pulled away, with that US PGA title the first in a run of five Major victories in six tournaments. Garcia is still yet to win the Major championship his talent deserves.

Home of the underdogs, and Tiger's favourite hunting ground

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Tiger Woods with the US PGA Championship trophy at Medinah

It is not just Hale Irwin and Sergio Garcia who became surprise contenders at Medinah. At the 1949 US Open, a dentist called Cary Middlecoff beat Sam Snead to win the title. Snead was leading as he came to the long par-3 17th, a hole which is now the 13th, but was still a shot of over 240 yards across water away from a well-bunkered green. Snead made the carry but missed the putting surface and made a bogey to hand the title to Middlecoff, who justified his decision to quit dentistry for golf with the victory and went on to win nearly 30 tournaments and several more Majors.

Medinah has also been a favourite hunting ground for hot favourites, though, mainly in the form of Tiger Woods. The American is the only man ever to win the US PGA twice at the same venue, and it was at Medinah - in 1999 and 2006 - where he did it.

Woods might be the world number two at the moment, but never has he been more in need of a big performance to prove that he still has great days ahead of him in the very biggest tournaments. Added to his poor Ryder Cup record,  Woods is in the unique position of being something of an underdog at a course where he has always excelled. That is ominous news for European fans, and it's something which will add an intriguing extra element this week.

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