Top 25 Instructor Labritz Prepares For The PGA

New Yorker Gears Up For Another Go At Bethpage Black

pga championship labritz iron
Rob Labritz (Photo by Montana Pritchard/PGA of America)

Looking back on the 2009 U.S. Open, the first time I saw the Black, it was, “Wow, this golf course is special.”

Special, stout, long, penalizing — probably one of the hardest golf courses we can be put on. Just a great test.

What are your expectations as far as set-up for the PGA, given that it’s so early in the year?

That’s a good question. It really depends on the conditions — if it’s gonna be fast and hard, or mushy. It’s all you want at 7,500 yards, maybe even longer if you start tipping it out and you’re not getting much roll. You’ve got a lot of forced carries. It’s just a beast. The longer hitters will definitely have an advantage.

How are you preparing? What are you concentrating on in your game?

I’ve been preparing since last year, ever since I knew I qualified for the PGA National Championship again. I knew a Top 20 spot would get me right in my backyard, so to speak. But I’m excited to get to Bethpage, where I’ve played a ton of competitive golf. I know Kerry Haigh and crew have set it up for the tournament; they do a great job allowing players to make a bunch of birdies. They’re not trying to kill you out there, they just want to see some good golf.

It will be a different set-up from the U.S. Open, where the rough was six inches high. Hopefully it’s a little different from that.

That would be nice. We played our state open there the year before the [2009] U.S. Open. I think I actually won that year. I remember if you hit it in the rough, you literally couldn’t hit it more than 50 yards. So I would like to see that not happen.

Obviously you need to be strong in every part of your game to make it there, but what will you lean on, what’s your game plan once you tee it up?

I’m going to lean on my experience there. I know I’m not the longest hitter, but I know that I’m not the shortest. I’m a very good ballstriker, I’ve cleaned up my short game a lot. The greens are awesome, not super undulating. My gameplan is to stay fresh. I’ll probably play nine holes a day in the practice rounds, just to experience being out there, so I’ll tee it up on Thursday ready to go.

I’ll hit as many greens as I can. There are a few places out there where I can fire at flags, given the length of the holes, so I’ll pick my points and see if I can execute.

Do you know if they’re going to make hole 7 a par 4 or par 5?

I don’t know. We’ve had a mixed bag of that throughout the years, 4s and 5s. It’s a good 4 and easy 5. It’s just another number anyway, but I hope they make it a nice par 5 for the week. I doubt they will.

Maybe they’ll move the tees up.

There’s a lot of options. I know on 10 and 12, you can put them so much farther back. Nine is another one you can do that, to really make those holes beastly. So you’ve got to hit it long. Then you’ve got to hit your long and mid-irons, depending on how long you are.

Hole 4 is one of the best par 5s there is. The way it’s stacked with the bunkers, the tiers, the green surrounds. How do you play that hole?

It depends on the wind and how hard and fast it’s playing. I’ve had the opportunity to go for that green in two a bunch of times. The only thing is, the green slopes away from you a bit. So depending on the hardness of the green, even if you have an iron in, you’re hitting it uphill, then you have to land it soft on a green that slopes away. So the conditions have to be perfect to go for it in two. It’s like the old adage: You’ve got to hit it down the middle, have a good layup number tro put yourself in position for a good wedge depending on where the flag is, or you can just dump yourself into that front bunker, which isn’t a bad play. Or bail way to the right and just chip on over no bunkers. That requires a long layup shot.

You mentioned the greens. In the 2009 Open guys were burying long-distance putts. So there are putts to be made out there.

Definitely. I won’t say the greens are benign, but they are compared to a lot of other courses, like Oakmont. But when you get them fast, all these little nuances pop out, which makes it really challenging. No. 15 is a tough one, it can sneak away from you. Other than that, you just have to stay below the hole and pick your poison.

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