Balls in the Air: PGA Championship at Kiawah Island (*Updated)
By Stephanie Wei under Balls in the Air

Welcome (back) to Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not), and interesting story lines and tidbits from behind the scenes. Disclaimer: I’m just as full of crap as the next guy, maybe slightly less than others, but take my ramblings for what their worth. Oh, you know, ramblings.

Aaron Baddeley blasts a shot from a bunker-but-not-a-bunker

Sorry for the delay. I’ve got plenty of great content — pictures, videos, the works — to share (see my Twitter/Instagram for preview). Problem is it takes time to upload and format, but it’ll be up later tonight or tomorrow morning (well, at some point).

I’m on the way back to Charleston from Kiawah Island and WiFi isn’t working on the shuttle. So here’s the best I can do with my phone. See below for screenshot of my Fantasy Golf picks. (Subject to change. I’ll break down some other favorites and dark horses later, too.)


*Update: I’m too tired to put my thought into my FG line-up. Besides, if the weather stays like it’s been all week, the tournament may never finish! Media, players, caddies and everyone have decided to use humor as a coping mechanism for, well, everything, but the logistics and weather, mainly. If you watch Scott Michaux’s brilliant video documenting the shuttle bus ride from Kiawah to Charleston, you can understand why I’m absolutely exhausted. (Hat tip Geoff Shackelford.)

I’m still laughing. And nearly in tears. Scott deserves an Emmy or Webby for this masterpiece! I guess it’s not as funny if you haven’t driven from Charleston to Kiawah…but I’m sure a few of you have. It hasn’t been that bad — I’m just glad I’m not the one driving! Otherwise, it’d be the worst. One road in, one road out.

On the bright side, I just checked the forecast and it actually looks promising tomorrow! Only a 30% chance of rain on Thursday. Hopefully it stays that way and it’s not a game of stop-and-go like it has been the past few days.

As of now, the course is playing soft because of the rain, which is an advantage for bombers since it’s playing even longer than it already is. The par-3s on the back nine are kind of ridiculous (nos. 14 and 17) if they play them from the back tees (as the yardage notes). They’re both around 240 yards into small greens with run-offs and trouble everywhere. On Wednesday in a practice round, Charlie Wi, K.J. Choi and Aaron Baddeley hit a total of 8 tee shots on No. 17. Only one of them found the putting surface — Baddeley with a 3-iron. KJ and Charlie were hitting 4-hybrid and 5-wood, which found the water that guards the front of the green and the entire right side.

The landing spots are quite generous, so you don’t have to be perfect. Hitting greens is going to be very, very important since just about every green is raised up and surrounded by run-off areas. A creative and excellent short game is a must if you miss. It was interesting to watch K.J. practice around the greens. He tried a variety of shots with just about every club in his bag — from hybrid to putter in these run-off areas. You’ll definitely see a lot of guys putting with hybrids this week.

I walked the back nine on Wednesday afternoon with KJ, Baddeley and Charlie, which was interesting and informative. I’ve got some good inside the ropes stuff  (I think)– stay tuned.

OK, back to picks. Dustin Johnson is a no-brainer. Kiawah Island is like “Whistling Straits but flat,” as Pete Cowen, the famed swing instructor who coaches Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, among others, described to me. As you may remember, Dustin played really well at Whistling Straits. He would have been in a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson had that Bunkergate not happened. Also, he’s from South Carolina, so he’ll have home state support.

Dustin’s caddie, Bobby Brown, knows the course better than anyone in the field. He’s played it himself numerous times and some of those rounds were with Dustin’s brother, who moves the ball just like DJ, according to Bobby, who also knows all the local caddies and the superintendent. Bobby simply said, “My man is hitting it well.”

Another tip: the paspalum grass on the greens might throw some guys off. The breaks are very subtle and the grass kind of grabs the ball because it sits up. Local knowledge will definitely be an advantage here. I’ve heard players discuss the greens and try to explain/describe the breaks and how the ball rolls. For the most part, they sound a tad baffled, just because most aren’t used to the paspalum grass.

In a pool that I’m in with a friend and his friends at his club (got that?), I pick 7 players before the tournament starts — and I think the way it works is you throw out two of the scores and add up the rest for your team total. Ah, minor details. I just look to see where I am in the standings after each round. So, my seven were:

Dustin Johnson
Jason Dufner
Rory McIlroy
Tiger Woods
Steve Stricker
Nicholas Colsaerts
Louis Oosthuizen

Other guys I thought about picking? Well, Matt Kuchar and Bo Van Pelt are like top-ten machines, so I’m not sure why I left them off, but I’m sure I had my reasons at the time. Adam Scott and Ernie Els have obviously been playing well. So has Graeme McDowell, not to mention Jim Furyk. And of course Keegan Bradley. Can’t forget Padraig Harrington or Masters Champ Bubba Watson. Finally, U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, who missed the Open Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational because he was on baby watch/paternity leave. He’ll be rested unlike some of the other guys, who have played four or more weeks in a row. OK, I think I got the field covered!

For dark horses, I like Scott Piercy, Seung-yul Noh, Robert Garrigus and Ryan Palmer. Call me crazy, but I’m also going to throw in John Daly, who has been playing very well, for kicks. OK, one more long shot….Thorbjorn Oleson. Because his name is Thorbjorn (which means “thunderbear”). And he finished T9 at the Open Championship, only his second-career major.

Alright, who you got?