In case you can’t remember that the PGA Championship is a major, the PGA of America’s new slogan — as of last year — will remind you…constantly…with signage all around Whistling Straits.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since we were last here in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, for the 2010 PGA, which was perhaps the most compelling major of that season, with various names making moves on the back nine and then of course the heartbreaking finish and bunker-not-a-bunker fiasco that kept Dustin Johnson out of a playoff for the Wanamaker Trophy. (It’s even crazier when I realize that it was only the third major I’d ever covered.)
If we have anything close to as much drama as we did in 2010, we’re in for a treat this week. Let’s just hope we don’t have any major rules blunders on the 72nd hole of the tournament and we’ll be quite alright.
Tuesday was relatively uneventful for a Tuesday at a major championship. A colleague just pointed out to me that he can’t wait for the tournament to actually start because for the PGA, fans don’t seem to care as much about the lead-up — they just want to watch some exciting golf. I thought that was a good point. After all, it’s kind of the major that draws the least interest, or doesn’t have as much of a defining identity as the other three.
So, let’s all say it together: IS IT THURSDAY YET?
No, we’ve still got a little ways to go, so let me tell you about my Tuesday.
I kicked it off by taking a walk around the grounds to get myself reacquainted with Whistling Straits. I hit up the range and decided to do a Periscope. Yep, we were allowed to do 1-2 total from Monday to Tuesday, which was a little stingy, but I’m not going to complain — kudos to the PGA of America for being open to new forms of technology and acknowledging that the way we consume content is different nowadays.
I ran into Peter Kostis, who was working with his student Paul Casey. Kostis came over to say hello and I did a little impromptu interview with him to pick his brain. The one key bit I gathered from talking to everyone today is STAY OUT OF THE ROUGH. The long stuff lining the fairways and guarding the greens is extremely gnarly this time around — much longer and thicker than it was in 2010.
Good ballstriking and accuracy are premium, as it’ll be difficult to advance your ball out of the rough after an errant tee ball and chipping around the greens will be dicey depending on your lie. Unlike the fast and firm conditions in 2010, the course is lush and soft this time around. Strong storms and torrential rain hit the area Monday afternoon and halted practice rounds (and flights into the midwest). Don’t expect things to dry up before competition kicks off, either, because it’s too humid.
I noticed while walking the course this afternoon just how spongy it was, which made me think of Rory McIlroy. Whistling Straits is supposedly advantageous to long-hitters — and especially accurate ones this time around — and given the soft conditions, it’ll be prime for flag-hunting and target golf, which are McIlroy’s strengths. He is obviously coming off an injury, but he continues to claim that it’s a non-factor and it’s hard to argue when you watch him in a practice round. He didn’t look like the ankle bothered him one bit as he sauntered around the course and tackled the undulating landscape with ease — and with his golf clubs.
The world no. 1’s game looked sharp and he appeared confident, like he hadn’t just missed the last few months of competition. I wouldn’t count him out this week. At the same time, it’s hard for me to say that with too much assertion since we don’t know how practice will translate to real tournament play and whether or not the ankle will act up at some point, but any other year, I’d go put the house on McIlroy to win.
I walked nine — well, actually eight holes of a practice round with Matt Every, Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland. They skipped the first hole because there was a massive back-up of players all trying to tee off at the same time and they were too impatient to wait, so they went over to no. 2. Vijay Singh was playing in the group in the first fairway and there were certainly lots of jokes from the guys about the big Fijian being mad and giving them a hard time for cutting in front of him. (Basically, Vijay is all talk.)
The guys started to head for the fairway, but I reminded Woodland about the Long Drive Contest, which was taking place on 2 tee. As Every and Kuchar walked down the hole, Woodland hesitated and tried to decide if he should hit a drive. He ended up doing it, but his attempt went wide right, missing the fairway, so it didn’t count.
Kuchar brought up “that guy who is leading” the contest, but he couldn’t remember the player’s exact name. As he struggled over it, I suggested, “Anirban Lahiri?” Yeah, that’s it! Kuchar was a bit surprised that Lahiri was winning and didn’t realize he was a long-hitter because he’s not that big of a guy. Well, I guess size doesn’t always matter (but it sure helps)!
Speaking of which, Lahiri’s drive of 327 yards on the 593-yard par-5 ended up winning the Long Drive Contest. Lahiri just edged reigning PGA Professional National Champion Matt Dobyns, who poked his shot 323 yards. Meanwhile, J.B. Holmes finished third at 315 yards.
The PGA Long Drive Competition was the continuation of an event that originated at the 1952 PGA Championship in Louisville, and was revived last year. The PGA of America offered all players in the field the opportunity to hit one tee shot at the second hole. The ball had to come to rest in the fairway to be eligible to win the Long Drive Competition.
Lahiri, Dobyns and Holmes each will get a money clip inspired by the one that Jack Nicklaus received in 1963, the first of his two consecutive PGA Championship Driving titles. In 1963, Nicklaus used a persimmon driver and wound golf ball, hit a winning drive of 341 yards, 17 inches.
“I entered this contest last year and I didn’t hit the fairway, just like a lot of my friends today,” said Lahiri. “It’s helps to be able to drive it right to left. I hit a good one and got a good bounce. Now that I have a money clip, it’s going to be on me all week.”
Bubba Watson, who childishly refused to participate in the contest last year, gave it a go this time around, but noted that he missed the very narrow fairway.
“I didn’t hit the fairway,” said Watson. “I tied a bunch of people that missed the fairway, I guess. At least last year I hit the fairway.”
He wasn’t without *any* complaints, though.
“I gave it my best effort and the fairway — I don’t know if you know what No. 2 looks like, but it’s pretty tight at 300 plus yards. For some reason they make golf courses longer, and then the farther you hit it, the tighter it gets. It doesn’t make sense.”
Meanwhile, Bobby Brown, who was Dustin Johnson’s caddie in 2010 at Whistling Straits, is now looping for Every. I had to ask him about the bunker-not-a-bunker fiasco, but he politely declined to comment on the record, saying he got over that whole thing a long time ago and understands we have a job to do, but just didn’t want to talk about it. Fair enough. That’s likely the right call in this case, though I doubt Every would give a shit if his caddie were conducting interviews.
Every did post this picture on his Instagram when they passed the scene of the crime on Tuesday morning.
On the 9th green, which is adjacent to the 18th, you can see the general vicinity where bunkergate occurred, and best of all, you notice that the area has been covered by corporate hospitality tents. How convenient! I asked Bobby where along the tents did the shit go down in 2010 and he said he honestly couldn’t tell me from the angle we were standing (as shown below).
I’m pretty sure it was toward the end closer to the green, though. I’ll have more on this topic tomorrow.
Here’s a look at the 18th hole as you walk off the tee box and toward the fairway.
Speaking of bunkers, there’s a really annoying, very deep sand trap that basically splits the 6th green into two separate parts — like, it’s almost in the middle of the green. Well, Kuchar decided to try and hit some practice shots out of it.
As for the bunker-not-a-bunker fiasco in 2010, the PGA of America is doing everything it can to make sure players are aware of the rule, posting the below bulletin in nearly every visible spot in the locker room and other player areas.
Oh, by the way, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas beat Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler 1-up in their Tuesday practice round money game on Tuesday afternoon. Fowler rolled in a lengthy birdie putt on 18, but it didn’t really mean anything — besides saving him and Phil from losing *more* money.
“Jordan was in there pretty close,” recalled Fowler, with a wry smile. “He’s a decent putter. He’s made a couple of putts this year or the past year. So it wasn’t really any doubt that he was going to miss that.
“Me making the putt was to save some money. And it was nice to walk away with that. Phil and I made some birdies coming in. So it was nice to kind of finish off the match that way. It didn’t sting as bad.”
Spieth made sure everyone knew he and Thomas were victorious.
— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) August 11, 2015
I’m pretty sure I’m missing a few good nuggets, but it’s so cold in the media center that my fingers are literally freezing and preventing me from typing more. I’ll update if I think of anything. For now, I’ll take suggestions of what kind of stories you’d like to read this week (particularly preview stuff for tomorrow) and you can check out some pretty pictures I took today…