Dear PGA and USGA,
Did you see that? Were you watching the 100th playing of the PGA Championship this weekend?
Brooks Koepka, a man who suffered a wrist injury that almost ended his career and kept him out of the 2018 Masters, shot (-16) to win the Wanamaker trophy and his 3rd major in the last 2 years. And the funniest, strangest, greatest thing about it? Fans loved every minute.
The massive crowds of diehard sports fans from St. Louis and all over the country packed into Bellerive Country Club, lined the fairways ten to 20 people deep, endured weather delays, and let out palpable roars on the weekend that echoed throughout the grounds for all to hear, players included. The electricity was measurable, even watching from home.
Fans weren’t worried that Brooks’ final tally tied Henrick Stenson’s 2016 Open Championship total of 264 for the lowest total score in a major tournament. Nor did anyone lose sleep over whether the hot and humid weather and soft course conditions made Bellerive too easy (except for maybe Jordan Spieth); or that the long hitters drew a decided advantage by being able to bomb drives past much of the trouble, effectively shortening the long par-4s to driver-wedge.
No, fans simply loved watching the top players in the world duke it out on one of the biggest, most prestigious stages in golf. This was a no holds barred, blink and you won’t keep up, don’t look behind you now because that man is dressed in his red and black Sunday best and has it going early, slugfest.
Love him or hate him, Tiger Woods had everyone transfixed to their TVs and phones as he stalked the top of the leaderboard. Whenever he is in contention on a Sunday, especially in a major, all we want to know is could this be his moment to regain glory once again?
But Tiger was only one of many legitimate challengers in contention. Look at the leaderboard heading into the final round. 13 players started the day within 5 strokes of Brooks Koepka’s 54-hole 12-under number.
Seven of the 13 players within 5 strokes have won a major. Let that sink in. Over 50% of the players within striking distance have closed the deal.
Of the six players who have not won a major, Rahm and Fowler are considered two of the best players yet to win a major (Fowler has a PLAYERS championship title), and Shane Lowry has won a WGC-Bridgestone championship. Quite simply, that is a lot of firepower and experience ready and waiting in the wings for the leader to falter.
This is the new week-in, week-out test of the PGA Tour. A fearless generation of talent aided by the most technologically advanced equipment, metrics and analytics. There is not a shot or player who these guys fear. They all think they have a chance to win any given week, and they are all correct. As one of the announcers over the weekend so eloquently stated, “This is Tiger Woods competing against his legacy.”
So, please take a moment and reflect on the successes of this tournament, the handling of the course conditions by the R&A at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie and some of your recent logistical decisions regarding the schedule.
On paper, the upcoming shuffle of the Tour schedule looks like a massive success. Moving the PGA Championship to May and the PLAYERS Championship to March balances the calendar by hosting one major or elite tournaments per month. From March through the conclusion of the FexEx Cup playoffs at the Tour Championship, this format gives time to build up the excitement for each tournament and honor it with proper reverence.
Likewise, the R&A objectively viewed the conditions at Carnoustie and made some tough, but important layout decisions. Even if everyone wanted to see the same Car-nasty from the 1999 Open Championship, it simply was not to be.
Due to an unusually hot and dry UK summer the fairways were so baked out that they could hardly hold anything. This meant not overgrowing the roughs and giving players manageable and slower than normal greens to shoot at. If they had let the roughs grow thick and sped up the greens it could have been a bigger drama than the conditions at Shinnecock Hills during the 2018 US Open. What was the result? A fantastic finish, a packed leaderboard near the top and 4 days of must see golf action capped off by a historic victory.
The game is as strong today as it has ever been. Continue to make the decisions that grow the game and increase its popularity worldwide. Further investigate the rules of the game and make them more user friendly for both seasoned veterans and players new to the game.
And most importantly, stay away from your ego at the US Open. It is okay for a champion of the US Open to break par, and even go low. Present the players with a tough test, but do not get so carried away tricking out the course that you fall prey to the same mistakes that marred the US Opens at Shinnecock Hills and Chambers Bay.