2017 PGA Championship Preview: Waiting for Golf Gods To Show Up

Posted by: mike August 8th, 2017

By Ted Johnson

 

This year has been rather sublime in terms of how the major championships played out. Sergio Garcia finally removed the 200-pound necklace known as Best Player to Not Win a Major with his decisive victory at Augusta. Brooks Koepka demonstrated remarkable power and poise at the daunting Erin Hills course for the U.S. Open title. Then Jordan Spieth turned tragedy into triumph in a magical six-hole run to close out The Open.

Feel-good stories, all of them. Which is to say, the Golf Gods have been rather benign in terms of dishing out bad breaks, horrible bounces and spirit-wrecking outcomes. I feel it coming like a thunderstorm sweeping across the plains.

The Golf Gods are not happy and will find a way to – delicately speaking – interfere in this week’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Country Club. Here’s how:

First: Upset Factor

The fans will be thinking Jones-Sarazen-Hogan-Nicklaus-Player-Woods – the six who have won the four grand slam events in their career. Spieth’s remarkable win in July at Royal Birkdale means a win here for the young Texan would make him the seventh and a member of golf’s utmost Elite. Everyone will be rooting.

That means the PGA Championship is the GG’s final chance to pull out the unexpected, like someone named Yang Yong-eum beating Tiger Woods at Hazeltine in 2009. I know, this isn’t Hazeltine but this is…

The South.Quail Hollow

Which means the H-H factor will come into play. That’s heat and humidity, a combo that tends to lead to thunderstorms, which in turn stop play, change course conditions and generally make a Sunday finish difficult to achieve. In other words, if you get the right rotation you get a huge advantage in terms of rest and conditions.

Counting the 2000 championship, when Tiger Woods edged Bobby May in that amazing duel at Valhalla near Louisville, Kentucky, there have been six PGA Championships in the South, with Atlanta Country Club, Valhalla, Southern Hills and Kiawah accounting for all of them. All had some sort of delay, some worse than others. In the 2014 event at Valhalla, Rory McIlroy ran to the 18th tee to hit before play was called because of darkness, which would have forced everyone to return Monday AM for the final hole.

You could also say weather factors in some degree at The Masters, the U.S. Open and even the British Open. But at the latter dramatic weather is part of the drama, whereas U.S. Opens on the West Coast (Olympic, Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines) go off without a hitch.

[Editor’s Note: Author’s request that management petition the USGA to hold ALL U.S. Opens on the West Coast will not be granted.]

In short, expect a stop-and-start event, as thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday and Friday. And that factor has yet to be seen on….

A New Course.

McIlroy won on Quail Hollow twice, but now it’s a different, remodeled course – longer and more demanding. Moreover, the Champion Bermuda grass has been planted for the burned-out bent grass greens.

All we have to remember is 1995 at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, where new greens never took and the pros were left putting on packed dead grass. Of course, that wasn’t as bad as the 1987 PGA Championship at Palm Beach Gardens, which had terrible green conditions.

(Note: As I heard it, within a couple of weeks before that tournament, algaecide or something like that was added to the many lakes on the Palm Beach course to make them look nice and blue for TV. But the watering of the course came out of those lakes, and the added chemicals killed the greens – or so legend has it.)

Not that this will be the case at Quail Hollow, though new courses and championship events are a dicey mix. The course has been open to members since the fall of 2016, but now it will be played at its full scale and maintained at championship conditions – tighter fairways, faster greens, longer rough.

Humidity enriches the grass and almost makes it sticky. That reduces roll on tee shots and keeps them from running into the rough. Humidity also makes it difficult to maintain the greens in the 12-13 range in terms of Stimp meter speed. In short, it will be a bomber’s course where the hot putter will win. In short, just another PGA Tour event, which means…

Anyone Can Win It, Sorta

The right kind of starting time, say late Thursday start (after the afternoon thunderstorm) and then an early Friday round (granted, if the field finishes the first round) in soft conditions could lead to peak scoring conditions despite the 7,600-yard layout that includes three par-4s over 500 yards and the 494-yard 18th.

Carrying the ball 300-yards in the air won’t be a problem. It will come down to iron play, but here is where McIlroy has had trouble. Jason Day has been too inconsistent. Dustin Johnson is from South Carolina, so this course and the heat might suit him. He should be tough to beat.

But I’ll be rooting for Spieth. History is fun to watch as it happens.