Martin’s USPGA Autopsy

Thought for the Day
Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument

Random thoughts from the US PGA Championship

It was nonsense for the bookmakers to have Tiger Woods as joint favourite going into the US PGA Championship. He hadn’t played in the month since winning the Masters, had been unwell the week prior to the season’s second major and Beth Page Black is a damned sight harder than Augusta National. Yes, Tiger won a US Open there but that was then, when he was The Man. I’m sure that the bookies had him at short odds not because they really thought he would win but because they knew a lot of people would be betting on him so they were just minimising the risk should the unlikely happen.

Many of the world’s best golf courses are becoming redundant because of the vast distances the pros now hit the ball and in response I have always said we shouldn’t lengthen the course but narrow the fairway at the bombers’ distance, and grow the flanking rough. In essence, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, encapsulating the concept of risk and reward. But with players like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy et al hitting it a bloody long way and straight, this is no longer an option. Sadly, I conclude that there’s no alternative but to introduce a ball for tour golf that doesn’t go as far. Even more sadly, I realise this will never happen – the governing bodies of golf, but particularly the PGA Tour, were badly bitten by the square grooves issue several years ago and have subsequently chickened out of trying to control the manufacturers, who have deep enough pockets for a lengthy process of litigation for what they would see as an attempted restriction of trade.

Rory McIlroy seems to be going backwards, especially in major championships and there would appear to be two primary reasons. First, he gets off to a bad start and is consequently always trying to play catch-up on difficult courses. Good weekends or final rounds often drag him up the leaderboard, and the PGA Championship is a good example – a pair of 69s left him tied 8th and at a distance and on paper another top-10 in a major looks good. But we all know he was never in serious contention. Second is his putting. Always streaky, it seems increasingly to desert him in the events he wants more than any other.

When you set up a golf course as the PGA did with Beth Page Black – narrow fairways, jungle rough and firm greens (usually the prerogative of the US Open) – you take away a lot of the spectacle and excitement that a major can offer. Once a golfer establishes command, as Koepka did over the first two days, it becomes almost impossible for anyone to make a sustained charge because birdies are so dearly bought. Dustin Johnson was the only man who even threatened to climb to the top of the leaderboard and even though he (briefly) got to within a stroke I never had the idea that he was actually going to win. The course was presented in such a way that players were desperate to hang on to what they had, rather than push on to achieve something better.

The move of date for the championship. From August to May, looks set to last. It shortens the majors’ season by a month, which means that for two-thirds of the calendar year we will not have a grand slam event in the schedule but it does keep interest bubbling along for the other third. It also means, of course, that if a golfer is experiencing a rich vein of form – Brooks Koepka for instance – he can cash in and I suspect that the number of golfers who win more than one major a year will increase.

On a related note, in the 74 years since the end of WWII, only 18 golfers have won four or more majors in their career. Brooks Koepka has joined some pretty exalted company and doesn’t look as if he’s going to stop any time soon. We have seen in recent years hotshot tyros who seemed set to dominate – Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth being the most obvious examples – who then faded. I think Koepka might be more resilient.

Some golfers become specialists in playing majors, and Brooks Koepka looks to be one of those players. He has won six tournaments in his career and four of them are grand slam events. You may not be old enough to remember Andy North, an American who won three times in a 28-year career on the PGA Tour, but two of those victories were in the US Open. And Martin Kaymer, in America at least, eschews the minor stuff as his three wins there have been a US Open, US PGA and Players Championship – which the Yanks still ludicrously insist is a fifth major. Incidentally, it’s good to see Martin regaining a bit of form.

In some places American golf fans are getting particularly obnoxious – the Boston and New York areas specifically. Harold Varner III, who was paired with eventual winner Brooks Koepka on the last day of the US PGA Championship at Beth Page Black, said: ‘I thought it was pretty weird how they were telling Brooks to choke. I feel like that’s kinda – that’s not my cup of tea. I was pulling for him after that.’ Elsewhere, ‘fans’ were shouting for Koepka’s ball to find a bunker or worse. The fact that Koepka used it as a spur to motivate him doesn’t excuse despicable behaviour like this.

Quote of the Week
You can shoot your lowest score ever and still feel as though you could have done better
Robert Allenby

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