Final Thoughts on PGA Championship Eve

2024 PGA Championship Primer Valhalla 18th
General view of the clubhouse and the 18th green during a practice round prior to the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on May 13, 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Maddie Meyer for PGA of America via Getty Images)

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Welcome to PGA Championship eve at Valhalla Golf Club. We’ve got persons of interest and assorted other irons cooking on the fire…

Some TV talking heads, who are basically paid to rave about the courses they televise, have already been raving about Valhalla.

I’m in a different camp there. It’s going to be a hard test, especially since it’s wet and soft and going to play long.

It’s going to present a worthy champion. But I’m not a fan of the over-indulgent Jack Nicklaus design.

The course is in a wonderfully natural, scenic setting and the designer built a bunch of sculptures on it and made it look unnatural. (When you invent a semi-island green and add trickling waterfall rocks, I’m out.)

It’s another course where slow play and high maintenance costs are built in — pretty much the opposite of what I’d be looking for as a course owner.

When Dennis Paulson was a PGA Tour player, he put a lasting image in my mind when I asked him about the course at Valhalla’s first PGA in 1996.

Had I been “out to the 18th green,” he asked me?

I said I had.

“It looks like a giant toilet seat,” he replied.

Paulson nailed it. That’s what I see when I return to Valhalla, a giant toilet seat.

Talk is Cheap

Rory McIlroy Wins 2021 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club
Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy alongside his wife Erica and daughter Poppy after winning the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on May 09, 2021 in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton via Getty Images)

The downside of fame has already been on display this week. No sooner was Rory McIlroy filing for divorce from his wife of seven years announced, the snarky comments began on social media.

Everybody feels safe sniping from behind an alias on X, or wherever, but Rory and Erica have a 3-year-old daughter whose life is being changed forever.

So the media poser who tweeted “If that doesn’t put you in f*-you-let’s-play-golf mode…” should be proud of his utter insensitivity. So should the experts who hypothesize that this is part of a plan to get a divorce finalized before Rory jumps to LIV for kajillions of dollars and has to share that bonanza with his future ex-wife.

Your life is fair game when you’re famous in this snark-eat-snark world of one-upmanship. It’s not pretty.

Big 3 at Valhalla

Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus Masters
From Left, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus ahead of the World Series of Golf in Akron, Ohio on Sept. 8, 1962. (AP Photo)

I’m not saying golf has a Big Three right now. There will never be another one of those in the sense that Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were the Original Big Three.

But we have three guys who temporarily, at least, stand out. The tyrannosaurus in the room is No. 1-ranked Scottie Scheffler. He became a first-time father last week. There’s no reason to believe he isn’t about to knock off the first half of the Grand Slam.

Rory McIlroy parachuted back into the picture with a ridiculous run to victory last week in Charlotte. He’s hitting on all cylinders. Plus, Valhalla is going to play soft and McIlroy’s best major wins have come in soft conditions.

Brooks Koepka Wins 2023 PGA Championship
Brooks Koepka hugs caddie Rickie Elliott on the 18th hole after winning the PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC on May 21, 2023 in Rochester, NY. (Photo by Warren Little via Getty Images)

Defending champ Brooks Koepka adjusted his game after a dismal Masters showing. Koepka sounds as if he has to answer to his trainers/drill instructors when he doesn’t win. They worked him out extra hard after Augusta and it paid off. He won a LIV event, also because he realized he’d moved his ball position back in his stance, due to playing in so much wind, and even did it with his putter, causing him to have trouble seeing his line. Every other time Koepka won a major, he won it again the next year. Trend or curious stat?

With apologies to Jon Rahm and other talented players, these guys are the players to beat.

The Short Game

Bryson DeChambeau Wins 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot
Bryson DeChambeau poses with the championship trophy after winning the 120th U.S. Open Championship on September 20, 2020 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
  • With Senior PGA champ Steve Stricker withdrawing, I like Luke Donald this week to finish as low former Ryder Cup captain. Can I get odds on that?
  • In some ways, the saga of 47-year-old club pro Michael Block was the best story of last year’s PGA. But with Valhalla at 7,600 yards-plus and playing long and soft, lightning is probably going to strike elsewhere this year.
  • The Cinderella to root for is 61-year-old Tulsa-area club pro Tracy Phillips, who qualified to play in his first PGA Championship. I hope his tale has a happy ending but I can think of 7,600 afore-mentioned reasons why he probably won’t make it to the weekend. This course is a reality check.
  • Brooks Koepka described Valhalla as “a big-boy course.” He likes it. Why wouldn’t he? He’s one of the big-hitting boys it favors.
  • Tiger Woods discussed his goatee this week and said it was semi-accidental and he decided to keep it on after he accidentally cut himself trying to shave it. Cut himself? Doesn’t he have people for that?
  • Haven’t heard anybody mention long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau this week. He really ought to be on the radar, especially since his major exemption for winning the 2020 U.S. Open is running down.
  • Max Homa’s advice to new-dad Scottie Scheffler: “Be real nice to your wife.” Max needs his own talk show.


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