The Big Cat Redux

I really want to write about how a resolute Brooks Koepka overpowered Bellrieve CC in St Louis this past weekend to win the 100th PGA Championship, his second major victory this season and his third in two years.

I wish I could expand on how Koepka has translated his pure athleticism into perhaps the most powerful and accurate swing in all of golf, and how unflappable and stoic he remained in the midst of one of the wildest on course atmospheres in modern golf history.

And I’d love to delve into what drives Brooks Koepka; how he carries a chip – hell, an entire tree limb – on his shoulder whenever he tees it up, as he continues to generally be overlooked or ignored as a force with which to be reckoned in the golfing world.

While I’m at it – Adam Scott’s brave effort, driven in part by the death of fellow Aussie golfer and friend Jarred Lyle, perhaps deserves an entry of its own.

But no – there’s really only one story to write about this year’s PGA. It’s been the story of this golf season, and one that may or may not be over. But damn . . .

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I had read a lot of Tiger Woods’s exploits as a youth golfer, but the first time I saw him tee it up was at the 1994 US Amateur. It was played at Sawgrass that year; his opponent in the finals was Trip Kuehne, an accomplished player from one of the first families of American golf. Tiger was a skinny teenager clad in shorts and a wide-brimmed straw hat that day. The most vivid memory I have of that match, one from which Woods came back from a 5 stroke deficient with 12 to play, was his uncanny ability to recover from what looked to be inescapable situations on Pete Dye’s torture track of a golf course.

I was reminded of this on Sunday, when Woods shot a three-under par 32 on the front side of Bellrieve despite not hitting a single fairway. In many ways, it was vintage Tiger, replete with helicopter follow-through swings when he needed to work the ball, early strides to the hole when he just knew the ball was going to drop, and, of course, several patented fist pumps, including a final hole birdie that sent the record-breaking number of St Louis spectators into delirium.

The only thing missing was Tiger’s name being engraved on the Wanamaker for a 5th time, but unlike in the past (and to paraphrase his own words), second place this time definitely did not suck. His final round 64 was the best he ever shot in the final round of a major, the smile he wore in congratulating Koepka was genuine, and his post-tournament presser was as reflective as any of us have heard from him.

I count myself among those who thought that Woods could not make his way back this far into golfing relevance. Part of it was driven from the empirical evidence of his physical condition and play from previous comeback attempts. I’ll also admit to a strong dislike of what I saw as arrogance toward media and his own fans, and behavior on the course that was excused as “intensity” while condemned when displayed by others.

The fallout from the infamous Thanksgiving fire-hydrant incident was seen as an appropriate comeuppance by his detractors (myself included), although in retrospect, his “sins” pale in comparison to those of two other icons who fell at that time, Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong. Nonetheless, as Woods receded and new faces emerged, it seemed evident to me that golf was ready for the next era.

And it may well be. The talent level in golf has never been higher or more competitive, not only in America but around the world. What makes it special is that the guy who inspired it all is back in the mix. At this point, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not Tiger wins another tournament (although if he does, it will likely shut down all social media).

The fact is, much like that 1994 US Amateur, Tiger hasn’t just punched out of the trees; he’s pulled off what looked to be impossible. Yeah, I’m on board. Pass the crow, I’ll eat it.

 

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