Tag Archives: PGA Championship

A Storm’s A-Brewin’

 

Aside from arguments about whether or not Brooks Koepka is boring (pro tip: he’s not), the topic generating the most conversation at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last weekend was the decorum of metropolitan New York golf fans.

From a player perspective, I heard relatively few complaints, although I supposed it depends on which player one is talking about. For example, Phil (The People’s Choice) Mickelson, to paraphrase a statement once made by the current occupant in the White House, could stab someone on the Black Course’s 5th tee and still be cheered. Lefty’s final round found himself in various sectors of Nassau County, yet each shot was greeted with an extreme level of appreciation or sympathy by the hoards.

And while Harold Varner III afterwards expressed disdain for fans screaming “DJ, DJ!” directly at fellow competitor Koepka while Dustin Johnson was making his final 9 move on Sunday, Brooks, as is his inclination, shrugged off the episode, stating “I don’t blame them. I was half-choking anyway.”

But there was plenty of social media commentary from respected golf journalists regarding the crowd, and some concerns expressed for what could happen when Bethpage hosts the 2024 Ryder Cup. CBSSports Golf write Kyle Porter put it best in the following tweet:

Me on Monday: Bethpage for the Ryder Cup with Phil as captain is going to be the sporting event of the decade!

Me on Sunday: They should not host a Ryder Cup within 100 miles of Bethpage.

https://twitter.com/KylePorterCBS/status/1130310727435247616

ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg, who is occasionally heard on the No Laying Up podcast and does a hilarious Gary Player impression, chimed in with this:

Here is my PGA prediction and you can bookmark it: By the end of Saturday the nasty behavior of the crowd will become “a thing” and we’ll end up fighting about it, with allegations of snowflakes and golf snobs and Long Island jerks being lobbed about like grenades.

https://twitter.com/KVanValkenburg/status/1129780991789289473

Interestingly, the one sports columnist who was not put off by the fans at Bethpage was one Christine Brennan of USA Today, to whom former Washington Post colleague Tony Kornhieser affectionately refers as “Aunt Bea.” Ms Brennan, who typically can find offense in the most innocuous of actions (she is the only person on Twitter who has ever blocked me for the sin of criticizing her for a piece she wrote in which she called Fred Funk “sexist” for donning a skirt when Anika Sorenstam outdrove him in a Skins Game some years back), felt that the Long Island galleries were “fun” and “golf shouldn’t be so stuffy.” I wonder how far from the press tent she wandered.

Aunt Bea’s feelings notwithstanding,  the fear in 2024 (particularly from the European Team and its backers) is that if normally hospitable Minnesotans can act like bozos during the 2016 Cup (one spectator was removed when he told Rory McIlroy to “suck a dick”), one can only imagine what will happen when the Euro contingent tries to sing “Ole, Ole, Ole” after Sergio and Jon Rahm knock off Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas.

Golf fans attending Tour events on this side of the pond have grown increasingly boorish with each passing year, and the Tour has more or less left it up to the players to inform security to remove fans (McIlroy and Justin Thomas have done so in the past, the latter was criticized for being “soft”). This is crazy, not to mention unacceptable. Most tournaments these days have “drink tents” set up for people to imbibe with wide screen TV’s in which to follow the action. I don’t know how much expense the Tour devotes to crowd control, but whatever is currently allocated doesn’t seem to be working.  It needs to improve.

Advertisements

Bethpage Blues – In Defense of Brooks Koepka

Near the end of the 2015 PGA season, I wrote about the Next Triumvirate. At that time, Jordan Spieth had finished off a season in which he had won two majors and finished second in the other two. Jason Day appeared ready for superstardom after a record-setting performance in that year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and Rory McIlroy was one year removed from a season in which HE had won two majors, giving him a total of four in his short career.

It seemed for all the world like these three would be racking up majors for years to come.

2015 was also Brooks Koepka’s first full season on the PGA Tour. Unlike the others, who had been heralded as up and coming stars, Koepka was a middling collegiate player who decided to try his hand in Europe. He worked his way through the ranks of the Challenge Tour and eventually earned full European Tour privileges and won an event in Turkey in 2014. He was given some PGA Tour sponsor exemptions and earned his card – and his first tour victory in 2015 in Scottsdale amidst the crazies at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

I saw Koepka in person in 2016 at the Byron Nelson Classic, where he bulled his way into a playoff with Sergio Garcia, who, despite his sometime immature behavior, was a huge crowd favorite. On the first playoff hole, Brooks hooked his drive into the large pond that borders the 18th hole at TPC Las Colinas, which elicited a few cheers from those fans watching on the course and guaranteed a victory for Garcia.

I don’t know how much that particular incident contributed to the sizable chip that Koepka carries on his shoulder, but I’m sure it did in some fashion. By his own admission in the presser that followed his repeat victory in the PGA Championship yesterday, Koepka will find motivation in the most innocuous of slights, or even make up such episodes to motivate himself.

His relationship with the media has been somewhat contentious, as he has often felt that he hasn’t been given proper respect for his accomplishments. Golf fans in general have been slow to warm to him – he’s perceived as being robotic and emotionless (the latter of which was given a boost when a video of him blowing off a pre-final round good luck kiss from girlfriend Jena Sims went viral). And, as was pointed out in countless tweets throughout the tournament, he’s not Tiger Woods.

I’m not going to predict that Koepka will catch Woods in any victory category – he is, after all something of a late bloomer – but Tiger’s comments on Friday after catching “Brooksie’s” act (Woods still loves diminutive nicknames, even when he’s getting dusted) for two days were telling, and not a little ironic – “He’s hitting 9-iron’s and wedges where the rest of us are hitting 5 and 6 irons,”  which is pretty much what the opposition was saying about Mr Woods back in 1997.

Koepka’s recent dominance coinciding with Tiger’s apparent resurgence also recalls a time when Jack Nicklaus dared take the crown from Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus was belittled as “Fat Jack” and subjected to catcalls in his famous 1962 playoff victory over Arnie – not unlike Koepka having to endure chants of “DJ! DJ!” when Dustin Johnson was making his back nine move on Sunday. Nicklaus has always claimed that he was oblivious to the barbs hurled at him that day; Koepka stated that he used the opposition cheers as motivation.

In any event, Koepka’s mental approach is almost as impressive as his physical skills on the course. This post-round statement from him is particularly telling:

“I don’t need a sports psychologist. I’m pretty good at it. I know what I’m doing. It’s simpler than what guys think. Guys make the mistake when they get to a major…what’s different. It’s not. It’s just focus. It’s grind it out, suck it up, and move on.”

It sounds simple because it is simple. And I suspect that we’ll see the same next month at Pebble Beach.

In the meantime, the major victory scoreboard since I wrote about the Next Triumvirate:

Brooks Koepka – 4

Triumvirate – 1

You know – in case Brooks needs any more motivation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bethpage Blues Part 3

Day 3 of the Brooks Koepka Classic . . .

 

  • Our hero had a rather pedestrian day, carding an even par 70, but that was plenty good enough to keep a 7-shot lead over his now-closest pursuers, Luke List and Dustin Johnson. For a few moments, it appeared that we would be treated to the dizzying prospect of a Brooks/DJ final round pairing, but, alas, Johnson bogied 18, thus removing perhaps the one remaining reason for Sunday’s proceedings.
  • I kid, of course. It’s 45 degrees in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and snowing on the mountaintops. What else will I do?
  • Bethpage Black showed its teeth today. Three under par 67 was today’s low round, shot by Harold Varner III and the marvelously monikered Jazz Janewattananond from Thailand, whose surname was only attempted by Jim Nantz. The Long Island winds dried out the greens and seemed to confuse a lot of players hitting into the many elevated greens.
  • The relative lack of drama did not stop the flow of Twitter observations/humor/snark. A sampling:
    • ESPN Golf Reporter Keith Van Valkenburg commenting on the gallery at Bethpage: Here is my PGA prediction and you can bookmark it: By the end of Saturday the nasty behavior of the crowd will be come “a thing” and we’ll end up fighting about it, with allegations of snowflakes and golf snobs and Long Island jerks being lobbed about like grenades.
    • And his followup: With little drama or suspense and no Tiger, people are going to get bored and compelled to do boorish things. And it will play right into the hands of people eager to talk about how soft golfers are. It’s just a shame Sergio isn’t still here to douse the situation with gasoline.
    • And a few minutes later . . . Update: As Brooks was making his birdie on 13, a guy in the gallery was screaming at the police to arrest a CBS camera guy he claimed nearly ran over his his with a cart, and then started yelling “F all you Democrats! I’m reporting all of you.”https://twitter.com/KVanValkenburg/status/1129867258082336769

Onward and upward, lads!

Bethpage Blues – Part 2

Day 2 in the books . . .

  • After his 63 yesterday, Brooks Koepka came back to earth . . . no, wait a minute. He backed it up with a 65. Koepka did, however, manage a couple of bogies. The horror! In any case, he sits 7 shots ahead of Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, both of whom seem to have re-discovered their respective putting strokes.
  • Actually, it was Danny (The Heartbreak Kid) Lee who relapsed after yesterday’s 64, ballooning a full 10 strokes higher to fall back to 2 under par.
  • More attention will likely be paid to Tiger Woods’ missed cut. The Big Cat just didn’t have anything going on – he consistently missed tee shots to the left and oftentimes was forced to simply punch out from the penal Bethpage Black rough. That, coupled with mediocre putting, ultimately did him in.
  • In his post round presser, Tiger seemed spent and mentioned that he hadn’t felt particularly well (which explained him not practicing on Wednesday). When asked about Koepka’s play, Woods remarked that Brooks “was hitting 9 irons into greens where the rest of us were hitting 5 or 6 irons.” Geez, Tiger, who does that remind you of?
  • Woods was not the only big name to miss the cut. Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyck, Bryson DeChambeau (who after his first round complained about the course setup), Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, and Jon Rahm are all heading home tonight.
  • Francesco Molinari, who started in the same spot as Woods, fashioned a workmanlike 68 to pull to even par and will get to play the weekend.
  • And all due credit to Rory McIlroy, who after weathering a first 9 of 40 shots (including a ghastly 6-5-6 start) came back with a 31 to make the weekend.
  • Phil (The People’s Choice) Mickelson will be around as well.
  • And Kelly Kraft, who was a last minute addition to the field when Justin Thomas scratched due to injury, made the most of his opportunity, firing a 65 and winding up in a tie for 4th place going into the weekend.
  • A tradition of the PGA Championship is that 20 PGA Club professionals can qualify to play in it. Three of them made the cut, led by Marty Jertson, who carded solid rounds of 71 and 69 to place himself comfortably inside the cut line. Jertson is on the Ping staff, and designed the driver that he is using for this tournament.
  • For a while, it appeared that Dustin Johnson was going to pressure his friend and workout partner Koepka, but much like yesterday, DJ, despite solid tee to green play, suffered from balky putting.
  • Speaking of putting – I have no real data to back this up, but I am hard pressed to remember a tournament where so many makeable putts have been misread – and in most cases, overread. The one respite on the Black is that the greens tend to be relatively benign, but time and again I’ve watched players miss shorter putts on the high side.
  • There was a little comic “relief “ courtesy of Jon Rahm . . .

  • Onward and upward, lads!

Bethpage Blues – Part 1

Day One in the books ….

  • I did pick Brooks Koepka to win, but I didn’t see a 63 coming from him – or from anyone else from that matter. Koepka had maybe two loose shots during his round and made virtually every putt in sight. He and the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee have been engaged in what passes for a “fued” in the golf world – Brooks took umbrage at Chamblee’s statement that “only Dustin Johnson and Rory can challenge Tiger.” Chamblee later said that he felt like Koepka was “giving me the finger” during his round.
  • Perhaps a bigger surprise than Koepka’s round was the 64 carded by my old Dallas neighbor, Danny (The Heartbreak Kid) Lee. Lee, who after winning the Greenbriar a few years back, celebrated receiving his winner’s check by lamenting that he had no girlfriend with whom to share his happiness. Fellow Tour regulars Ricky Fowler and Pat Perez had a field day with this news. Happily, Danny eventually found true love.
  • Tiger, as has been his wont lately, started slowly by carding a double bogey on his first hole (the 10th) while Koepka was chipping in for birdie. He did not lack for opportunities but could not buy a putt. He finds himself 9 shots behind Brooks after an opening round 72.
  • 16 players are in red figures, including Tommy Fleetwood (-3), last week’s winner in Dallas, Sung Kang (-2), and a slew of folks at -1 including the afore mentioned Johnson (struck it well, couldn’t buy a putt), Jordan Spieth (I hate invoking Dick Vitale, but it was a “real Dow Jones-er, baby!”), past champion Jason Day (who after his round inquired if Koepka had accidentally played one of the other 4 courses at Bethpage), and The People’s Choice, Phil Mickelson.
  • Those who claimed that John Daly was receiving an unfair advantage for being given an exemption to use a cart due to knee issues can be comforted by the fact that he currently sits in a tie for 112th place and, barring a miracle medical procedure, will be slamming his trunk after tomorrow’s round.
  • I watched most of the Koepka/Woods/Francesco Molinari group online (Frankie Red Sauce* may be outmatched by the Black; he, like Woods, carded a two-over 72). I don’t know who the announcers were but referring to Koepka as a “robot” became tiresome rather quickly.
  • Friday’s forecast calls for 15-25 mph winds. Have fun, guys!

 

*Credit to Scott Van Pelt

Drive It!

So, as we mentioned in this week’s Monday Morning Musings, there’s plenty to support and oppose Tiger Woods capturing the PGA Championship this week. Tiger has gotten some practice in on soggy Bethpage Black and also took the time during his presser to tweak John Daly for riding a cart, express a desire to play in the 2020 Olympics, and to give a carefully crafted response to a query regarding a lawsuit lodged against him and his girlfriend regarding the death of an employee who worked at a restaurant owned by Woods.

None of which will be on his mind when he tees it up with Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari at 8:24 AM Eastern Time on Thursday. And I would be surprised if there will be much conversation among that group once they are announced.

An Atlanta attorney who was a pretty fair golfer back in the day noted that “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course… the space between your ears.” No doubt this will be particularly true this week – miss the fairway by too much and the golfers will be faced with this.

Patience and smart play will be critical. At the same time, we’re talking about a 7,500 yard course that will likely play longer due to the wet conditions.

Golf Channel lightning rod Brandel Chamblee dug up a relatively ancient but nonetheless telling statistic in analyzing who might have the best edge in negotiating the Black. It’s called Total Driving, a metric that combines driving distance and accuracy. In the two US Opens held at Bethpage Black, the two victors (Tiger and Lucas Glover) were both in the top ten in the respective seasons in which they won.

Chamblee is often accused of stirring the pot for argument’s sake, but in this case, he makes a ton of sense, as long and straight are particularly desirable qualities on a long and wet golf course. Koepka currently sits tied for 9th in Total Driving, while Woods is 13th. Molinari sits well back at 63rd.  Based on that, I’d be very surprised if Frankie Red Sauce makes a big impact over the weekend.

Players who could come up big include Gary Woodland (2nd in Total Driving, plus he has a good track record at the Black),  Bryson DeChambeau (3rd in TD, although the weather may throw off his pre-shot calculations, Louis Oosthuizen (5th in TD), and Jon Rahm (7th, although one could also see him throwing a tantrum the first time he draws a poor lie in the rough).

Veterans who also show well in this category are Matt Kuchar (16th) and Ian Poulter (20th).

Rory? He ranks 33rd, which is respectable, but while he is 2nd in distance, his accuracy standing is an abysmal 153rd.

Dustin Johnson? He sits all the way back in 115th place.

So this week, the cliché “Drive for show and putt for dough” goes by the wayside. Whoever can get it in the fairway the most and keep himself out of trouble will win. And it says here that will be either Tiger or Brooks. Take your pick (mine is Brooks).

Monday Morning Musings

Not that anyone asked, but . . .

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw make a terrific course design team, and perhaps one year the proper conditions will prevail to make Dallas’s Trinity Forest an interesting challenge for PGA Tour players, but a foot of rain, no wind to speak of, and fairways so wide that Stevie Wonder would hit at least 60% of them made for an almost farcical Byron Nelson Classic. Hell, even Tony Romo looked respectable. I get the intention of the layout – ideally, 15 to 20 mph winds combined with fast and firm conditions over a bouncy track, and one can envision links-like conditions inland. But if there is one thing less predictable than the direction of a Phil Mickelson tee shot, it’s springtime Texas weather.

So for those participants who are traveling to Long Island to participate in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, the only common denominator for them will be that a lot of rain is expected throughout the week. The Black’s fairways will be snaky thin, the rough thick and wet, and the bunkering diabolical. I’ll predict right now that no one will come within 10 shots of this past weekend’s 23-under total rung up by winner Sung Kang.

Kang, a South Korean national who lives in the Dallas suburb of Coppell (and who is not to be confused with the actor who appears in the Fast and Furious movie franchise), stated in a Saturday interview (that round was delayed by 6 hours due to the torrential downpours that have recently plagued North Texas) that unlike previous situations that found him at or near the top of the leaderboard, he planned on being much more relaxed. This approach seemed to carry over into his play, as he was often timed at around 90 seconds while preparing to take a shot. This fact was not lost on fellow competitor Matt Every, who contended for the lead for much of the weekend and who also managed an epic club throw after a poor bunker shot in the second round.

Hometown hero (and Trinity Forest member) Jordan Spieth once again failed to crack the top 20 and at this point would have to be considered the darkest of equines to make any noise at Bethpage. On the other hand, defending PGA Champion Brooks Koepka was rock solid, finishing three strokes behind Kang.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Meanwhile, there were numerous Tiger sightings in Long Island. His yacht is parked in Oyster Bay, and he’s already been seen getting in practice reps on the Black.

One can come up with any number of reasons for either favoring or disregarding The Big Cat’s chances:

  • PRO: He’s won there before.
  • CON: That was 17 years ago.
  • PRO: He’s rested.
  • CON: He’s rusty.
  • PRO: He drove it well at Augusta.
  • CON: The fairways at Bethpage are about a third in width as those at Augusta, and missing them is far more penal.
  • PRO: He won the Masters
  • CON: This field is at least twice as deep as that as Augusta

I actually think that points 3 and 4 may be the most telling. Woods mentioned being “sore” after his Masters victory. If “sore” simply means the normal wear and tear of hiking around the extremely hilly confines of Augusta National (and by the way, the Black has its own terrain challenges), then so be it. It did, however, seem a bit odd for Tiger to skip Quail Hollow, one of his favorite tracks. I suppose questions about his health are always going to be a concern going forward.

If not Tiger, then whom?

Conventional wisdom states that the Black should favor a bomber.

Hello, Dustin Johnson, Rory, Koepka, Jon Rahm, and as a dark horse, Gary Woodland.

But it’s going to be wet! Gotta keep it in the fairway!

Sergio (if the crowds don’t get to him), Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, and another dark horse, Rory Sabbatini, come on down!

Experience counts!

In the PGA Championship, not so much. Although the Black has found its way into the Tour schedule as of late. And another dark horse, Lucas Glover (who won the US Open here in 2009 and has played better of late) emerges.

Who will the tough New Yaawk crowd get behind?

Lefty! Lefty! LEFTY! (nah, I can’t see it).

So . . . gun to my head pick?

Tell you on Wednesday.