Tag Archives: PGA Championship

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

Long Island Night Maneuvers

[Author’s note – as most golf aficionados are aware, this year’s PGA Championship will be held next week at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course, one of the most testing golf courses in the United States – and one that is open to the public. This recounts my experience there.]

It was a summer evening in either in 1992 or 1993 that I decided to bite the bullet and queue up for a tee time at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course.

I had read much about A.W. Tillinghast’s work and the stern test that the Black Course presented, as well as (due to the lack of public golf courses available to the masses living on Long Island) the lengths to which metropolitan New York golfers would go to secure a tee time, including spending the night in a parked car near the main clubhouse in order to be first in line when the operation opens in the morning. This initially seemed to me to be a bit much in order to play a round of golf, but after spending three days and nights listening to my then-in-laws bicker, a night cramped up in the back seat of a VW Jetta didn’t seem like such a horrible idea.

The sad fact of those times was that my ex-wife grew up in a house in that bordered Seth Raynor’s Southampton Golf Club – which borders William Flynn’s Shinnecock Hills – which borders C.B. MacDonald’s National Golf Links. Just down the road in East Hampton stands Willie Park Jr’s Maidstone, a marvelous piece of linksland whose Hamptons-style clubhouse sits atop a crest overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, these masterpieces (and several other nearby tracks) were unattainable for the likes of me – all private, and except for Southampton Golf Club, all pretty much comprised of members whose money predates the Louisiana Purchase. A couple of my nephews had caddied at Shinnecock and National, and my former brother in law lived across the street from the then head pro at Shinnecock. All of them told me they could get me on either of those courses, but in the 18 years of my marriage, it never came to fruition.

Not that I’m bitter, or anything.

Anyway – the drive from Southampton to Farmingdale took about an hour; when I arrived at Zero Dark Thirty, there were about a dozen or so cars already in line. I pulled into the end of the queue and was about to climb into my back seat when there was a tap on my shoulder.

“You a single?” a stocky man with a heavy Long Island accent wanted to know.

“I am.”

“What’s your handicap?” he demanded.

“Eleven,” I replied.

He thought for a minute, then said, “Ok, my group needs a fourth. We’re the third car in line. Come over and meet the guys.”

Manny was the fellow who greeted me, Marco and Jeremy were his compadres. All were locals.

“Yeah, Gene couldn’t make it this week,” Marco told me. “We needed a fourth for a game.”

“You guys do this every week?” I asked.

“Not every week,” answered Marco. “We’ll get tee times on the Red or the Green some weekends, but we try to do the Black once a month. Brings us back down to earth.”

[A couple of notes – there are actually five courses in Bethpage State Park, all designed by Tillinghast and all color coded. And I’m cleaning up the dialogue here, these boys had variations on cuss words that I’d never encountered before or since]

“So the Black is that tough, huh,” I mused.

They looked at me for a moment and almost simultaneously burst our laughing.

“Here, have a beer,” advised Manny. “We’ll tell you all about it.”

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In an effort to keep the riff-raff (i.e., high-handicap players) off the course, there’s a sign on the first tee of the Black stating the following:

“WARNING! – The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers”

I honestly don’t remember that much about the round, other than I broke even money wise and it was like the Bataan Death March. At that time there were no carts allowed on the Black and there’s a surprising amount of elevation change; that, combined with a hot sun, lots of waiting (apparently, other Highly Skilled Golfers were having issues), minimal sleep, spotty conditioning, and Tillinghast’s diabolically positioned cross bunkers (which seemed to be precisely located where my tee shots and approaches landed) made for a less than enchanting experience.

Manny and Company made the round bearable. We played a game of 6-6-6 (six hole matches, alternating partners), and there was plenty of good natured (and profanity laced) needling back and forth that kept everyone entertained. And the beer afterwards was nice and cold.

Things have changed at Bethpage State Park (and the New York State Parks system in general) since those days, thanks in large part to a woman named Bernadette Castro, the COO of a Long Island furniture chain (and longtime piñata for NYC radio blight Don Imus) who was named state Park and Recreation Commissioner under the George Pataki administration. Ms Castro managed to get a large capital investment into all of the state parks of New York, many of which include golf courses. Moreover, she convinced the USGA to bring the US Open to Bethpage Black in 2002.

The conditions at all New York State Parks have improved dramatically as a result, and nowhere is that more evidenced than at the various golf facilities throughout the state. For Long Islanders,  this also includes Montauk Downs State Park, a Robert Trent Jones beauty located on the tip of the island that is mostly routed in a circular fashion to vary the effect of the ever-changing Atlantic Ocean winds. Despite its remote location, the line forms early at the Downs as well.

Bethpage is more easily accessed than Shinnecock Hills, so this year’s PGA Championship should bring out New Yawkers in droves. I hope Manny and Company will be there to cheer and jeer their respective favorites and villains (Phil Mickelson is extremely popular among the New York crowd; Sergio Garcia, not so much), and the other locals will kibitz and compare notes as to how hard or easy the Black is playing, what score they made on a given hole, the odd of Tiger pulling off a shot that was absolute jail for them . . .

Oh – and maybe a swear word or two.