Golf is a strange game. Jimmy Walker wasn’t on anyone’s hot list coming into the PGA Championship. His 2016 season hadn’t been anything special. He had managed only three top tens with five missed cuts including the the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. And then he goes out and takes the PGA in a wire to wire win. What a strange game and what a week for Walker.
After years of winless seasons Walker started to win soon after he started his work with Butch Harmon. Asked what Harmon had done to change his game Walker said it was instilling in him the “confidence” to know he was good enough. Harmon isn’t just a swing coach. He’s a “winning” coach. Maybe we should call him the “Golf Whisperer.”
Jason Day wasn’t hitting on all cylinders early on Sunday. He wasn’t hitting fairways like he had earlier and his super hot putter had cooled off. Then he came to the eighteenth and two shots behind and knew he needed something special. It takes a special player to deliver on demand and his exciting closing eagle just shows what a special player Day is.
For the biggest disappointment of the PGA it’s a toss up. Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy both missed the cut in different ways but both were quite painful. DJ’s chase for his second major was over on day one as he struggled to an opening round 77. Rory was in good shape after making a birdie on the difficult seventeenth hole in the second round to put him on the number. But then he inexcusably bogeys the much easier par five eighteenth hole to miss the cut by a stroke. That had to hurt much more than DJ’s early exit.
Rory struck the ball well but it was his putter that let him down. Rory’s too young to be trying all these different grips and changes with his putting. It’s all mental and he has lost his confidence with the flatstick. He even spent time with Dave Stockton this week to no avail. It ain’t physical…it’s mental.
Phil Mickelson showed there is still some gas left in that 46 year old tank. But at Phil’s place in the game if it’s not a win at a major it does not matter. Next up for him is the Ryder Cup. Sure the FedEx Cup Playoffs are a nice distraction with a few paychecks. But Phil only gets jazzed for the really big ones and that means majors and the Ryder Cup.
As big a shock as DJ and Rors missing the cut was part time Steve Stricker making a run. Fresh off his fourth place finish at the Open Championship the 49 year old carded rounds of 67-70-67 to put him in good shape going into the final round. Sure, he wasn’t thrilled with his final round 72 that left T42 but Strick is in a really good place. He gets into the Masters and the Open Championship next year and he thinks he may play a bit more often.
The PGA of America got away with one over the weekend. Playing in threesomes off split tees was an option to make up the lost time due to the rain delay but they opted to stay in twosomes off the first tee saying players deserved to play the course in order. Luckily it worked and they finished on time. That in itself is a miracle.
The decision to play ‘Lift Clean and Place’ or ‘play the ball up’ as they say, due to the wet conditions and a forecast for more rain was extremely rare for a major championship. But it was the right decision. Off and on rain all day at Baltusrol on an already saturated course would have resulted in mud balls galore.
Can someone tell me why the final round scores weren’t lower? The course was soaked, the greens were playing like dart boards and the best golfers in the world were able to essentially tee it up in the fairway. Phil and Justin Rose had said that there was a 62 or lower out there with a course so compromised by the weather but no one got close to a record on Sunday. Soren Kjeldsen and Joost Luiten carded the low round at 65 and five golfers had 66’s but come on. Ball in hand, receptive fairways and soft…really soft greens and no one sniffs a 62? And it’s only a par 70 course! If ever there was a chance to break through that 63 this was it.
2016 gave us first time major winners in all four majors. This last happened in 2003 with Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel. They all haven’t been able to find another. This year’s crew of first timers hopes that doesn’t hold true for them. I will be shocked if DJ doesn’t win at least another one. Stenson, while forty, plays like he’s 20 so he could win another. Walker has found his stride in his mid-thirties and could contend. Willett is a good player but I think Jordan Spieth’s meltdown had as much to do with his Masters wins as Willett’s play did. If I had to bet on one player remaining a one hit wonder it’s Willett.
The PGA Championship gets a raw deal sometimes as not having the panache as the other three majors. The Masters has Augusta National. The U.S. Open is the hardest challenge. And the Open Championship is the oldest and quirkiest. But the PGA gives us the best field. There are no amateurs or freaky qualifiers. 97 of the top 100 golfers in the world teed it up at Baltusrol. The PGA of America took one for the team by moving the date to accommodate the Olympics. Playing just two weeks after the Open Championship compromised the PGA and the PGA of America deserves kudos for making the best of a difficult golf season. Their championship deserves better too.
The PGA wasn’t the most exciting of final rounds. Hamstrung by the weather and unable to re-pair the leaders it was at times an odd broadcast. But as Day and Walker went head to head over the last few holes it gave the season’s final major a truly memorable finish. And it was a great way to end our major championship season. I know Jimmy Walker liked it.