Tournaments

PGA Championship Primer: TV, Storylines, History, Field

Generally, I loathe the shameless recycling of old, trite movie quotes into cheap, prosaic headlines and clickbait. It feels lazy, and they are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

If Houston resident Chris Stroud lost a tournament in late, dramatic fashion, I would not write, “Houston… we have a problem!”. When Jhonattan Vegas won the RBC Canadian Open, I did not give serious thought to writing, “Here’s Jhonny!”. I will never be seen printing pun-tastic variations of “Show me the money!”, “Hasta la vista, baby”, or “I’m king of the world!”

Yet, when reminiscing on the PGA majors season, there is a movie quote that describes it better than anything that I am creative enough to come up with: “Are you not entertained?!?”

 

The major season has been nothing short of amazing. It has been gripping, it has been awe-inspiring, it has been… entertaining! Between the stunning collapse of Jordan Spieth on 12 at The Masters, the rules fiasco at the U.S. Open that had the entire PGA Tour excoriating the USGA on social media, and the inconceivable (*#&%!, I just did it again) duel at The Open Championship between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, golf fans have been badly spoiled in 2016.

Now, it is time to see whether the PGA Championship can clear the bar that has been set so high for them, as 156 of the world’s best golfers will again, in the condensed summer of majors, tee it up on Thursday at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey.

Barely one week removed from The Open Championship, nearly the entire field (minus 2, and possibly J.B. Holmes and/or Andrew “Beef” Johnston) would like to forget they were ever at Royal Troon. Baltusrol will not only be a test of strength and talent, it will also be a test of short memory.

History

The roots of the PGA Championship can be traced back 100 years to Eastern New York. Golf had been exploding in popularity, largely due to the work of the USGA. There was an intense desire to continue growing the game.

In early 1916, a group of distinguished golf professionals met at a golf club in New York City with business mogul Rodman Wanamaker, which led to the formation of the PGA. The PGA’s first “championship” was held later that year at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York.

Much different from what it has become today, that first PGA Championship was held as a match-play event, which was won by a man named Jim Barnes. As the victor, Barnes received $500, a healthy pay-out for the time, a gold medal provided by Wanamaker, and a trophy, called the Wanamaker Trophy. Today, the winner is still given a replica of that trophy.

The event consistently brought elite fields, and names on the Wanamaker would include legends like Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. Hagen and Nicklaus have won the most Wanamakers, with five apiece.

Over time, the PGA of America realized that a stroke-play format would be more lucrative and so the modern PGA Championship was born in 1958.

Baltusrol Golf Club, the host of the 2016 PGA Championship, was founded in 1895. The original course was designed by George Hunter, but Baltusrol as we know it today was designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1918. It has two courses, with the championship play being held on the “lower” course.

This will be its second time in the PGA Championship rotation, although it has held seven U.S. Opens, in addition to the U.S. Amateur, and the U.S. Women’s Open. The previous PGA Championship held at Baltusrol in 2005, and was won by Phil Mickelson. His aggregate score was 4-under-par, besting Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington by one stroke.

Course/Tournament Info

Name: Baltusrol Golf Club (The Lower Course)
Where: Springfield, New Jersey
Distance: 7,428 yards
Par: 70
Architect: A.W. Tillinghast
Purse: $10,000,000
Winning Share: $1,800,000
FedEx Cup Points: 600

Defending Champion

The defending champion is Australia’s Jason Day, the current #1 ranked player in the world. In a record-setting performance where Day finished at -20, nobody was able to get closer than two strokes behind him. He shot a final-round 67 and won by three strokes over Jordan Spieth, five strokes over Branden Grace, and six strokes over Justin Rose.

Other Recent Champions

2014: Rory McIlroy
2013: Jason Dufner
2012: Rory McIlroy
2011: Keegan Bradley
2010: Martin Kaymer

Key Pairings

7:40a Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els, Zach Johnson
8:40a Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy
1:25p Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia
1:45p Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson

Tournament Records

Lowest Final Score: Aided by one of the greatest tee shots in major history, David Toms recorded a 265 in 2001 at Atlanta Athletic Club, although Jason Day’s 2015 victory at Whistling Straits was lower in relation to par (-20)

Low Round: 63, 13 times (Bruce Crampton, Raymond Floyd, Gary Player, Vijay Singh, Michael Bradley, Brad Faxon, Jose Maria Olazabel, Mark O’Meara, Thomas Bjorn, Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner, Hiroshi Iwata)

Television

Thursday: 1-7p – TNT
Friday: 1-7p – TNT
Saturday: 11a-2p – TNT, 2-7p – CBS
Sunday: 11a-2p – TNT, 2-7p – CBS

Online

Website: www.pga.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pgachampionship
Twitter: @PGAChampionship
Instagram: @pgachampionship

Storylines

1. 2016: Year of the First-Time Major Winner

This season has been especially kind to those who had not previously won a major tournament. Danny Willett won The Masters as a breakout star, while U.S. Open Winner Dustin Johnson and Open Championship Winner Henrik Stenson, two players who had been close many times before, finally put the vexatious questions about their legacy to rest.

This brings about the question, who’s next? If the victor is another first-time major champion, it will likely be one of the men on this list:

Rickie Fowler – The world #7 is now the highest ranked player without a major on his resume. After a 2014 season where he became just the third player ever to finish in the top five of all four majors in one season, we all figured it was just a matter of time for Rickie. However, since then, he has been shockingly irrelevant in the major slate.

In 2015 he followed up a respectable T12 at The Masters with a missed cut at the U.S. Open and a pair of T30s in the Open Championship and PGA. This season, he missed the cut at both The Masters and the U.S. Open, and finished T46 at The Open Championship. He clearly has the game for the majors, but will he be the next Henrik Stenson and declare it to be his time? A recent T10 at the WGC-Bridgestone was a positive sign.

Sergio Garcia – It seems crazy that Sergio is only 36 because it feels like we have been waiting for his major breakthrough for 30 years now. He had been written off by many as too immature and/or mentally weak to win on the biggest stage, but he has had a mild career resurgence over the past three years, and has greatly improved his reputation. He is #10 in the world rankings and finished T5 in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship. He has twice (1999, 2008) been runner-up at the PGA.

Branden Grace – The 28-year-old South African and world #12 finished solo-third at last year’s PGA Championship, in addition to a T4 at the 2015 U.S. Open and a T5 and this year’s edition. As one of the best and consistent ball-strikers on tour, it would not be shocking at all to see him hoist the Wanamaker on Sunday.

Matt Kuchar – Kuchar somehow gets overlooked in these debates about major-less players, but he shouldn’t. At 38 years old the man who was something of a late bloomer has not factored into many majors. He finished T7 at Whistling Straits last year, and is in good form lately with six top-10s in his past eight tournaments. Those two non-top 10s, however, were T46s at the last two majors.

Lee Westwood – At #39 in the world, Westwood does not rank nearly as high as the other four players I mentioned, but he has been agonizingly close more than anyone, with 11 top 5’s in majors without a victory. He played well enough to be in the final group with the eventual winner at both The Masters and U.S. Open, but struggled on Sunday in both. At 43, Westwood may be running out of chances.

2. A Big Three Shut-Out?

Going into the season, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy were justifiably hyped up as golf’s “Big Three”. The trio had accounted for five victories in the previous seven major championships and seemed to be trending further upward. Somehow, we are now at the last major of 2016, and the big three has been shut out worse than someone facing Pedro Martinez in his prime.

This is how they have fared in majors this year:

Day – T10, T8, T22
Spieth – T2, T37, T30
McIlroy – T10, CUT, T5

Not only have the big three been shut out, they’re now forced to CC world #2 Dustin Johnson on all emails. It will be interesting to see if these guys play with a bigger sense of urgency, now that there is only one major left this season.

3. Surging Stenson

To accommodate golf returning to this Olympics next month, the PGA Championship was moved back to this last weekend in July. Players were quiet about the schedule change, but one would have to imagine that Henrik Stenson is okay with it, seeing as he (and Phil Mickelson) just obliterated the field at Royal Troon less than two weeks ago.

If Stenson is able to carry any of that momentum to Baltusrol, he could leave everyone in his wake again. The 40-year-old Swede has finished in the top 3 of two of the past three PGA Championships. Now that he is playing without the pressure of never winning a major, he may be able to soar higher, if that is even possible.

4. A 5-5 Finish

One of the greatest things about the PGA Championship being played at Baltursol’s Lower Course is the fascinating way the pars are dispersed among the holes. There are only two par-5s and they are the last two holes on the course. That setup should lead to a lot of late day scoring and excitement.

We could even see a player making up four shots over the last two holes! It could lead to a variety of decisions that are second-guessed by everyone on Monday.

The RBC Canadian Open last weekend had two par-5s in the final three holes (and three in the last six), and it led to one of the most thrilling tournaments of the year. Jhonattan Vegas posted a low score, and watched anxiously while the groups behind him systematically destroyed their chances to match.

5. Double Ryder Cup Points

Players are running out of chances to qualify for this year’s Ryder Cup. With double-points given for majors, this should be the best showcase any of them have left.

The top 8 on the American side are automatic qualifiers. Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, and Zach Johnson look safe, but there is potential for a lot of movement after them. J.B. Holmes, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson, and Matt Kuchar are currently in the 5-8 spots respectively. They will be battling to hold those spots with a cavalcade of great golfers coming at them.

Those just outside the bubble right now include Brooks Koepka (9th), Rickie Fowler (10th), Patrick Reed (11th), Bill Haas (13th), Jim Furyk (18th), and Steve Stricker (22nd).

American team captain Davis Love III will have some tough decisions for his four captain’s picks among the non-qualifiers.

The European side is similarly muddled, with a large bubble that includes the likes of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan, Justin Rose, Chris Wood, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, and Martin Kaymer, among others.

Other Notables in the Field

Adam Scott – Scott got off to a hot start this season, with two early wins, including one at a WGC event. Since then, he has been quiet, and a non-factor at the majors. Still, he has shown championship form in this calendar year, and Scott at his best is dangerous for the field.

Phil Mickelson – Phil has been difficult to figure out this year. He missed the cut at both The Masters and U.S. Open, but his performance at The Open Championship might have been the greatest of all time among non-winners at majors. In addition, he has six top-5 finishes this year, which is phenomenal for a 46-year-old.

J.B. Holmes – Holmes, the distant third place finisher at The Open, has quietly risen to #16 in the world. He also posted a T4 at The Masters. Historically, the PGA Championship has not been a good tournament for him, but with his length (#2 on Tour in driving distance) and recent good form, he is definitely one to watch at Baltusrol.

Andrew “Beef” Johnston – The man they call “Beef” made more fans than anyone at Royal Troon. With his glowing personality, that trend is likely to continue for the up-and-comer at Baltusrol. His game is not bad either: he finished solo-8 at The Open Championship, and won a European Tour event back in April. This will be his first PGA Championship appearance.

Brooks Koepka – Koepka, the 26-year-old American, is in the midst of a career season and finished T5 in this tournament last year. He is flying a little under the radar, as he had to withdraw from The Open Championship with an ankle injury, but he should be ready-to-go at this one. A strong showing here would put him in a great position to qualify for the Ryder Cup.

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