Recapping the 2014 PGA Championship
Instead of following my usual recap style, I’m going to go with more of a broken up style list of takeaways thanks to the amount of noteworthy events that took place all week.
“The Rory Era”
So much of the talk on the weekend was how golf was entering a new era, with Rory McIlroy knocking Tiger Woods off of his perch as the game’s dominant player, and I get why people had this reaction. Rory’s last ten months have been incredible, with the last three starts producing wins in two majors and a WGC against pretty much the best fields possible. He’s got every shot in the bag and when he’s on his game, there’s no reason to think that anyone can beat him, which is something we haven’t seen since Tiger was on top of the world.
My only hesitation with all of this is that you only need to look back to last year when Tiger won five times to see when he was on top of the world, and while I’m not saying that it’s going to be him that does it, there is something else to remember that ties into that fact. Tiger’s chase for Jack’s major record is always going to be a huge talking point and one of the reasons that people have pointed to, myself included, as to why he might not get there is that the competition is far better now than it was 10-15 years ago. The same thing applies to Rory as well, and we can’t just expect him to go on a run of major wins when the best players in the world these days are better than ever.
In a rush to start something new, we often forget how good the past really was. Rory McIlroy is not Tiger Woods, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. He’s going to be damn fun to watch over the next decade, and that should be the focus.
Playing through in the dark
Things got a little weird at the end on Sunday, mostly because of the way that the day all started. For some reason, the PGA of America decided not to move up tee times even though the threat of severe weather was high and the nearly two hour delay put a regulation Sunday finish in real jeopardy, with no chance of completing a three-hole playoff if it was needed. I mean, this was the scene when Rory hit his final putt:
I didn’t have a problem with the Rory/Wiesberger group teeing off on 18 with Fowler/Mickelson walking to their balls, but the confusion over the approach shots into the green was crazy and even though they didn’t say it after the round, you can bet that Fowler and Mickelson were not too pleased with how that whole thing played out. They each had a chance to make things interesting on the last with a birdie, but instead of playing their third shots, they had to wait until the final group hit their seconds into the green and it just made for a poor ending to an otherwise great Sunday. No one seems to know who exactly made that call either, which makes it even more bizarre.
Coming into the week, Phil Mickelson claimed that he would need a miracle to play great at Valhalla, but I honestly don’t believe that he thought that to be true. Even though he came up short, this was a big week for Phil, as he was able to get into the Ryder Cup with his finish and he did it in pretty much the most Mickelson way possible: out of nowhere, with tons of moments that made you think he could win or lose it at any point.
Where he goes from here is interesting because even though this performance was great, it’s impossible to ignore the putrid season he’s had to date and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what we see from him going forward where the days of his consistent dominance are over, but every once and a while, he pulls out something magical. He’s talked about slowing his schedule down and only playing in bigger events, and that seems to make sense to me. He’s still going to win, and will likely get at least one more major, but his role as one of golf’s elder statesmen is fast approaching.
Rickie Fowler is right there
Watching Rickie Fowler this year has been a lot of fun. When he made the decision to go with Butch Harmon as his new swing coach, something that No Laying Up analysed really early this season, I figured that it was going to be a great move in the long run, but that he would suffer in 2014 with the changes that Harmon wanted him to implement, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Fowler said that he was trying to build his game around the majors, a strategy which was mocked by many, most notably Johnny Miller, but it’s worked incredibly well and he’s going to be at Gleneagles for the Ryder Cup as well.
Considering that most people have thought for years that he was nothing more than a gimmick aggressively dressed by Puma, this year has been huge for both Fowler and the game in general. Fowler being among the major contenders that Rory has to deal with for the next 20 years is something that I think everyone can get behind.
After his return from the wilderness last year, there were a lot of people wondering whether Henrik Stenson was going to stick around this time and while he hasn’t had the kind of year that he did in 2013, he’s quietly put together a pretty solid season, with six top-5 finishes in his last twelve starts worldwide. He’s going to play in his first Ryder Cup since 2008 in September and even though he still has some issues to work out, namely the putter and his propensity for flat terrible shots, I can’t see him disappearing this time.
The big story early in the week, minus the drama surrounding Tiger, was all about Bubba Watson, who basically made an ass of himself at every turn. Let’s count the ways:
- Refused to enter the long drive competition, which was all for fun and charity, because he “was there to play golf and not to hit it far.”
- Proceeded to play the tenth with a 3-iron in his practice round, mocking the long drive competition and not even waiting for his playing partners.
- #PrayForTedScott was trending on Twitter because of the amount of shit Bubba’s caddie was taking on the course, including being told not to tell the broadcasters what club he was using and being forced to tee up Bubba’s ball so the two-time Masters winner wouldn’t get wet in the rain. These were just two examples among literally a dozen of things that he did while on the course.
Will Gray of Golf Channel tackled Bubba, as did Jason Sobel and Dave Kindred of Golf Digest came in with perhaps the harshest take of all on Friday evening after Bubba basically took himself out of the tournament. Bubba, much like Rory and Fowler, is very important to golf and as one of the game’s most popular figures, he needs to be better than what we saw at Valhalla.
Ryder Cup standings
So, we now know nine of the twelve players that will be competing at Gleneagles for Team USA, and in all honesty, it’s not as bad as some people are making it out to be. Sure, on paper the European team looks stronger right now and I wouldn’t trust Jim Furyk to putt a ball into an open garage from the driveway, but Fowler and Mickelson are playing great, as is Jimmy Walker and Bubba should be a massive threat in match play, which is usually a crapshoot anyway when you get players together of roughly the same skill level. Losing Jason Dufner to a neck injury hurts, but he hasn’t been healthy all year and much like Furyk, the putter is a massive concern. There’s obviously still a chance that we see him in September, but unless he plays in the FedEx Cup, Tom Watson isn’t going to take him with one of his three captains picks in a few weeks.
The future for Tiger
It was obvious from the minute that he stepped on the course that Tiger really shouldn’t have been at Valhalla, and when you combine his recent injuries and poor play with everyone jumping on the Rory bandwagon, people have been quick to suggest that Tiger’s time has passed. Kyle Porter at CBS had the most reasoned take that I saw, and while he’s probably right that Tiger needs to figure out a new way to win, I still think it’s tough to pass a ton of judgement on the guy when it’s pretty obvious that he’s not healthy.
Maybe he needs to dump Sean Foley. Maybe he has too much forward shaft lean. Maybe he needs to start from scratch and rebuild everything for what seems to be the 234th time in his career. I don’t have the answers and to be honest, I don’t think he has them either, which sucks because despite all of the negativity around him, golf is simply more interesting when he’s in the mix. Golf will be fine when Tiger decides to walk, or perhaps more accurately, limp away, but I don’t think he’s ready for that yet. I know I’m not.
Expecting him to be the dominant 24-year old Tiger from 2000 is unrealistic, but counting him out is just as foolish.
Valhalla as host
Nobody is ever going to suggest that Valhalla is one of the best courses in the world, or even the United States, but you can’t say that it doesn’t produce entertaining golf. Granted, some of that had to do with the soft conditions that made scoring easier, but the course was set up well, which made for a Sunday where the lead was always a moving target with a changing leader. In a world where the USGA tries their best every year to reduce scoring and protect the sanctity of par, it’s nice to know that not all of golf’s governing bodies have lost the plot.
The Twitter community
Before I end off here, I just want to give the online golf community, especially those on Twitter, a huge amount of credit for making this tournament even more enjoyable. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t imagine not following the event through Twitter even when I’m at home, and people like Shane Bacon, Kyle Porter, No Laying Up, Brendan Porath and Trevor Reaske are the reason why. I look forward to doing it every week, but this past week was definitely hall of fame worthy.