ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – For years, one of the perks of making the Ryder Cup team was an automatic spot in the PGA Championship, as both are run by the PGA of America.
Starting last year, the PGA changed its criteria so that Ryder Cup members of the most recent team must be within the top 100 in the world ranking. And with a change in the Ryder Cup selection process to allow for four captain’s picks, that could have ramifications this year for as many as four American players.
Boo Weekley, last seen galloping down the fairway at Valhalla in the Ryder Cup, has plunged to No. 166 in the world with only three top 10s in the last two years. He has not played a major this year.
Justin Leonard is No. 98 in the world, while Ben Curtis is No. 97 and Chad Campbell, who did not qualify for St. Andrews, is No. 93.
“As the process of the Ryder Cup team has changed – the captain now has four picks – there’s more of a chance the players picked are not highly ranked,” said Kerry Haigh, championship director of the PGA. “So those four players had no trouble getting into the PGA Championship last year.”
This year is a different story.
Leonard has yet to finish in the top 10, with his best result a tie for 14th in the U.S. Open. He lost in a playoff the last time the PGA Championship was held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in 2004. Curtis, a runner-up in the PGA Championship two years ago, has only one top-10 this year. Campbell started the year with a tie for eighth in the Sony Open, and didn’t have another top 10 until Hartford.
The deadline for being inside the top 100 in the world is Aug. 2, after two more PGA Tour events.
Even if those players fall out of the top 100, that doesn’t mean they will be shut out of the PGA Championship. The top 70 in PGA points automatically get in, and Leonard is 76th. The points are based on money earned on the PGA Tour since the last PGA Championship.
Plus, the PGA retains the right to invite whoever it wants.
“It depends on how they’re playing, but they’ll get all due consideration,” Haigh said. Asked if a player from the most recent Ryder Cup team would get more consideration for an invitation, he replied, “Absolutely.”
SUCCESSFUL 17th: The Royal & Ancient was criticized for adding 40 yards to the famous 17th hole at St. Andrews, although chief executive Peter Dawson said the intent was to bring the road back.
It would be hard to describe the change to the Road Hole as anything but a success.
Among the signature moments from the British Open was Miguel Angel Jimenez going across the road next to the wall, and banging his shot off the wall and back onto the green.
“I think the 17th tee has been a great success in terms of stiffening the test of that hole,” Dawson said. “I said at the beginning of the week, we were hoping that the road might come more back into play, and by gosh, it did. We had far more people on the road this year through the back of the hole than I’ve seen at previous Opens in recent times. To that degree we are very pleased with the hole.”
Only 38 percent of the players hit the 17th green in two.
And while the road got plenty of attention, there wasn’t too much trouble in the Road Hole bunker at the front of the green. There might be an explanation for that. Dawson said the front of the sodden wall was not as vertical as in previous years.
Dawson said the incline was at 67 degrees, which was about 3 or 4 degrees less severe than previous years.
“We wanted to give the players some kind of change of getting out, rather than no chance,” Dawson said.
The 18th hole has to rank among the easiest closing holes in championship golf. Perhaps it’s prudent to look at the 17th and 18th as a package finish of par 4s. The 495-yard 17th had an average score 4.665, while the 357-yard 18th had an average score of 3.629. So for a “par 8” of the two holes combined, the average score was 8.294.
EURO POWER: Justin Rose won two strong PGA Tour events in a span of three starts, putting him at No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings. But it’s still not enough for him to qualify outright for Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
Such is the strength of European golf at the moment.
Four of the top five players on the world points list have won in America this year – Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. Then there’s Paul Casey, who played in the final group at St. Andrews, yet is still not eligible. Neither is three-time major champion Padraig Harrington or Henrik Stenson, who tied for third in the British Open.
“I’ve got some headaches, but I’ve got some good headaches,” European captain Colin Montgomerie said Sunday. “I can pick two teams here that can beat each other on any given day. That’s the strength and that’s the depth of European golf, especially this year.”
SOUTH AFRICAN PRIDE: Gary Player, one of five men to have completed the career Grand Slam, looked beyond Louis Oosthuizen’s victory at St. Andrews to all of South Africa. And his plaudits went a lot farther back then the last couple of years.
Oosthuizen was the sixth South African to win a major, and the fourth in the last 10 years.
“Isn’t it incredible?” he said Sunday evening. “And one of the most amazing things is that South Africa, a small country, has won more majors than any country besides the United States post-World War II.”
Player didn’t just pull that number out of the air.
The South Africans – Player, Oosthuizen, Bobby Locke, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman – have won 20 majors dating to the first of Locke’s first British Open titles in 1949.
Next on the list is Australia with 15 (Peter Thomson, Greg Norman, David Graham, Kel Nagle, Jim Ferrier, Wayne Grady, Steve Elkington, Ian Baker-Finch, Geoff Ogilvy), followed by Britain with 14 (Nick Faldo, Tony Jacklin, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Paul Lawrie, Henry Cotton, Max Faulkner).
Player also claims Nick Price of Zimbabwe and his three majors, giving “Southern Africa” a total of 23.
DIVOTS: Louis Oosthuizen became the first player born after 1980 to have won a major. … Most of the 50-and-over players at St. Andrews headed up the coast to Carnoustie for the Senior British Open. Tom Pernice Jr. got on the charter to Toronto for the Canadian Open. “I’m playing the regular tour the rest of the way,” Pernice said. He has an exemption to The Greenbrier Classic, and is hopeful of making enough money the next two weeks to qualify for the PGA Championship. … The best measure of Phil Mickelson’s struggles in the British Open? Only once in 16 tries has he finished closer than nine shots of the winner.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The last three British Opens at St. Andrews have been won by a combined 20 shots.
FINAL WORD: “The SBS Championship is going to be like a European Tour event.” – British agent Chubby Chandler, on the PGA Tour’s winners-only tournament that starts the season in Kapalua.