LOUISVILLE, Ky. – So, I happened to wander into the 19th hole at a local muni the other day, not far from Valhalla Golf Club, site of this week’s PGA Championship. And who do I run into but none other than an old buddy named Shanks McGee, who’s never met a 19th hole he didn’t like.
We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries – and by pleasantries, I mean Shanks hit me up for 20 bucks and I pleasantly declined. I then asked what brought him into town this week.
“Are you kidding me?” he bellowed, nearly tipping over his barstool as he stood to face me. “It’s the PGA Championship, man. Glory's Last Shot, as they used to call it. The best major championship of them all!”
I started to ask him if he’d had one too many, but decided that was a rhetorical question. Instead, bemused, I asked him to explain.
“Think about it,” Shanks implored, shaking a finger just inches from my face. “The Masters? That’s all so ooh-la-la, with their ‘patrons’ and their ‘second cut.’ Sure, it’s a great track, but you can’t even get on there unless you’ve got eight or nine zeroes in your bank account. Too fancy for my taste. I'd rather hang out with Daly down the street at Hooters.”
Maybe the blue-collar, democratic nature of the U.S. Open suited him better?
“Oh, don’t get me started on that one,” he said while double-fisting two fresh cocktails. “It’s like the USGA doesn’t think golf is hard enough, so they make it ridiculous for four days. Like playing golf on the moon! I bet Mike Davis enjoys doing advanced trigonometry in his spare time, that twisted dude.”
Mentally taking a note to inquire about Davis’ math skills the next time I see him, I wondered aloud how he could disapprove of the Open Championship, but Shanks cut me off.
“Open Championship?” he growled. “What are you, one of them now? It’s called the British Open – and I’m sorry, but they might as well play Bingo to determine the winner of that old jug. I mean, half the guys wind up playing in a freakin’ monsoon, then the other half play in something that looks like Key West without the palm trees. I like my major champions decided by a little more than luck, thank you very much.”
Fine, I told him. You don’t like the first three majors. I get it. But what’s so great about this one?
He stared at me cockeyed, like Keegan Bradley eyeing a birdie putt.
Then he unleashed.
“Have you never heard the term, ‘Save the best for last?’” he roared at me. “Why do you think God or Arnold Palmer or whoever decided to put ‘em in this order in the first place? Because the best one is supposed to go last!”
He was on a roll now, spittle flying at me like a high school team firing shots at the range picker.
“Before DJ didn’t not get unsuspended or whatever, all 100 of the world’s top 100 players were in the field. The others can’t say that! And there are no amateurs taking up spots from the play-for-pay guys here. OK, maybe the 20 club pros won’t contend, but they still deserve to play. I’d like to see Tiger and Phil fold shirts and run the ladies’ nine-hole shamble for the other 51 weeks and see how they’d do.”
Shanks ordered two more drinks – both for himself – and put ’em on my tab.
“There’s more, too,” he grumbled. “You can say the U.S. Open is democratic, but more dreamers win the PGA. Rich Beem? Shaun Micheel? I mean, Y.E. Yang beat Tiger, for goodness sake. Bob May shoulda, too!”
“And I love the Wanamaker! Now that there’s a trophy. Sounds like a good drink, too. Or the punchline to a dirty joke. Hey, you Wanamaker…”
I covered his mouth to keep from hearing the rest, knowing it would just get us thrown out. When I took my hand away, he kept on going.
“I was even reading this piece recently – yeah, I can read; don’t look so surprised – and they quoted Ian Poulter. I have it right here,” he barked as he grabbed a crumpled piece of paper from his back pocket. “Poulter said, ‘I don't care which major I win. Hell, give me the PGA Championship.’ What a compliment, huh?”
Again, I tried to correct him, pointing out that the comment was actually the opposite of a compliment, but he’d already turned his back to me, wobbly trying to practice his swing in front of a mirror behind the bar.
Instead, I changed the subject, asking how he’d played that day.
“Lemme tell ya,” he said, turning around to look me in the eye. “I had the round of my life. Shot even par. I couldn’t miss. And still, those lucky stiffs took every dime in my pocket.”
Um … which lucky stiffs?
Shanks gave me the cockeyed Keegan look again. “My brothers. There’s four of us. Those three always beat me in everything. They get more attention. More respect. People like being around ‘em more. They get invited to parties and have celebrations thrown in their honor. Me? It’s like I’m an afterthought. Always been that way, too.”
I gave him a pat on the chest, right across the PGA Championship logo on his shirt. All of a sudden, his favorite major championship made perfect sense.