Early Birds Look to Catch the Wanamaker


PGA of AmericaSPRINGFIELD, N.J. ' Its Sunday at Baltusrol Golf Club. Darren Clarke emerges from the locker room dressed in his Sunday best. Padraig Harrington, Lee Janzen and Paul McGinley work on their putting on the practice green. Thomas Bjorn stands on the far right side of the practice range pounding golf balls. And Davis Love III and Lucas Glover tee off on the first hole.
The Lower Course at Baltusrol is host to the 87th PGA Championship. So its no surprise that such an impressive group would be milling about before the 3 oclock hour.
Only this is the Sunday before the start of the seasons final major.
Many a player, from Fred Couples to club professional Chris Starkjohann, are on hand the day before PGA week was actually set to begin.
Love, Glover, Couples and Janzen all missed the cut at The International and flew cross-country from Colorado.
One reason for the early arrivals is that the Lower Course hasnt hosted a major championship since Janzen won the 1993 U.S. Open. And in that 12-year span the layout has been lengthened 240 yards to 7,392, making it the longest par-70 (thats right, par-70) in PGA history.
Zach Johnson arrived on site Saturday. He played only eight holes, but more than got a good dose of what the course has to offer.
Youve got two par-4s over 470 (yards) and two over 500 on the first eight holes, he said, knowing there was nothing that needed to be added to compliment that statement.
Johnson took this past week off, deciding to stay home and work on his game with instructor Mike Bender. He then came up early to get in a few extra on-site practice sessions.
I just wanted to give this way a try, give myself some more preparation, he said before heading out to tackle the course once again Sunday afternoon. I figure it cant hurt.
Playing a full major schedule for the first time, Johnson has missed the cut in his first three attempts. So he tried to change his luck by altering his routine.
Johnson competed in the BellSouth Classic, where he was the defending champion, prior to the Maters. He then competed in the Booz Allen Classic right before the U.S. Open, and the John Deere Classic, which preceded the Open Championship.
He originally had planned to play this past weeks International, but decided to take off that week and play the previous weeks Buick Open instead.
Whether or not this decision proves effective in winning the Wanamaker Trophy is a wait-and-see, but it certainly paid dividends at the Buick.
Johnson played alongside eventual champion Vijay Singh in the final rounds final group at Warwick Hills. He tied Tiger Woods for second place, earning his best finish of the season.
I just needed something to give me a boost, he said of his most recent performance. Its going well. Its not where I want it to be, but its getting there.
Johnsons game is rounding into shape at a great time. This is the last week for players to qualify for the U.S. and International Presidents Cup teams.
Johnson is currently 12th on the U.S. points list, with the top 10 automatically qualifying for the team. While the International team is determined based on world rankings, the U.S. points list is based on official earnings. Money earned at a major championship counts double.
Johnson acknowledged that making the Presidents Cup team is in the back of his mind. But hell let those chips fall where they may. Right now, the course has his full attention.
Its a beast, he said.
Woods and Phil Mickelson found that out when they played the course last Monday. Singh got a preview in late June when he played it during a Media Day as the defending champion.
It's all about hitting it long and straight out there, Singh said at the Buick Open. You've got to hit good shots there. You've got to bring your game along. I think whoever wins there is going to play really, really well.
It's going to be a grueling week.
For many, that week has already begun.
Related Links:
  • Course Tour
  • Full Coverage - 87th PGA Championship