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Haigh on PGA setup: 'We are not the show'

By Nick MentaAugust 8, 2018, 5:02 pm

ST. LOUIS – Discussions regarding course setup can often dominate the conversation at a major championship, particularly when the players are unhappy or believe a layout has become unfair.

The U.S. Open is the event that most often causes controversy, with the USGA and its executive director, Mike Davis, too often becoming the focal point of attention.

Just two months ago at Shinnecock Hills, following an afternoon of backlash, Davis acknowledged after the third round that the golf course had once again gotten away from the USGA’s setup committee, that quality shots were not being rewarded.

And yet, those concerns never seem to rise at the PGA Championship, where birdies abound and defending par is a non-issue.

Speaking ahead of the 100th PGA on Wednesday, Kerry Haigh – the PGA of America’s chief championships officer and the man annually in charge of the setup – was clear that his goal is to get out of the way.


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“Our hope and my hope, and I think the plan is that the players are the story. It is their major championship. We want to showcase the best players in the world on great golf courses,” he said. “And I don't like being up here. I don't really want to talk about it because we are not the story. It's the players and the golf course.

“Truly it's the players that are the show. We are not the show. And that's our aim for every championship is to make it fun, make it exciting, make it difficult, tough hole locations, opportunities to just make the golfer think. And if you can do that, I think the players enjoy it more. They react more. And hopefully, good golf and great golf is rewarded. So that's exactly our philosophy day in, day out, every year.”

Between 2012 and 2016, the PGA featured five straight winners who were double-digits under par. That streak was highlighted by Jason Day, who in 2015 at Whistling Straits became the first player to finish a major championship at 20 under par. This week’s defending champion, Justin Thomas, ended the double-digit streak with his 8-under total last year at Quail Hollow.

As for crowning a worthy champion, the PGA has recently rewarded the ball-striking prowess of Thomas, Day, Jason Dufner and Rory McIlroy (twice).

“Certainly, the rain has soften things up, but I look at that as a very positive because I think we could have one of the most exciting PGA Championships ever played,” Haigh said, referencing the receptive conditions at Bellerive. “If you put 98 of the top 100 golfers in the world on a beautifully manicured golf course with soft greens and little or no wind, I certainly hope and expect we'll see a lot of birdies. And because the community have rallied to support our championship, we sold out. There's no more space to come. I believe the noise and the energy that will feed off the exciting play on this golf course could make for the 100th being our best PGA Championship ever.”

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Podcast: Welcome our guest - Tiger Tracker

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 7:47 pm

Host Will Gray calls him “The man, the myth, the legend.”

GCTiger Tracker, aka “TT,” makes his highly anticipated first guest appearance in a Golf Channel podcast, pontificating on everything from Tiger Woods’ run at the PGA Championship at Bellerive to the overall nature of Tiger’s comeback and what breakthroughs may lie ahead.

Tiger Tracker, Golf Channel’s mystery man, continues to rigorously protect his identity as the foremost Twitter tracker of all things Tiger, but he does open up on his intense relationship with his growing legion of followers and his “trigger finger” when it comes to blocking those unworthy of his insight.

“I’m more of a lover than a hater of Tiger Woods, but I’m a tracker,” TT tells Gray. “I call it like I see it.”

Tracker goes deep on what he sees as his role in continuing to document Tiger’s comeback, including a sense of kinship in this journey.

“I had 142,000 followers on the Monday of the Bahamas [late last year], and as we speak now, 296,000, more than double in that short span,” Tracker says. “That shows you what he’s been able to do, what we’ve been able to do together. Let’s be honest about that.”

Listen in below:

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Olesen hopes to cause Ryder Cup chain reaction

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2018, 7:13 pm

With his move up the leaderboard Friday at the Nordea Masters, Thorbjorn Olesen continued his hard charge to make the European Ryder Cup team on points and take some pressure off team captain and fellow Dane Thomas Bjorn.

With a 4-under-par 66, Olesen is in contention in Sweden, five shots off the lead.

With a finish of second or better this week, Olesen can climb among the top four on the European Ryder Cup points list, bumping Tommy Fleetwood with less than three weeks left in qualifying. Olesen is currently sixth on the European points list.

“I'm trying not to think about it at all,” Olesen said after the first round. “That's obviously difficult, but I'm really trying to put my head down and concentrate on my game.”

Olesen, 28, doesn’t want to put Bjorn in an awkward position when it’s time to make the four captain’s picks.


Full-field scores from the Nordea Masters


“Thomas and I are great friends,” Olesen said. “I don't think that makes it better for me. It might make it worse. I would love to get in that team [on points]. That's my goal.”

That’s the way Bjorn prefers it, too.

“I’ve made it very clear that he needs to do something very special to make this team and preferably make it on merit, because I can’t be in a situation where I feel like I’m doing anybody a favor,” Bjorn said before last week’s PGA Championship. “To be honest, I’ve taken a slight step away from him at the moment, just to let him concentrate on his own golf.”

Olesen is on a nice run. He won the Italian Open and tied for second at the BMW International Open in June, tied for sixth at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July and tied for third at the WGC Bridgestone two weeks ago.

“I would love to be in Paris, to play for Europe,” Olesen said. “I can only go out every day and try to play good golf and show that I'm good enough for the team. That's all I can do.

“I haven't talked to Thomas about the Ryder Cup the last four or five months.”

If Olesen moves among the top four on the European points list this weekend, it has a chain reaction, with Fleetwood then moving over to take one of four qualifying spots on the European world points list. That would bump Ian Poulter outside the top four of that list. The Nordea Masters is among the final three European Tour events that players can qualify on points.

 

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Getting cheeky: 'Beef' drops trou, saves par

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 3:23 pm

Andrew "Beef" Johnston provided the Nordea Masters crowd a little beefcake - that was just too easy - on Friday when he dropped trou during the second round.

He had pulled his drive on the short (253 yards) par-4 12th hole into a hazard, but the ball was playable. He played a mud-spattered explosion out of the muck, then opted to abandon his trousers for a pair of rain pants, much to the delight of the fans. The story has a happy ending, too. After hitting his second shot over the green, he chipped up and saved par.

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Cut Line: An appreciation of Woods, Lyle

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2018, 2:13 pm

In a regular-season finale edition, we celebrate how far Tiger Woods has come this season, mourn the loss of one of the game’s truly special people and crunch the numbers on Sergio Garcia’s 11th-hour sprint to the playoffs.

Made Cut

Perspective. Tiger Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA Championship was another reason to appreciate the 14-time major winner’s comeback, and to marvel at how far he’s come in a relatively short period of time.

“I didn't know what my schedule would be. I didn't know how many tournaments I would play this year or if I would even play. So each tournament brought about its own challenges,” Woods reminded us following his closing 64 at Bellerive.

Although Woods has repeatedly talked about those dark and painful days before fusion surgery on his lower back, a recent interview with Nick Faldo on the Dan Patrick Show revealed just how bad things were.

 “I know [Woods] whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago [2017], 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,’” Faldo said. “He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the [2016] Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain.”

Woods’ improved play in recent months has slowly glossed over just how bad things were, not to mention how far he’s come.

RIP Jarrod Lyle. The PGA Tour community continues to mourn the loss of Lyle, who died last week at home in Australia following his third bout with acute myeloid leukemia.

A GoFundMe page created by Golf Channel’s Tripp Isenhour quickly met its goal of raising $200,000 for Lyle’s family, and tournament officials at this week’s Wyndham Championship placed Lyle’s staff bag, along with his signature bright-yellow bucket hat, on the first tee.

Officials at Sedgefield Country Club also created a sand castle memorial for Lyle, who played the Wyndham Championship four times in his career.

“It was hard not to think of Jarrod, certainly,” Adam Scott said on Sunday at the PGA. “The people who knew him quite well that were playing this week, golf was a little distraction, but probably now, as we get some time off and get to go home and be with our family, that we will be able to celebrate him a little bit more.”


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Bon voyage Bellerive. Major championship golf returned to St. Louis for the first time in two decades last week, and the Midwestern masses celebrated like it had been more than 20 years.

Record crowds swarmed the layout all week and Sunday’s final round was the most raucous day in golf (non-Ryder Cup division) since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Even the golf course, which featured slower-than-normal greens and wet conditions following storms on Tuesday and Friday, received high praise from the rank and file, all of which makes the course’s Grand Slam future so awkward.

The PGA Championship is booked up pretty much through 2029, with one open date, either 2025 or ’26, still available; while the Ryder Cup is scheduled through the 2024 matches at Bethpage, which means the earliest it could be played at Bellerive is 2028.

As much as players and fans celebrated golf’s return to St. Louis, Bellerive’s future place on the Grand Slam dance card has a distinct “don’t call us, we’ll call you” feel to it.

Tweet of the week: @JustinThomas34 (Justin Thomas) “Fans and people in St Louis . . . y’all were unbelievable! Never heard roars like that in my life. That is what I’ve thought and dreamt major championship Sundays were like since I was a kid.”

Bubble this and that. It’s a rite of fall in professional golf, players scrambling at the year’s final regular-season event to qualify for the playoffs or improve their postseason fortunes.

Sergio Garcia is the week’s most high-profile “bubble” player in the Wyndham Championship field, with the Spaniard mired at 131st on the point list. But this is likely less about the postseason – Garcia has skipped the first playoff start the last three years – than it is his need to secure his 15th start of the season, which is required to maintain membership.

A similar scenario occurred a few seasons ago with Henrik Stenson, and as the Tour transitions to a new, condensed schedule next year it’s probably going to happen more often.

With fewer playoff events and a condensed summer schedule, players, particularly those who also play the European Tour, will be faced with some tough choices starting in 2019.


Missed Cut

Captain obvious. We can appreciate Jim Furyk’s desire to cling to protocol. He has three weeks to decide who will be his first three captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup, but perhaps he should just come clean.

Following Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA, which moved him from 20th to 11th on the U.S. point list, Furyk played a particularly aloof card when asked about Tiger’s chances of being a pick.

“He's playing very well. I think there's a lot of folks out there who probably think he can help us,” Furyk said. “I realize Tiger is a story. I realize he's playing very well, and I'm excited to see that.”

While Furyk’s reluctance is understandable, anyone with a pulse and an internet connection knows Woods will be a pick. If the captain wants to focus on other things, like the eight automatic qualifiers, simply stop the formalities and make Tiger an early selection.