The 1999 PGA Championship

By Mercer BaggsNovember 2, 2009, 10:00 am

Project 99I was there when … the boy wowed, but the young man won.

I was there, standing off the left side of the 18th green at Medinah Country Club, watching as the 23-year-old putted out for victory. I watched as he gave a wearied and relieved fist pump. I watched as he hugged his mother, his girlfriend and his 19-year-old adversary.

I was there at the 1999 PGA Championship, where the Wanamaker Trophy was awarded to Tiger Woods, and the keys to the golfing world seemed handed to Sergio Garcia.

The 81st edition of the PGA will forever be remembered for Woods weathering El Niño. A boy running and leaping like a ballerino, it’s time-stamped image.

But the way in which the week ended, all the smiles and the hugs and the promise, could not have been more contrarian to how it began.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods celebrates his second career major victory. (Getty Images)

Much of the talk prior to the start of the PGA wasn’t even about the PGA. It revolved around the Ryder Cup and comments certain prominent players had recently made about receiving compensation for participation.

David Duval, then the No. 1 player in the world, and Tiger Woods even referred to the matches as an “exhibition.” To someone like U.S. Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw, you might as well have called John Wayne a wuss or George Patton a commie.

As for the monetary issue, it was Mark O’Meara who had first raised the compensation issue nearly a year prior after Golf Digest reported that the PGA of America netted roughly $17 million for the playing of the biennial competition.

Talk of a Ryder Cup controversy and liberal use of the words “player boycott” drowned out all the other story lines entering the PGA Championship – Woods trying to win his first major since winning his first major; Colin Montgomerie simply trying to win his first major and Jean Van de Velde playing his first major since an epic collapse in his last major.

The focus finally shifted to the tournament on Thursday after Garcia shot 6-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead on a soggy Day 1 in Lemont, Ill.

That score was a 23-stroke improvement upon his opening round performance at the Open Championship, where he shot 89-83 and wept openly in the arms of his mother.

Of course, it didn’t take long before some jackass in the media brought up Carnoustie.

I was said jackass.

“Sergio, what was the difference between the first round here today and your first round in Scotland,” was the innocent question.

“I think the British Open is done, so I don't want to hear any more questions about the Open,” was the defiant answer.

He looked on the verge of tears – again.

Some things never change: Ten years later Garcia is still emotional, still showcases the maturity of a teenager at times and is still without a major title to his credit.

Some things, however, do …

Garcia played a practice round with Woods at Medinah, a sign that the two might cordially compete against one another for years. That’s certainly what Garcia had in mind when he said Sunday evening, “I said when I turned pro that I wanted to be the No. 1 golfer in the world. … I want to be a rival for Tiger, but always being friends like we [were] today.”

Some things change quite a bit.

After a disappointing second-round 1-over 73, Garcia shot 68 Saturday to enter the final round two shots back of Woods and a second-year PGA Tour pro named Mike Weir.

Weir, the reigning Q-School medalist, had never won on Tour. But he sure acted like he had “been there before.” He couldn’t have been more courteous throughout the week, meeting each media request with compliance and a smile.

Even after he shot 80 in the final round to fall into a tie for 10th, Weir was congenial. A semi-circle of reporters, myself included, pressed Weir against the scoring trailer. You knew he’d rather be in Gen Pop than where he was at the moment, but he answered every question in a most professional manner.

“I gave it my best and I didn’t give up,” he said. “Eighty is the best score I could have shot, obviously. I tried on every shot.

“I’ll be back again.”

Three-and-a-half years later he made good on that promise, winning the Masters Tournament.

Not a person with a media badge would have bet that Sunday at Medinah that Weir would have won a major before Garcia – or that a decade later Garcia would still be major-ly deprived.

That Montgomerie is still sans major is far less shocking.

After tying for sixth at Medinah, Montgomerie headed off the grounds in a huff when some jackass dared ask him a question.

Again, I was said jackass.

“Monty, does not winning a major dampen what has been a very good season for you [he had won four times on the European Tour entering the PGA],” was the carefully phrased question.

“No, just for you,” was the very curt response. Turned out, he was wrong: I felt pretty good about him not winning.

Monty’s sullenness – and Weir’s unfortunate 80 – aside, Sunday at the ’99 PGA was a brilliant display of emotion.

What looked like a Tiger runaway, something not seen in a major championship since Augusta in ‘97, turned into a tight contest early on the back nine. Woods bogeyed the 12th hole, his first dropped shot of the day, and then watched on the par-3 13th tee box as Garcia made a 15-foot putt for birdie up ahead.

Garcia looked back at Woods and emphatically pumped his arm.

“I just wanted him to know I was still there and let him know he had to play well to win,” Garcia said of the celebration, adding that he wasn’t trying to show up Woods.

Of course, as we’ve come to learn, you can tell Tiger “good putt” and he’ll perceive it as a slight because you didn’t refer to it as “great.”

Woods never saw Garcia’s reaction, or so he said: “I saw him make the putt and I turned away. I knew what I had to do.”

He just didn’t do it.

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia follows his shot on the 16th hole Sunday at the 1999 PGA. (Getty Images)
Woods airmailed a 6-iron and recorded a double bogey. The lead was now one.

It remained that way as Garcia stood in the right rough on the 16th hole, his ball nestled in the knot of a tree root.

Adhering to his favorite slogan, “Suerto o Muerto” – “luck or death” – Garcia violently lashed at the ball with a 6-iron. His eyes closed, his head turned, he never saw the club make contact. With a hill impeding his view of the green as well, he ran up the fairway and leaped with a scissor kick to catch a glimpse of his ball rolling to the back of the green, some 60 feet from the pin.

The crowd exploded. The people were his.

“I hope you don’t shank it in the water,” Woods would later hear from a patron while approaching the par-3 17th.

Garcia two-putted for par at 16 and missed birdie putts on 17 and 18 to finish at 10-under 278.

We later learned that Sergio Garcia being a major challenger to Tiger Woods was merely a myth, born in the legendary happenings on the 16th hole Sunday at Medinah.

We also learned in time that Tiger Woods is the greatest clutch putter in the history of the game. That is a fact, rooted on the 17th hole that same day.

Still leading by one and facing a par putt that could make a dog sweat, Woods, with assistance on the read from caddie Steve Williams, made the 6-foot slider.

He capped his victory with a routine two-putt for par at the last. It was major No. 2 and win No. 11 on Tour.

Ten years later he stands at 14 and 71, respectively.

After hugging Williams, Woods greeted his mother, Kultida, and girlfriend, Joanna Jagoda, in same. Garcia was there waiting to offer another embrace.

“To come out of it on top took everything out of me,” Woods said afterwards. “I just tried to hold him [Garcia] off and did the best I could.”

The 1999 PGA Championship was the first major championship I ever attended. I won’t forget Crenshaw’s anger, Weir’s congeniality, Montgomerie’s boorishness, Garcia’s duality, Duval’s indifference or Woods’ resoluteness.

But in the end, it’s the end that everyone else will always remember.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”