Tournament: PGA Championship, July 28-31, 2016
Course: Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower), 7,428 yards, par 70, Springfield, NJ
Defending Champion: Jason Day. Somehow supplanting Jordan Spieth as the hottest player on the planet, Day surged to the front and played with Spieth in the final round, eventually stepping on Spieth’s neck with a combination of power and putting at the tough Whistling Straits course.
Fun Fact: There are no fun facts about New Jersey. Well, except that the course name "Baltusrol" is taken from an early 19th century farmer in the area, Baltus Roll, who was drug out of his home and murdered in a botched robbery attempt. Is that fun?
Television: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. ET (TNT). Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (TNT), 2-7 p.m. (CBS). It’s a major and thus gets the extended weekday coverage as well as more complete weekend coverage.
Former 'Dawgs in the Field (Five): Harris English, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Bubba Watson, Russell Henley.
The fourth and final major of the year, the PGA Championship has always had a bit of an inferiority complex compared to the prestige of The Masters, the difficulty of the US Open, and the history of the British Open. That is amplified this year, as the major golf tournament calendar was altered to allow for inclusion of the Olympics, where golf will be contested for the first time since 1908. The US Open was 6 weeks ago, the British Open 2 weeks ago, the Olympics in 2 weeks, and the FedEx playoffs starting in four weeks, so this PGA Championship is getting drowned out by all of the other promotion.
The tournament rotates through many different courses, some of which have been used for US Opens, Baltusrol having hosted four US Opens and this is the 2nd PGA Championship held here. The course is one of the oldest in the US and is rich in history. It underwent a redesign in the early 20th century, and eventually grew to the Lower 18 and the Upper 18. The Lower is the tougher of the two and is now about average distance for today’s tour pros.
Busy schedule or not, all the top pros want to win the PGA Championship in order to lay claim to winning a major. So the field will be deep, though a dozen or so spots are held for PGA club professionals (as opposed to tour professionals) who qualify through various tournaments.
Speaking of which, a few ‘Dawgs are in Jersey this week. Below is who to root for, with their Official World Golf Ranking and FedEx Cup playoff standing in parentheses, and their Thursday Tee times
Russell Henley (104, 95): Thursday 12:35 pm ET (#10 tee) Henley has missed 5 of his last 8 cuts, including two straight. He had a decent spring season, and when he makes the cut he’s typically in the top quartile of the field. He’s assured of at least the first 2 playoff events, but a good week this week can push him up the rankings.
Chris Kirk (61,53): Thursday 7:00 am ET (#10 tee) Out of his last 15 tourneys, he’s missed only 4 cuts and nothing lower than 23rd place. So he’s starting to make real headway after missing last fall with a broken hand (Sony Michel, anyone?).
Kevin Kisner (29,10): Thursday 7:40 am ET (#1 tee) After a rough month of May, he’s made his last five cuts including a top 5 and a 26th place finish last week. He’s a grinder and the expected hot weather and pressure should be an advantage to the Aiken, SC resident.
Harris English (56,32): Thursday 7:30 am ET (#10 tee) Like Kisner, English is starting to get consistent results. He’s made his last 6 cuts in a row, and has made the cut in the other three majors this year: T42 Masters, T37 US Open, T46 British Open. Hopefully he improves on those results this week.
Bubba Watson (6,18): Thursday 1:25 pm ET (#1 tee) The mercurial hoverboater and jetpacker has only played 13 times this season, but he’s made the most of his appearances. He’s made all 13 cuts, has a win, a 2nd, and 5 top 10s in all. His adage seems to be "speak plainly and carry a pink driver", and he speaks volumes with that driver.
So while Stenson, Spieth, McIlroy, Johnson, and Day take up the headlines, root for these five ‘Dawgs as they matriculate their way around an historic golf course smack dab in Yankee territory. And as always….