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‘Dawgs on Tour: PGA Championship Preview

Bethpage State Park X Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Tournament: PGA Championship, May 16-19, 2019

Course: Bethpage State Park (Black Course), 7,432 yards, par 70. Yes, this is a state park, on Long Island, NY, with several golf courses (Red, Yellow, Green, and Black). So yes, anyone can play, but there it is famous for having golfers sleep in their cars in the parking lot in order to make the “first come first served” tee time availability. “The Black” has held the US Open (2002, 2009), and was part of the FedEx Playoff rotation in recent years. It is simply a beast - big, long, daunting.

Purse: $10,500,000

Defending Champion: Brooks Koepka. The FSU Seminole dominated all week, shooting 16 under par with a record-tying 63 on Friday. But probably more impressive is that Tiger Woods made a big charge Sunday ahead of Koepka, but Brooks kept the pedal down and didn’t let the Tiger-friendly roars get in his head.

Television: Thursday, 1-7 p.m. ET (TNT). Friday, 1-7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (TNT), 2-7 p.m. (CBS).

After dozens of years in August, the PGA Championship is now held in May. This is a by-product of 1) introducing golf to the Olympics (though I doubt it stays past 2024), 2) the success of the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, and 3) the PGA Tour making the final moves to avoid conflicts with football. It doesn’t mind competition from hockey or basketball - half the country only plays golf half the year anyway. But pigskin is pretty popular, and that draws eyeballs and greens fees away during the fall. So golf’s governing bodies figured out how to end the season in August, and give more premium content between January and July. One of these is moving the PGA Championship to... well, now.

And while the course would normally be the center of attention, being a municipal course with no golf carts and a waiting list, there is quite a bit of other news circulating in the golf world. And our ‘Dawgs are in it.

First, as usual, is Bubba Watson. Gerry Lester announced a new sponsorship last month with cbdMD, a cannibidiol company. While cannibis is banned by the PGA Tour (they follow the World Doping Agency guidelines), CBD products are not prohibited. The problem here is that with no regulation, there are no assurances that the CBD products purchased have the zero to low concentrations of THC. So use at your own risk. And since we know Bubba has a history of anxiety, and that he’s now 40 years old, he’s taken the plunge. He is not the first, but is the highest profile golfer to date to do so. Though I imagine that distinction won’t last long. YMMV.

Next are the world golf rankings. Germane to us is that the top 60 players in the world after this week are exempt into June’s US Open. Former Bulldog Keith Mitchell is at #56 - probably safe, but a made-cut this week would keep a lot of doors open and prevent gnashing of teeth for the next couple of fortnights.

It just so happens that this week may produce a new #1 in the rankings. Dustin Johnson currently has the crown, but can be overtaken by 4 other golfers. Justin Rose is #2, so that seems a no-brainer. As is Brooks Koepka, #3 and the defending champ this week. But guess who else?

If neither Rose nor Koepka finish 2nd, and DJ doesn’t crack the top 10, the door is open for a certain Eldrick Woods to ascend to #1 if he wins the tournament (which would also be 82 all time wins tying Sam Snead, and the 16th major championship). Yeah, if the internet didn’t break at the Masters, this might kick it over the IP cliff.

The news isn’t all good for Tiger (google it), but a few other interesting tidbits. The PGA Championship was set to be the first tourney in the last 25 years to have all of the top 100 players in the world rankings competing. Until Justin Thomas (#5) pulled out due to a long-nagging wrist injury Tuesday morning. Since Thomas played at Alabama, I blame Nick Saban.

In another first in a hot minute, 1991 past champion and Hooters parking lot aficionado John Daly has been granted use of a golf cart during play due to osteoarthritis. Tiger Woods won the US Open in an 18 hole playoff on a broken leg. Methinks he won’t look kindly on this exemption.

And Jordan Spieth has yet another chance to win the career grand slam (having acquired a Masters, a British Open, and a US Open previously). Last month Rory McIlroy missed his chance of gaining this distinction when he fell short at the Masters. And in June, Phil Mickelson will try his hand, and likely his last reasonable chance, at a US Open (where he has famously come in 2nd place six times). For what it’s worth, Phil was runner-up both times the US Open was played at Bethpage Black.

Keith Mitchell is set to tee off Thursday morning at 6:56 am on the first tee. This will be the second group - the first will tee off at 6:45 am. You gotta like the northeast for early sunrises this time of year. Mitchell is entered because he won the Honda Classic earlier this season, and because that helped him get to #56 in the world rankings.

Bubba Watson will start at 8:02 am off #10 tee (split tees). Bubba is qualified as a major championship winner and his good world ranking.

Brian Harman also tees off #10, but at 1:05 pm. Harman is likely entered because he tied for 2nd in the 2017 PGA Championship at Erin Hills.

And Kevin Kisner goes off #1 at 1:27 pm. Kisner is paired with Pat Perez and Bryson DeChampbeau. You’d be hard pressed to find 3 golfers more different from one another. But Perez and Kiz at least have the same mentality. I’ve heard that they will be scouring the dictionary to find words to drop into conversation with the notoriously scientific DeChambeau, in an effort to stump him or at least mess with him a little.

So there’s your breakdown of the fourth second major of the year. Since you’re all reasonable people, and you don’t want to watch Golden State march through the Western Conference finals, flip it on over to TNT and CBS. Ernie Johnson and Billy Kratzert (both UGA alums) will be doing a lot of the golf coverage, so at least you’ll have that going for you. Which, I’ve heard, is pleasing. And as always...