Tournament: PGA Championship, May 20-23, 2021
Course: Kiawah Island Golf Resort (Ocean Course) par 72, 7,876 yards. I think most of our readership is familiar with Kiawah Island, but if not, it’s just south of Charleston, SC, and just up the coast from Hilton Head and Edisto Island.
Purse: $11 million, with $1,980,000 to the winner
Defending Champ: Collin Morikawa. He captured his first career major last August, which had been postponed from May due to COVID-19. It was the first big tournament since the golf restart in late June, and was one of the first big worldwide sporting events (though without fans).
Fun Fact: Rory McIlroy won the 2012 PGA here in 2012 at 13 under par, and won by 8 shots. Things were so bad Friday that there were more scores in the 90s than in the 60s, and more than 40 players scored in the 80s (true story).
TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. (ESPN+), 1 p.m.-7 p.m. (ESPN). Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. (ESPN+), 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (ESPN), 1 p.m.-7 p.m. (CBS). So yes, there is 12 hours of coverage every day, but the “ESPN+” means its subscription based so check your availability and service providers. ESPN+ will also have coverage when the broadcast goes back to big ESPN and to CBS - things like Featured Groups and the like.
‘Dawgs in the Field: 8. Russell Henley, Harris English, Brendon Todd, Chris Kirk, Bubba Watson, Hudson Swafford, Kevin Kisner, Brian Harman.
The storylines for the second major of 2021 are somewhat typical and somewhat altered. Rickie Fowler didn’t qualify but was given a special exemption by the PGA of America who runs the tournament (which is different from the PGA Tour). John Daly is in the field thanks to his win here as 9th alternate in 1991 - its hard to believe it’s been 30 years since Daly took the golf world by storm. But if you see Daly and notice his waistline and the fact he has a golf cart through the American Disabilities Act, it might make the passage of time seem reasonable.
There is no clear favorite. Dustin Johnson withdrew from a tournament recently claiming knee pain. Brooks Koepka has had balky knees (one, then the other) for about the last year. Rory McIlroy was fading out until his win in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago. Jordan Spieth appears back from the abyss and has yet another chance at the career grand slam. Bryson DeChambeau will put his big swings up against a big ballpark to see who wins. Justin Thomas seems somewhat under the radar, but he’s # in the world. Jon Rahm has settled into his new Callaway equipment and is always a threat. Will Xander Schauffle finally break through? And there are a million others.
I’d have to research to see why neither Keith Mitchell nor Sepp Straka, both former Bulldogs, made the field. But 20 PGA club professionals are in, via many qualifying tournaments. And so are Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson, both over 50 and PGA Champions Tour winners,
Or will the Ocean Course be the main story? This is the longest course in major championship history at over 7,800 yards. But they have tee boxes and pin placements to make this easily over 8,000 yards if they want or much less. The trick here is that there is no prevailing wind due to the Atlantic Ocean on the south. The tournament committee (Kerry Haig) will switch out tee boxes depending on the wind each day - a hole playing downwind Thursday can be 5-6 clubs longer if the wind switches Friday. If you watch any of the coverage, you’ll hear about this aplenty. Rory McIlroy won the 2012 PGA here in 2012 at 13 under par, and won by 8 shots. Things were so bad Friday that there were more scores in the 90s than in the 60s, and more than 40 players scored in the 80s (true story).
Kiawah may look like a links-style course but it isn’t. First, the greens are all elevated just a couple of feet. They aren’t upside down bowls like a Donald Ross design, yet there is a risk of running off the surface or not getting on it if landed short. And the closely-mown areas around the greens will see action more often than not.
The other reason is that although there are undulations in the fairways, this ain’t a course you can play on the ground (which is often advisable on a links course). This must be played through the air, and that brings in the wind, and many waste areas, and many penalty areas, and more trees than you would think. With the prodigious length, it turns into a 2nd, and even 3rd shot track. Ball strikers and those who can control trajectory should do well this week.
Bubba, Harris English, Kevin Kisner, and Hudson Swafford are now already on the course. Russell Henley tees off at 1:31 pm ET, Brian Harman at 1:53 pm, Brendon Todd at 2:26 pm, and Chris Kirk at 2:31 pm. With 156 players in the field, they will use split tees Thursday and Friday.
It will be nice to have the ESPN crew on the broadcast for a change, but your CBS stalwarts will be there to take over the prime viewing slot. Enjoy, and tune in to see ‘Dawgs chasing little white balls, all for the chance at a huge honkin’ Wannamaker trophy.
And as always,