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‘Dawgs on Tour: PGA Championship Preview

Southern Hills Country Club - Course Scenicsp Photo by Gary Kellner/PGA of America via Getty Images

Tournament: 104th PGA Championship, May 19-22, 2022

Course: Southern Hills Country Club, par 70, 7,556 yards. It reside inside the city limits of Tulsa, OK.

Purse: $12 million in total, $2,160,000 to the winner

Defending Champ: Phil Mickelson. The 50 year old, just a month shy of 51, recaptured some of that lefty magic. Having been mostly leaderboard irrelevant for the previous few years, the leaner, tanner, and caffeinated Phil pecked away and had the 54 hole lead. After some swaps on the first few holes with eventual runner-up Brooks Koepka, Mickelson played steady and conservative (!!!!) golf over the last few holes and won by 2. He became the oldest (modern) major winner by a wide margin and enthralled the golf world. Remember, that was only a year ago.

Fun Fact: Every winner of a major tournament on this course (4 previous PGA Championships, 3 previous US Opens) has held the lead after multiple rounds. In fact only Dave Stockton (1970) was tied for 5th after the first round, and Tiger Woods (2007) was tied for 23rd after the first. Otherwise, the person leading each round has become the eventual winner.

TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m.-8 p.m. ET (ESPN). Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (ESPN), 2 p.m.-7 p.m. (CBS). Just remember the course is in Central Time.

‘Dawgs in the Field: Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Keith Mitchell, Sepp Straka, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson.

What used to be “Glory’s Last Shot” or some such as the last major in the season, is now actually the 2nd major to be contested each year. We’re a scant 5 weeks removed from the Masters. The august bodies that control professional golf around the globe have all made concessions in their quest for a utilitarian purpose: let’s all make more money. But when I say “all”, I mean the Masters didn’t do a thing except nod their approval from on high, and the Royal & Ancient said “quite so, I dare say there is nil effect to our own interests”. The moves really came between the PGA of American (PGA Championship & your local tour pro) and the PGA Tour (the millionaires who play pro golf in the US and the company that owns dozens of mostly non-descript resort golf courses). They moved the Players Championship from May to March, and the PGA Championship from August up to May. All of that is so the FedEx Cup playoffs could be moved up from September to August. And all of that is because they lose TV eyeballs and sponsorship money once football season begins. See? Utilitarianism.

There are storylines galore. As far as the course goes, it underwent a redesign several years ago by Gil Hanse. Trees were trimmed or removed, and fairways widened. But the green slopes are slopier, and the runoff areas are tight and will bring those slopes even more into play. Expect to see a myriad of chips, pitches, putts, and everything imaginable from the closely mown areas around the green.

The fact that the tournament is at Southern Hills is quite the story in itself. Without getting political (and you know us, DO NOT GET POLITICAL), the facts are that the PGA of America granted the 2022 PGA Championship to Trump Bedminster (NJ) several years ago. After the results of January 6, 2021, the PGA of America voted to cancel that contract and move the tournament. And Southern Hills was “major-horny” having not hosted a major since 2007. And here we are.

Golf-wise, there are some of the typical headlines. Will Jordan Spieth capture the PGA and thus complete the career grand slam (Masters, US Open, British Open, PGA Championship)? He’s already got the others. Just like Rory McIlroy is only missing a Masters, and Phil Mickelson is only missing a US Open.

Can recent Masters champ Scottie Scheffler win this week and start his own Grand Slam chase?

Speaking of Rory McIlroy, he has two PGA Championships, 4 majors in total, but his last came 8 years ago in 2014. That’s quite a drought for someone of his talent.

Long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau is recovering from wrist/hand surgery. Having shared stitches and scars on social media just within the last few weeks, somehow he’s prepared to swing a club and hit a ball around 280 times (not counting practice rounds and warm-ups). I don’t care the odds, I wouldn’t touch this with a 29 and a half foot pole.

Injuries actually affect the Bulldogs too. Harris English underwent hip surgery in February, and had to skip the Masters. Last month he announced he was targeting Southern Hills for his return, but he did withdraw and will not be competing.

Who is competing is newly married Dustin Johnson. He finally made an honest woman of Wayne Gretzky’s daughter (not only is that outdated phrasing, I can’t even imagine the dynamics of this couple who have been together for a decade or more and two sons.).

Then there’s this guy called Tiger Woods grabbing some press. The Big Cat is indeed competing - for the first time since the Masters and only the 2nd time since a horrific car accident in February 2021 that almost cost him his leg.

What are his chances? His opening two rounds in Augusta gave us all hope he was back, before the wear and grind of walking Augusta National derailed any chance. This week will also have rolling hills, but no severe climbs like the Masters #10, #18, #6, #9, #8, #2... you get the picture. There will be uneven lies, they’re just more manageable. With the pronounced undulations in the greens, Tiger has the advantage. He’s pretty much the best approach/iron player the game has ever seen - controlling his distances and precision to his targets. And he can roll the rock with the best of ‘em.

Maybe the best part of this is that Tiger is paired with McIlroy and Spieth the first two rounds. Yeah, there might be a camera or two, and possibly some galleries following this grouping.

Lest we ignore the left-handed elephant in the room, Phil Mickelson will not be defending his title. In the year since he won the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, Phil became a vocal proponent of the Saudi Golf League, a start-up professional golf tour that recently morphed into the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Two of the most important dynamics are that 1) this is direct competition to the PGA Tour of which Phil is a member (lifetime membership due to his 45 wins) and they don’t like competition, and 2) the LIV is funded by the Saudi royal family (which has been accused of human rights abuses and even more abhorrent acts). So the LIV series isn’t universally adored.

At the same time, Alan Shipnuck has been crafting an unauthorized but very public biography on Phil Mickelson. Phil made some remarks to Shipnuck, those were put out to press, and Mickelson was forced into damage control mode. In February, he made a statement that he was taking time away from golf for personal reasons (but doubling-down on his support for the Saudi-backed golf venture). He hasn’t made a public appearance since, missed the Masters (3 time winner) and now will miss defending his PGA title. Rumours abound: he’s deep in debt to bookmakers and took the Saudi advance money; he didn’t want to play the PGA because the sometimes unflattering biography was available Tuesday 5/17; his wife left him, he sold his FL house, he’s gained 20 lbs; and then some say his game is just bad right now and he doesn’t want to embarrass himself and get beat by 20 PGA club pros who are in the field. Take your pick. Hell, it might be a combination of all of them. Or none at all.

I don’t have much analysis, or real hope for that matter, for a Bulldog to contend. No one is showing any particular good form at the moment, with no high finishes the last month or so. It is a big park where power can be advantageous, and Straka, Mitchell, and Bubba all have prodigious length. Some are saying short game prowess will make the difference because of all the tucked pins and run-off areas around the greens; Brian Harman has been focusing on that part of his game the last year or so and it’s paying off. It may come down to someone riding a heater, and Russell Henley is the streakiest of players - someone who can rattle off birdies at a torrid rate when his putter behaves.

Golf may not be the most popular sport in the world, but you can’t say it’s boring. And eight former Bulldogs have the chance to raise the biggest major trophy in the sport (the Wannamaker Trophy is very large in actuality). Let us know who you’re rooting for, maybe a storyline I missed, or hopefully even a glimpse of the grounds if you live in that area. And no matter what...