Tournament: 105th PGA Championship, May 18-21, 2023
Course: Oak Hill Country Club, par 70, 7,394 yards (East Course). Located in Rochester, which is in western NY state between Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes region. It’s one of a handful of courses to host the PGA Championship (also here in 2013 and 2 others), a US Open (3 times), and a Ryder Cup.
Purse: $15 million in total, with $2.7 million to the winner. I’m doubting these numbers, as there are at least 6 other non-major Tour events with larger purses (designated events). You’d think a major would be a little closer to the top.
Defending Champ: Justin Thomas. The Louisville-born and Alabama-educated JT came from several shots back to force a playoff on Sunday’s final round. He beat Will Zalatoris in the 3-hole aggregate with birdies on the first 2 extra holes.
Fun Fact: The winner receives the Wanamaker Trophy, which is pretty damn big. It is named after Rodman Wanamaker who made his early 20th century fortune in department stores (eventually becoming Macy’s).
TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (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). There will be plenty of streaming options, apparently on You Tube. I’ve no idea if the PGA of America app will be any good, but most fall short in comparison to the Masters app.
‘Dawgs in the Field: 9. Brendon Todd, Brian Harman, Chris Kirk, Davis Thompson, Harris English, Keith Mitchell, Kevin Kisner, Russell Henley, Sepp Straka,
Neither Bubba Watson nor Hudson Swafford are qualified, And not necessarily because they joined LIV. Bubba played last year, and made a charge Saturday before faltering a bit Sunday. And, as it turns out, with a torn ligament in his knee which required surgery. He lost a lot of world ranking points while he recovered, and just returned to competitive (LIV) golf in the last month. Swafford bolted for LIV earlier in 2022 and his world ranking plummeted quickly.
There are 16 other LIV golfers entered this week, and feel free to search the interwebs for discussion on who was included and who was excluded. I’m just going to move on for purposes of this article.
The players are returning to a historic venue in this Donald Ross design. Oak Hill underwent an extensive renovation, and all 18 greens have been rebuilt in recent years. The PGAs current May date on the golf calendar usually mean northern/northeastern courses like this won’t be in condition to host. There’s even talk of a frost delay Thursday morning, and they had snow a scant 4 weeks ago. But apparently an early spring this year has the course fairly lush, with thick 3-inch rough. And typical of these old courses, it is tree-lined which limit players who are wayward off the tee.
There are a couple of holes to keep an eye out for. The long par five 13th hole can play over 600 yards, and has a creek at the 325 yard mark. That will likely force even the biggest hitters to play 3 shots into the green. But they can move the tees up a day or two, and ask the players to try and carry the creek, which creates both risk and reward.
Then the next hole is a short par 4 which can definitely be drivable depending on the tees used any particular day. Those are always fun, and I appreciate tournament committees that move tees and pin positions each day. These are the best players in the world, so by all means present them with a different challenge than what they saw the day before.
The final two holes (17 and 18) are pretty much the toughest finishing holes in golf. Aside from a 5 shot runaway, these long par 4s will assure we have some drama as the tournament comes to a close.
Of the top 100 players in the current world ranking, 99 of them are playing and Will Zalatoris ain’t one (he’s recovering from a bad back issue). But the field does include 20 PGA professionals - club pros who play against each other to qualify. Even though these club pros are excellent golfers, they don’t play for a living and aren’t qualified for Tour play. They are slightly less talented, and thus the field is somewhat diluted compared to something like the Players Championship (which is all Tour pros, and all highly placed in official world rankings).
Unfortunately I don’t have a good feeling about our former Dawgs’ chances. Kirk has had a decent late winter and early spring but he’s not considered a favorite by any one. Mitchell has shown glimpses, as has Straka, but both are streaky. Henley is the epitome of streaky - I’m just not sure if he’s still on the warmish heater he displayed in Augusta. Kisner, probably the best Georgia golfer the last 5-6 years, is playing poorly this season. Harman has been steady but without many high finishes. Thompson has had a good rookie campaign by any measure, but he is a rookie and this will be a pressure-packed test.
Your guess is as good as mine to who makes the cut and gets near the top of the leaderboard. Outside of Bulldogs, the money is on world #1 and Masters champ Jon Rahm - and his last outing was a 2nd place finish. Scottie Scheffler is choice 1b, has two big wins this season and a top 10 just last week. Will any LIV players go low, like Koepka, Michelson, and Reed did at the last major? Jordan Spieth is trying to complete the career grand slam, but has dealt with a wrist injury. Which Rory McIlroy will show up?
Plenty of storylines, and I’m sure there will be one we never saw coming. I just cross my fingers for one of the UGA contingent. Enjoy “Glory’s Last Shot” which is now “Glory’s Second Shot”. And as always...