2023 PGA: Champions, Cutmakers And (Point) Missers
Winners, losers and somewhere in between from a stellar week in Rochester.
The Majors. Full fields at big time venues with cutlines and storylines? The format once again delivers an intensity increasingly missing the rest of the year.
Brooks Koepka. Besides a rebound from the post-Masters disappointment, we got to see the same unflappable all-round player who captured four majors. All while showing no signs of any post-injury bad habits. Sunday smiles suggested he might even like playing golf. Don’t tell the bros who showered him with f-bombs off the 18th green, turning his victory walk into a Harold Lloyd film. If ever there was a player whose tour affiliation meant so little, it’s Major Brooks once again gearing up for the big four and delivering on a huge stage.
Michael Block. The club professional one-upped several world-beaters and, in the process, gave the most important lesson possible: it’s ok to love the game, have fun on a big stage and show gratitude toward the fans, playing partners and others who aided in your success. The hole-in-one? Shot of the year and maybe the 21st Century.
Scottie Scheffler. Saturday’s dismal putting performance was the difference and yet he still had a chance on Sunday. Next up is LACC where you’re one of the few players with extensive experience over the North Course. Just block out those memories of Cam Champ carrying you in foursomes and it should be another huge major week.
Viktor Hovland. Another valiant major after gaining more strokes than anyone with brilliant approach play. The numbers off the tee proved to be the difference, but the continued progression in majors suggests it’s only a matter of time.
Bryson DeChambeau. He gets points for admitting that the daily injection of nine bacon slices and foods devoid of green turned out to be a bad idea. He’ll have to scramble better to contend at LACC where he should be received better than in New York. Then again, if they’re booing you in Rochester maybe that’s a sign the “grow the game” and “build my franchise” shields aren’t the best answers to questions.
LIV. A week of sportwashing dreams where the league had the winner, three players in the top 10 and five in the top 20. The expensive effort to confuse Saudi Arabia with nobility still has massive problems: a total lack of U.S. viewership, a dreadful media deal and wretched out-front leadership who only excel at saying stupid stuff. But strong major play by some of the big catches should be enough to keep the overpaying benefactors happy. For now.
Oak Hill. It’s no coincidence that more players could use a variety of ways to score and came into Sunday’s final round with an outside shot. The previous one-dimensional trudge through shade and rough was put into a decanter by architect Andrew Green and finally allowed to breathe. The resulting aeration of Donald Ross design features meant players hit more drivers and faced a greater variety of shots. Kerry Haigh’s setup employed the new hole locations and generally moved tees around well based on the daily switches in wind directions. Best of all, the gusts played a role in giving the sense this was a tough, twisting and reasonable challenge where the best player faced everything imaginable to earn the victory.
Oak Hill as a PGA venue. Will they get another event with the May date and Rochester’s iffy weather? Here’s your answer:
Restored Classics. Another rejuvenation of a place mangled by time, hack architects and tournament-driven changes once again delivered a more complex, layered, beautiful and fascinating week. Besides the improved stage for players to show off skills or sometimes fall prey to clever design and setup touches, the views through the property proved majestic. Next up in keeping the streak alive: dusted-off and dialed-in Baltusrol at the KPMG Women’s PGA.
Ryder Cup. With the
Strategic Alliance Operational Joint Venture Partnership Strategic Alliance lovefest dulling the build up to 2023’s playing in Rome, we finally have drama! Too bad it’s not the usual manspatting between Europeans and Americans. Instead, it’s the potential tension between the Americans and their “Task Force” elders who have to choose between fielding the best team and what their PGA Tour sugar daddies want. But at least it’s drama!
Volunteers. You had to buy a uniform shirt that’ll only be useful every March 17th, then take a half-hour bus ride to get to Oak Hill and once the tournament started, work two brutal shifts Thursday and Saturday. Yet from Monday to Sunday you were welcoming and positioned from dawn to dusk as the players played their nine-hole practice rounds. Saints.
ADA areas. The PGA of America delivered a welcoming approach with ADA-accessible seating options at multiple points throughout the property. The designated areas hardly took away from the experience for others, nor appeared to be much of an ordeal to create other than a constructed stand behind the 13th green. Well done.
Rochester in May. Wish I had a buck for every time I heard “at least it’s not snowing” from the wonderful locals who, technically, were accurate. A few things salvaged the expected turbulent weather week: Oak Hill’s maintenance team, its fall 2022 shut down leaving the place divot and cart traffic free for months, a decent-enough early spring, updated drainage that allowed Saturday’s round to carry on, and tree removal that prevented the frost delay from hanging around long enough to move the opening 36 into Saturday morning. And yes, a lack of snow tournament week.
PGA in May. The jury remains out on the date change. Several hard-to-quantify factors have changed the vibe. There’s the sweater weather and fewer kids around because many are still in school. There’s competing with the NBA and NHL playoffs for big time sports attention. There’s harder-to-track stuff like graduation season, end-of-school season sports and other springtime priorities that are all different compared to August when the PGA was the only big time sports event. A final round 2.64 rating translated to an average of 4.5 million viewers, the lowest since 2008 and down 14% from last year. Saturday coverage was down 11%. The average viewership for the last five August PGA’s from 2014-18: 8.2 million, 6.7m, 5.3m, 4.9m and 8.5m.
Rory McIlroy. His driving is a mess and yet he somehow managed a T7 hitting 23 of 56 fairways. Must have been
all those family rounds at Oak Hill unburdening yourself of the Vice Commissionership. Get the driver dialed in, maybe do some better greenside scrambling and LACC should provide an idyllic stage for your game.
Walk and Talk with Michael Block. The on-course interview sessions were sensational Thursday evening on ESPN and again Saturday on CBS. But we nearly had a total disaster for the successful concept when Scott Van Pelt started asking questions before the other players had teed off and Block was still standing at the tee. It was SVP’s first go so we’ll let it slide, but a good reminder that this fantastic addition to golf television is called “walk and talk,” not “talk while other players in the group are teeing off.”
Jordan Spieth And Justin Thomas, 64th and 58th in Strokes Gained Putting. It’s become hard to watch these two approach the still-creative act of putting. If you shut out the ode-to-George-Archer setup, Spieth’s actual stroke looks like his best in years featuring the repeating forward press preceding a concise back-and-forth action. Everything else looks excessively mechanical. Thomas has an equally fluid putting stroke surrounded by way too much analysis and now, AimPoint. Rumor has it you two are buds. Never have two friends needed to go have some fun-loving putting contests early in a major week instead of standing around drilling in mechanics.
Claude Harmon III. Koepka’s on-again swing coach scored some nice upper cuts in an interview with Golfweek regarding reactions to his client’s LIV jump. But things unraveled when he whined about unfair media portrayals of Koepka selling out when it was his client who just a few months prior to taking the money, called anyone going to the Saudi-backed league a “sell out.”
All those streaming feeds. ESPN signed up for this and I haven’t a clue who might be watching the various Featured Groups, Featured Holes and early weekend telecast hours long before anyone should be paying attention. But the feeds do come in handy at times, especially if you had the McIlroy-Block featured group going as a second stream when the 15th hole miracle happened. What a thrill to see live and nice job by CBS to show it back from break just seconds later.
Grab and go. The Patina Restaurant Group got mostly good reviews from fans, with appreciation for the all-you-can-eat approach including food and non-alcoholic drink included in the ticket price. Free bottled water stations were a great touch in a world of $6 bottles at most tournaments. A few suggested they’d like to have seen more integration of the fantastic local items highlighted at the “Taste of NY” booths where free samples included the number-one request: Zweigle’s hot dogs (that were apparently a big part of the last PGA in Rochester). Two F&B quibbles: the intoxicating burger smoke smell came into play at times, as did the fan putting area between 10 fairway and 11 green that caused players to back off putts while fans whooped it up over their made eight footers.