Birdies, Blunders Create Year’s Best Tourney: PGA 2010

On a course that’s hard to love, the players put on a show that even a German robot champion couldn’t ruin. Dustin’s debacle only added to the spectacle at Whistling Straits.

Thrash TalkYou won’t hear me saying the PGA is the forgotten major ever again, not after the 2010 rendition served up the most exciting tournament of the season. From the breaking news before play even began to the statement made by a crop of young soon-to-be superstars, there was so much to love even before you add in the biggest rules blunder of our generation.

A sensational course setup that encouraged risk-reward golf proved that a links-style design that looks about as authentic as a Disney World jungle can still provide the stage for exciting, compelling, nail-biting golf.

Whistling Straits and the PGA of America put on such a memorable tournament, even the bland as white bread champion couldn’t spoil the week.

Drama On, Off the Course
Before we even reached the practice rounds, the soap opera at Whistling Straits was brewing. If you thought that the Corey Pavin vs. Jim Gray grudge match was going to be the most dramatic 20 minutes of the week, you were sadly mistaken.

We learned that Mr. Five Guys himself, Phil Mickelson, was not only battling a new affliction that sounds far more serious than his long-standing case of afraidtobeoneitis. Facing a form of arthritis that left him nearly immobile until treatment kicked in, Phil has turned to a life without cheeseburgers and has cut all meat out of his diet. I’d like to say it’s the latest of Mickelson’s “things” but it seems this is in a different realm than carrying two drivers or none at all. Healthy or not, Sunday was classic Mickelson, dropping birdie after birdie to keep us entertained before the leaders had even laced up their FootJoys.

It was also pre-PGA that anyone watching The Golf Channel had to hear about 37 times in the course of a two-hour window that “Golf Channel’s Jim Gray asked” Tiger Woods if he would play in the Ryder Cup, and that “Golf Channel’s Jim Gray talked to” captain Corey Pavin who said he would pick Tiger. Never in history had a reporter taken so much credit for asking a question in a press conference and I couldn’t contain the smile when Pavin flat-out dismissed Gray’s account of their conversation.

The stage was set for a crazy week and the first shot hadn’t even been struck.

The Young Guns Duked it Out
It’s been the year of the 20-somethings, and the PGA Championship cemented just how strong this crop of players is. So many of the big names were there coming down the stretch: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, and Camilo Villegas. Add in Bubba Watson who is barely into his 30s and we had just the sort of Sunday lineup I’ve been screaming for all year.

The fact the German Robot Kaymer won – we haven’t seen this little emotion on the golf course since Retief Goosen’s heyday – couldn’t detract from the fact we’ve been wondering when Tiger’s predecessors would arrive. Forget Immelman, Oosthuizen, Glover, all previous young major winners. None of them had the form of the Robot, who’s got five European Tour wins already, and is firmly planted in the world’s top 10 (currently ranked fifth). Interestingly, reports say that Kaymer will play on the PGA Tour next year, which will increase his visibility and sets the stage for him to be the most dangerous challenger for Tiger’s spot atop the world rankings.

But as well as Kaymer’s play was, you can’t ignore that Dustin Johnson has the makings of a superstar. He’s now entered the public eye on the grand stage of two majors, suffering heart wrenching defeats both times. It’s endearing and he’s going to build a following. When you hit it a mile and have the cool, confident strut that comes with being 6-foot-4, the fans will flock.

Whistling Straits’ Stellar Setup
In the preview of the PGA, I said the course setup could hold the key to helping the season’s fourth major stand out. Let risk-reward rule the week, where birdies are out there, but so are double bogeys. Don’t grind down the field, tempt the guys to play bold, aggressive shots and reward them when they succeed and punish them when they fail.

Short par fours, devilish par fives and a sickeningly scary par three down the stretch set the scene for the most exciting final round of the season. There was no shortage of birdies, crazy up and downs, and gut-wrenching decisions.

It was exactly this sort of course setup that gave us a playoff to remember for the ages. Bubba Watson nearly drives the first hole and makes birdie. Kaymer the Robot followed with one of the best shots and most clutch birdie putts of the day to even it up on the second hole of the playoff. And wouldn’t you know it, as they played number 18 with the playoff all square, Bubba had the chance to be bold.

Some would say boneheaded, but I was hootin’ and hollerin’ at my TV as he took that massive hack at the ball. Absolutely loved it, even as that mighty lash wound up 40 yards short and in the water. It was as dumb a decision a golfer has made in a big spot since Mickelson’s Winged Foot meltdown (even worse than his awful drive on 18 was the decision to try biting off too much on his second shot), because all Watson needed was a safe ball out to the front right of the green, make par and survive to play 18 again or win it then and there if Kaymer couldn’t save par. But no matter how awful I’ll say the decision was, applaud his guts, and remind everyone to think back to earlier this year when laying up was all the rage. No guts, no glory, and in this case, watching at home, it was absolutely riveting. And so much of the credit goes to a golf course setup that allowed for such incredible drama.

A Penalty Proves Telling
There’s little I can add to the Dustin Johnson penalty that hasn’t been said. But I admit for about 15 minutes Sunday night I was screaming at the TV, asking how that could be a bunker. But once the PGA had the chance to explain the lengths it had gone through to make the players aware that ANY sandy spot on the course should be considered a bunker tells me Johnson blew it. Personally, I think his caddy should bear a large brunt of the blame, as he needs to be the conscience of the player, the one with his head about him, being the extra set of eyes and brains that Johnson obviously needed.

Roberto De Vincenzo’s “What a stupid I am” will live forever as the original green jacket of blunders, but Johnson’s major mistake has the distinction of being the biggest golf screwup in today’s age of social media where opinions often race ahead of the facts. Considering golfers love to tout the integrity of the game and the sanctity of the rules, there were plenty of players ready to crucify the PGA.

Gutted for Dustin shocking rule, 900+ bunkers and probably only 100 rakes I don’t get it, sorry Dustin you deserved to be in the playoff

I didn’t see any notice in the locker room but I wasn’t looking for them. They may have been there.

Every bunker is listed in the rules last week to be played as normal bunkers and the normal rules apply (aka don’t ground club)
I’m very pissed and angered that this is way the 2010 PGA came to an end.
It was listed in many parts of the caddy and player areas of this unique rule for the week.
Dustin and caddy are ultimately responsible for their actions….but WTH
I think that they need to make significant changes to the course that has hundreds of pointless bunkers that patrons have to walk through to view players.
The PGA says that their a part of the game and to be treated as hazards.
Never seen patrons walking through bunkers in any other professional event (world wide) try that at Augusta.
Then I see them using leaf blowers to fluff up the rough to make the course harder (did they have them 100 years ago, think not)
We go back there in 2015 I hear.
What’s the next sad story to unfold in Wisconsin?
Stay tuned in 5 years time…

So, a sandbar off Lake Michigan considered a bunker too if that’s what they’re sayin–

It does not look like a damned bunker whatsoever. I’m so angry. If he gets penalized, I am boycotting this tournament and I am gonna cry

It was a legitimate ruling after hearing all the facts, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I deem it bull$h!t

It’s one thing to show support for your fellow pro, but it says so much that the abuse automatically flys in the direction of those enforcing the rules, rather than the golfer who committed the infraction. That’s typical of what you’d expect elsewhere in sports, but I guess I had higher hopes given all the fanfare every time a guy calls a penalty on himself.

USA! USA! Oh Wait, Not Yet
Sunday afternoon, and especially the playoff was just the taste of the Ryder Cup we need. Who are you rooting for late in the day? McIlroy? Kaymer? Fine, in May, go ahead. But if you’re a red-blooded American and weren’t throwing all your support behind Bubba and Dustin, deep in competition with their European rivals, be ashamed of yourself.

I’ve never been a huge Ryder Cup fan, but with the most compelling names in the game squaring off, my calendar is circled. Give me more of that Kaymer vs. Watson singles match, where it’s brains vs. balls. Sunday’s preview was so much fun, I can’t wait for a week of the best young players in the game, with some seasoned superstars mixed in. Swap out names like Love and Leonard and breathe new life with Johnson, Kuchar and maybe a Ricky Fowler and let’s see if Rory, Poulter and the European boys are as good as we think.

All in all, we saw both the distant and the immediate future of golf on display in Wisconsin, and not only is that future bright, but it’s exciting as hell.

5 thoughts on “Birdies, Blunders Create Year’s Best Tourney: PGA 2010”

  1. Yes, most thrilling tournament to watch in years. Hopefully, the PGA tour can maintain some of this momentum through Wyndham and the Fed Ex Cup.

  2. Nice article, Ron. I agree the tournament was an interesting one to watch but think your lack of respect for Martin Kaymer speaks more of your expectations and prejudices than you should be revealing.
    Dustin Johnson plays beautiful golf, I hope he isn’t setting himself up to be the next Greg Norman.

  3. Great Column, I would agree the PGA did get it right with this one. I’m hopeful the excitment carries over to the Ryder Cup, which was one of my favorite events growing up but has been rather lack luster the past 20 or so years. With super stars emerging from both sides of the pond this does have some potential, and maybe the tours will consider resurrecting the Dunhill Cup.

  4. Martin Kaymer won like a great champion and US fans should be ashamed for offering him no more than polite applause. this is a global game – get used to it.

  5. Well, this is really trash talk. You lack any respect for Kaymers great performance. The time of US domination in big events is over. Just get used to it. It’s an international sport. Dustin Johnson blew up 2 majors in one year and you see him as a superstar in the making? So far, that only makes him the biggest choker of 2010.

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