Thoughts on the 2009 PGA Championship, Briefly

Random musings on the aforementioned.

Thrash TalkAs Tiger Woods limped home Sunday (figuratively, this year) looking thoroughly befuddled and not at all the “Sunday Tiger,” we’ve come to expect, a few disjointed thoughts were swimming about my own befuddled consciousness.

In no particular order of significance, I mulled over the following, which I don’t present as any insightful recapitulation of the final round of this year’s PGA Championship, or nuanced breakdown of Tiger’s failure to secure victory after leading in the final round of a major (for only the second time in his career). Rather, I pen (alright, type) the following as a presentation of a few talking points loosely associated with my impressions of a few days ago.

Putting… What Gives?
On the one hand, Tiger seems to have struggled as of late on slower greens. He seems to have real difficulty in adjusting the speed of his putts to acommadate slower surfaces, thus leaving putts woefully short, as well as high. I don’t think this was necessarily the main source of his ails on Sunday, as the greens weren’t incredibly slow, but they weren’t lightning fast, either.

In the past few years, Woods has been taking the “high to middle” road with his putts, rather than reading less break and hitting the ball harder, as he did earlier in his career. Certainly his putting is better overall, as is his ball striking, but he does seem to suffer from a gross inability to make enough putts to win major championships, at least over the past three years. He hasn’t won the Masters since 2005 and it seems that the sole impetus to him doing so is his putting.

It always amuses me when Tiger is asked about what was going right in 2000-2001 when he won four straight majors. “I was making a lot of putts,” is his usual response. To some extent, this is a throw away, “next question please” response, but really, as much as anything, that is the rationale for his success.

Woods also seems to have mechanical difficulties with his putting setup from time to time, becoming too crouched or gripping the putter in such a way that he ends up pushing or pulling a lot of putts. These problems seem to flare up at the most inopportune times. I think, much as he does with his longer clubs, Tiger makes every effort to keep his hand action as quiet as possible (thus, not saving the shot/deliberately squaring the face) as to create a more repeatable stroke with the larger (easier to control) muscles… all this by way of saying, for Woods, much depends on posture and set-up.

Here Come the Korean Men…
OK. I don’t know if there going to be any sort of influx of Korean male talent on the PGA Tour or that Yang’s victory is the clarion call for men in the same way the Se Ri Pak’s win at the 1998 LPGA was for Korean women, but it does point out, once again, what an international game golf is. Indeed, two of the four major winners this year were from outside of the United States.

I don’t mean to be etho-centric, or culturally insensitive, but not knowing much about golf in Asia, I can’t speculate further as to the exact impact of Mr. Yang’s triumph, other than to say I think Y.E.’s victory could prove to be a tremendous catalytic event, certainly one with positive ramifications of the game of golf across the world, however large or small.

Also indicated is that absolutely no one will be watching the Grand Slam of Golf this year. I don’t think the charismatic quartet of Cabrera, Glover, Cink, and Yang is really going to be a tremendous draw. Perhaps Anna Rawson should be brought in to consult on the project?

Yang: Exciting Golfer (at Least on Sunday)
In all honesty, I expected Y.E. to shoot somewhere between 73 and 76 on Sunday, but he really put together a superb round of golf, always remaining focused on the shot at hand. Clinical, may be the right word; certainly, he looked clinical with the white shirt/pants combo he donned for the event.

Yang’s round would have been simply a methodical plodding around the golf course (which is entirely unparalleled, coming from a playing partner of Mr. Woods on a Sunday) were it not for his chip in eagle and his career hybrid over the trees to, essentially, secure victory. Solid play with a bit of spice is the best recipe for an entertaining major victory. (Solid play, alone, is rather bland to taste).

All this by way of saying, I found the man difficult to root against and was quite entertained by the final round battle. It was impossible for me to believe, at least entering the round, that Tiger would do anything other than win. However, it was clear very early on that Yang wasn’t going to back down.

This, really, was the drama of the final round, for me.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 2009 PGA Championship, Briefly”

  1. Insightful article, and written better than some of the articles we get in the professional press.

    I’m not sure any of us know the affects of the major surgery on Tiger’s knee. Surely he is playing in less pain, and he can go for his shots without the impairment so evident at Torre Pines. However, now that he is “repaired” and he has demonstrated he can win repeatedly, we still do not know who this new Tiger may be. He is consummately skilled, knows his game better than ever, and physically he appears to be in great shape. The question I have is what is in his head… is he demanding more of himself and enjoying the moment less or is he still the Tiger who will go after the shot we do not expect or that only he could pull off?

    I suspect he will still pull off the amazing shot or the unlikely putt from time to time, I think he will still strike fear in opponents with his skill, but I suspect he will also try to win with a more conventional kind of golf perfection. And there is a lot of difficulty doing that. You are going to have fewer eagles and hole-outs, and a lot more 6 to 10 footers just to save par. When you narrow the game down to executing every shot to some margin of safety, you will be consistently in the race for victories, but an off day putting, or a bad break here and there will mean a second or third, or top ten… but not victory.

    So my question is who will the new Tiger be? How much of his previously unbelievable shotmaking will be attempted in the future? Tiger will stay at the top of the heap (he is the best in the world afterall,) but will he do it through consistently high levels of managed golf, or will he, on occasion, surprise us all with his imaginative side? That is what the next few years will reveal.

  2. Good article. You can talk about any other factor, but the only one that mattered on Sunday was putting. Tiger missed all of his putts on the high side. Faster greens break more and slower greens break less. Tiger was overreading the breaks. He mentioned at an interview on Friday that he couldn’t get a feel for the speed of the greens.

    And the PGA should be embarassed to have its tournament at Hazeltine (“a good cow pasture ruined” — Stockton 1961 or so). Poa annua and bugs in the middle of August do not a good tournament make.

    What’s the deal with some many high level events being held at Hazeltine? Do they give the course away for free or pay the PGA/USGA to go there? If they want more daylight, how about Oregon or Washington or Edgewood Tahoe. There are good courses in Idaho and I’m sure even Montana or Wyoming has a suitable venue.

  3. Regarding Yang, I agree it was hard to root against him. I love watching Tiger, as everyone seems to, but Yang was really out there having a good time and not intimidated. He made a few more shots and won the tournament, capped with a beautiful hybrid as you pointed out.

    I really was rooting for each guy to make incredible shot after incredible shot and Yang just did it more. It’s when golf is at its best. 2 guys just going right at each other making shots. It wasn’t quite the dual in the sun but it was a great finish to a rather interesting year of major’s where the favorite was let down time and time again.

    Tiger wins 3 of them next year, starting with the Masters and only falling short at Whistling Straights. Think about it; Augusta, St. Andrews and Pebble Beach. Those are like his 3 favorite courses. Maybe he wins at Whistling Straights. Maybe…

    (That’s a lot of link style golf next year!)

  4. And the PGA should be embarassed to have its tournament at Hazeltine (“a good cow pasture ruined” — Stockton 1961 or so). Poa annua and bugs in the middle of August do not a good tournament make.

    I don’t buy the Poa argument. Poa doesn’t flower in August like it does in May and there are retardants. I play poa/bent greens and they’re as true as just about anything else, particularly in August.

    Plus, Dave Stockton never said anything about a cow pasture. Dave Hill, who did, took his statement back after the next championship the course held.

  5. I stand corrected — Dave Hill it was.

    The TNT announcers made a big deal about the flowering poa and there seemed to be white buds at the end of the grass blades in the HD closeups. I defer to your expertise, but is it not true that poa grows irregularly later in the day causing bumpy putting surfaces?

  6. No one mentioned his fatigue. Tiger, played three tournaments in a row and was looking to win three in a row. Travel, media, gallery, and still working back from major surgery, took their toll and it showed in his game and his face. He rarely does this kind of thing, has been accused of only focusing on majors.

    He had two rounds of intense focus in him after the two previous wins. Seems he is at least somewhat human. Notice who else was atop the leader board from all three weeks…

    When was the last time someone one three tournaments in such a short time span and one being a season ending major? (add coming off of injury for fun)

    Putting, swing, grass, greens, course, – he was just burnt out.

  7. OK article but too technical. Sounds like you are a wanna be golf coach. Tiger Woods seem to be doing fine. One bad day of putting isn’t the end of the world. Not winning a major in 2009 isn’t the end of the world either.

    One thing is certain, Y.E. Yang was a better golfer on the final round that Sunday. That’s the bottom line and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

  8. Very nice article. One thing I wondered about during the final round was- when is Yang going to fold? Surely it will come, and Tiger would cruise past him. Was Tiger thinking the same thing? How could he not, seeing as just about everyone, and that includes the very top of the heap, has done so in the past when playing with him, or playing when he’s closing in? Did he expect it, and when it didn’t materialize, was it too late to go into attack mode?
    One last thing- what are they teaching budding golfers in Korea, and do they package it? I’d buy some.

  9. Tiger is a victim of his own incredible success. ok -2nd place.
    Hmmm … how many runner-up finishes did the golden bear have in his career? If Tiger was’nt around we’d see a different winner every tournament. As for Korean mens golf,
    I agree Yang is a good player, but I don;t see a large influx of good players, as the Men have mandatory 2 year military duty.
    That is why you see mainly Korean ladies excel due to the S.Korea’s junior programs & golf crazy past time.


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