Unkindest cuts and hits

One of the traditions at the PGA Championship is a dinner held for past champions, and unsurprisingly one of the main talking points at Southern Hills was the absence of Phil Mickelson.

There is an unwritten law in golf that a champion should always defend his or her title, whether this be an amateur club championship or a Tour event. That Mickelson chose to pass on the opportunity of defending his historic major win of last year may have been viewed in a rather dim light by certain purists, most observers believed that he wasn’t really missed. We can only guess at when Mickelson will again make an appearance, but perhaps he and his management believe that if he stays out of the limelight long enough his controversial statements regarding the PGA Tour might be forgiven. I wouldn’t put money on that happening.

Southern Hills has now hosted a total of five PGA Championships – more than any other venue, and like so many classic old courses, it was felt that the layout needed some tweaking. Course architect Gil Hanse was commissioned to do the work, and while much of what he did during his “historic renovation” has been lauded, adding more length (about 300 yards), has created a few snags. There just wasn’t enough room to stretch the holes, and the result has been some bottlenecking between greens and tees, meaning delays in some areas while players wait for others to either putt out or hit drives. Not ideal, but a minor inconvenience in the greater scheme of things.

Another cause for complaint was the bunker sand – clearly not up to the standard that professionals expect. Fluffy silica sand found at most modern courses allows for players to impart a lot of spin on bunker shots, but these required a higher level of skill to extricate the ball. Whoever complained, should accept that bunkers are meant to be hazards, and the idea is to avoid them.  

It soon became obvious that the subtle breaks on the greens and some devilish slopes surrounding the putting surfaces were not to every player’s liking, and there were a few unexpected casualties when the cut was made at four over par. The most notable was Scottie Scheffler, the in-form, world number one player who came down to earth rather dramatically. The reigning Masters champion had said that Southern Hills was one of his favourite courses, and he was heavily backed to lift the trophy, but some wayward shots and indifferent putting proved to be his downfall. His back nine during the second round, a five over par 40, ensured that he would take the weekend off to analyse where he went wrong. To his credit, he took a stoic view of his rather poor performance, saying that: “I just didn’t have it this week.”

It is interesting to note that this was the fourth time in the last five PGA Championships that the Masters champion has missed the cut: Tiger Woods (2019), Patrick Reed (2018), Sergio Garcia (2017), and Dustin Johnson, who won 2020 Masters then missed the cut at the 2021 PGA. Johnson again missed the cut this year, his pair of 73s far from his best, particularly on a long course which should suit his brand of power golf. Another player who attracted plenty of money before the championship was Patrick Cantlay, but a total of 13 bogeys in the first two rounds sent him packing.

GO BIG OR GO HOME: John Daly still swings a mean club.

One of the most surprising performances was that of John Daly. The “Wild Thing” played far better than his rounds of 72 and 76 suggested – he was on the first page of the leader board for long periods of the first round, then only a minor collapse late during the second round meant he missed the cut. True to form, Daly blew off the past champions dinner, spent some time at the local Hooters franchise, and made his customary visit to one of Tulsa’s casinos. It was reported that Daly dropped $30,000 at a casino, which by his standards was a small flutter.

Southern Hills Country Club, a highly exclusive, private establishment, made headlines for the wrong reasons some 41 years ago, and the stain remains on the club’s history. One of the members here, Roger Wheeler, was gunned down outside the clubhouse in what was termed a “mob hit.” Wheeler, a successful businessman, had been investigating notorious gang leader Whitey Bulger, and with the help of a “bent” FBI agent, Bulger’s gang carried out the hit.

Fortunately, during this year’s PGA Championship, there were only two “hits” worth mentioning. The first occurred during the first round when a ball struck by John Rahm hit ESPN reporter Sage Steele in the face. The unfortunate lady was taken to hospital, and she is now recuperating at home. The second incident was when, during the second round, Aaron Wise was struck on the head by a ball hit by Cameron Smith. Wise managed to play on holding an ice pack on his head, and even managed to par the next two holes. Anyone who has ever suffered the misfortune of being hit by a golf ball knows that this is no joke, but this is probably preferrable to falling foul of Whitey Bulger’s mob.- IRC.

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