1. Unintended consequences
Among the big topics in golf this year is the schedule and the difficulty of cramming so many big tournaments into a short period in order to accommodate the Olympic tournament next week in Brazil.
Starting with the U.S. Open, there were three major championships and a World Golf Championship event in a seven-week period. For those heading to the Olympic golf tournament — at least the highest-ranked players — it is five big events in a nine-week stretch on three continents.
Throw in those who went to the Canadian Open and it’s four different countries. Then just two weeks later, the FedExCup playoffs begin, with four tournaments during five weeks followed by the Ryder Cup.
But for several top players, all of a sudden the schedule is not so daunting. Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are all skipping the Olympics. Suddenly they have a three-week break prior to the playoffs beginning, as do those who didn’t qualify and aren’t in need of PGA Tour starts to improve their position.
It was never the intention of the PGA Tour schedule-makers to have it work out this way. In fact, the schedule has been the source of much consternation as it relates to the Olympics.
Now, however, there are no excuses, at least not for those skipping Rio. The FedEx run is still daunting, but not nearly so bad now, certainly not to the level that typically sees players dragging and everyone discussing how to improve the system.
The PGA of America understandably took a few hits over the weekend, first for failing to recognize that a bad weather forecast was going to impact the third round of the PGA Championship and then for taking the unusual step of playing preferred lies for the final round.
On the one hand, the PGA said it felt players should go off the first tee and in twosomes whenever possible — hence little thought was given to going off in threesomes Saturday to try and beat the weather. But then the PGA did what is believed to have never been done in a major — lift, clean and place.
All that said, the PGA took shots when it was the only organization to really sacrifice for the Olympics. Long before golf was awarded a spot in the Olympics, the PGA of America had picked Baltusrol, as it wanted to celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary near where it all began in New York.
The PGA moved up two weeks into an unenviable spot just two weeks after The Open. It was awkward, not ideal for players or fans, and then it resulted in an unlucky weather week. No other golf organization gave up so much to make the Olympics happen. The Masters and U.S. Open didn’t have to do much, really.
But what if the PGA Tour had moved the Bridgestone to the week prior to the U.S. Open? What if The Open had moved up just one week — it would have been the same week as Wimbledon — giving two weeks between it and the PGA?
What if the PGA Tour had not scheduled a tournament, the John Deere, the same week as the Olympic tournament? None of it would have been easy. But it might have made things a lot smoother for those involved.
3. Phil getting away
Phil Mickelson has maintained that he wanted to play in the Olympics — and he would have been in Rio if the deadline for qualifying had been pushed back to after The Open. You know, one of the biggest tournaments in golf.
Lefty won’t be in Rio, but he will take advantage of the break and said he plans to play in all four FedExCup playoff events — he didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship in each of the past two years.
“I have not had had three weeks in the summer for over two decades, and I’ll take these three weeks off and be fresh and ready heading into the FedExCup,” Mickelson said.
“I’ll take probably the first week off and then really start to get ready. That’s a good stretch of golf those four playoff events and the Ryder Cup. I’m looking forward to those five events. This is the first time where I’m excited to play all four FedExCup events. Usually I only play three. I’ll be fresh and excited to go out in the Ryder Cup, too.”
At No. 6 in the FedExCup standings, Mickelson is a virtual lock to make it to Atlanta regardless of how he fares in the first three playoff events.
4. Where’s The Beef?
Andrew “Beef” Johnston has proven to be quite a character, and seems to enjoy the attention that is coming his way. The Englishman who won on the European Tour this year and had a top-10 at The Open was a big hit with fans in New Jersey and seemed to enjoy every selfie he took.
But he figures not to be back in the U.S. for the rest of this year. Johnston, in fact, turned down sponsor exemptions to the John Deere Classic and Wyndham Championship, electing instead to head home and prepare for the Race to Dubai on the European Tour.
5. Beemer from the gallery
It was a fun, surprising week at the PGA Championship for 2002 champion Rich Beem. He had not played in an official tournament anywhere since a year prior, when he missed the cut at the PGA played at Whistling Straits. He had spent a good part of this year rehabbing a shoulder problem while working full time for Sky Sports in the U.K. And then he chipped in on the final hole and celebrated — he tied for 71st.
6. Showing respect
During the third round of the PGA Championship, Padraig Harrington’s ball came to rest a yard past a plaque that sits in the fairway at Baltusrol’s 18th hole. It commemorates the 1-iron shot Jack Nicklaus hit from that spot in the 1967 U.S. Open played at Baltusrol, setting up a birdie that set the tournament scoring record at that time.
Harrington said he had 235 yards to the flag from his position and used a 2-hybrid, which is like a 3-iron. “Putting it like this, we (he and caddie Ronan Flood) discussed it after I hit my shot,” Harrington said. “How impressive hitting a 1-iron up the hill would have been in those days. It was seriously impressive. I was happy we have hybrids these days.”
7. Olympic prep
There are six players in this week’s Travelers Championship field who are headed to the Olympic golf tournament next week, including three Americans: Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar. The other U.S. player is Rickie Fowler.
All four happen to be on the bubble for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, in spots 9 through 12. The top 8 through the Barclays will automatically make the team. The others in the Traveler’s field who are headed to Rio are Germany’s Alex Cejka, Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.
8. The aggregate major champion
If you added up the scorers from all 16 majors championship rounds this year, Jason Day performed the best — by 12 shots. Day, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, finished a total of 9 under par for those 16 rounds, followed by Jordan Spieth at +3. Emiliano Grillo was next at +10.
The only major champion this year to make the cut in all four majors was Masters champ Danny Willett, who finished +16. The others to make the cut in all four were Kevin Na, Lee Westwood, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Martin Kaymer, Bill Haas, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Harris English, Justin Thomas and Kevin Kisner.
9. Four majors, four new champions