Whistling Straits: five things we learned at the 2015 US PGA

There are things to shout about and think about as we leave Whistling Straits after Jason Day's victory

 

1 The Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits should be great . . . It is five years away but the Ryder Cup here in 2020 should be quite the shindig. This place is not quite in the middle of nowhere but it is over an hour’s drive from Milwaukee and over two hours from Chicago but the crowds throughout this PGA Championship have been large and loud, key ingredients for any Ryder Cup. These fans are good.

More than that, though, the course – as evidenced by Saturday’s birdiefest – is tailor-made for mano-o-mano combat down the stretch of holes by the shores of Lake Michigan. It may be only a baby in the world of golf course design but already it has played host to three US PGAs (2004, 2010 and 2015) and, although the Majors are the biggest championships, there is also something about the Ryder Cup and its team tensions that make what Whistling Straits has achieved in its short history rather impressive.

Of course the money of Herb Kohler is a contributing factor in attracting the PGA of America to his course by the lakes, but it works and, for that, it’ll be good for the game to return to Wisconsin for the Ryder Cup in five years’ time.

“The relationship we forged with the Kohler company, they have been great for the PGA of America. They understand our strategic mandate to serve our members and to grow the game,” agreed the PGA’s Pete Bevacqua, adding: “This is one of the great championship sites in the country.”

But an insight into Kohler’s desire to provide the course which has evolved is provided by designer Pete Dye. “I must have spent enough money to build three courses. But [Kohler] never objected to anything.”

So, the Ryder Cup will be played for the first time here in 2020 but the odds are that the PGA Championship – the traditional final Major of the year - itself will be back not too long after that.

2 Tiger, oh, Tiger . . . . Stubborn, or delusional? Tiger Woods, a winner of 14 Majors in a career that made him the greatest golfer of his generation, left Whistling Straits on Saturday with another missed cut on his result sheet. It was the third straight cut that Woods has missed in the Majors this season – following on from the US Open and the British Open – and, for the 10 rounds he played at Augusta, Chambers Bay, St Andrews and Whistling Straits he was a combined 22-over-par. The numbers don’t lie but Woods is refusing to buy into the evidence base that he is a faded power.

Where once he strode the fairways like a colossus, with his mere name on the leaderboard bringing an intimidating presence to anyone with title aspirations, these days his name doesn’t even make it on to the giant scoreboards or LED screens around a course. Again, the numbers – this time in prizemoney – emphasises how the mighty has fallen. Through his career Woods has amassed $109,931,412 in prizemoney on the PGA Tour. His total for this year is $318,998.

Second Captains

“I guess [my] PGA Tour season may be coming to a close, but I still got plenty of golf to play around the world,” said Woods, who is likely to play in Asia later in the year. For sure, he is still a draw and will doubtless command huge appearance fees for his presence in a field around the globe. But the Tiger that’s teeing up these days is a far cry from the one who dominated the sport through the late-90s and into the 2000s.

Woods himself still believes. “The confidence is growing quickly. That’s the fun part. I’m hitting shots and able to hit shots that I haven’t been able to hit in years and that’s nice again. And to have the control that I need to have going forward, it’s starting to come back, which is nice,” he said on Saturday.

3 It’s tough to follow up a win . . . Unless your name is Rory or Jordan – or Tiger in his heyday – it is tough to follow up a big win with another one, as Shane Lowry discovered. The Offalyman’s magnificent win in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was followed by a missed cut in the US PGA, with a lack of energy apparent in a first round 78 that left him with an uphill battle.

It was a new experience for Lowry, and one he will learn from. In his previous two tour wins - in the 2009 Irish Open and the 2012 Portugal Masters - Lowry didn’t have a tournament the following week.

Here, he did all the right things, resting up and only playing a minimal amount of practice, nine holes on Tuesday and nine holes on Wednesday, but he still felt drained when the first round tee-time arrived. An extra day’s recovery was probably needed, but that was out of his control.

Yet, even more experienced players have had to deal with such an energy drain. Bubba Watson, for one, observed: “I’m more amazed at what Tiger and (other) players can do when they win back-to-back weeks because of the energy level and mental stress of trying to compete at a high level in one week and then the very next week do it again.” And the advice from Bubba to Shane would seem to be, put it all down as part of a learning experience!

4 Rors is a modern man . . . Although the pictures he released on Twitter and Instagram of a badly swollen ankle (after the ATFL rupture) side-by-side with a later picture of how bruised it became during the rehab process show how painful the injury must have been, Rory McIlroy revealed a lighter side and an ability to relate with his more than two million social media followers with the use of emojis in detailing his recovery.

This was especially apparent in the cryptic manner in which he signalled his intent to travel from Portugal to Whistling Straits for his return to competition: a Portugese flag, airplane, USA flag, thumbs-up and golf green and flag.

After the injury on July 4th, McIlroy had explained in a post four days later that he would only return to tournament play when he felt “100 per cent healthy and 100 per cent competitive.”

In making it to Wisconsin, after a programme overseen by Dr Steve McGregor, McIlroy came in ahead of the six week timeline and proved his healing powers.

5 Have we seen the future . . . ? Eight years a pro, but Tony Finau – in his rookie year as a pro on the PGA Tour – seems to be the real deal and one who looks to have the tools necessary to become a major player going forward. He has the physique – 6’ 4” – that is in tune with the finely-tuned athlete that is increasingly walking the fairways and, at 25, has time on his side.

Finau’s pro debut was something of a marketing stunt, when as a 17-year-old he played in the Greater Milwaukee Open. Another “hello world” moment. He earned $7,960 for making the cut that time but has taken a convoluted route through mini-tours, the Canadian Tour and the web.com Tour to finally find his feet on the main circuit and increasingly looks to be at home in the elevated company. He even took in the TV reality show “The Big Break” as part of his golfing education.

“Thinking back, if you had asked me, I wouldn’t have thought it would take this long. But I’m glad it did. I feel my game is very polished.” He’s one for the future, for sure.

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