On Golf Channel’s Live From the PGA Championship show last Saturday, Brandel Chamblee said that Collin Morikawa’s strong performance through 54 holes—Morikawa was tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele—showed that Valhalla Golf Club is not a bombers-only test. Morikawa is a short hitter by modern standards, averaging 291 yards off the tee in comparison to Schauffele’s 305. He overcame this deficit at Valhalla through a combination of accurate driving, strong iron play, and soft hands around the greens. This, according to Chamblee, proved a few things: 1) Valhalla allows different types of players to thrive in their own ways, 2) distance gains are not, as some claim, homogenizing the pro game, and 3) late-20th-century-style championship courses—using rough, trees, and narrowness as their primary defenses—are still relevant.

I interpreted Morikawa’s success through three rounds differently. What I saw was a player attempting a high-wire act. On this course, in these conditions, Morikawa had to pitch a perfect game in order to keep up with the likes of Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau, and Viktor Hovland. He needed his 7-irons to be as precise as their 9-irons. He needed his chips to be as good as their lag putts. Through 54 holes, he made those things happen.

On Sunday, Morikawa didn’t hit many conspicuously poor shots. He just regressed slightly with his irons and wedges. The result was a bunch of pars. On any par 4 or 5 that didn’t force a layup, he found himself about 10 yards behind Schauffele in the fairway, and sometimes 30 to 40 yards behind where DeChambeau had played from earlier.

Granted, distance is an advantage at almost every golf course. When Morikawa wins tournaments, he does so by outplaying the beefy boys into and around the greens. At Valhalla, though, the course design, along with this week’s setup and weather, gave long hitters such an advantage that Morikawa was always going to have trouble staying at the top of the leaderboard for 72 holes.

But I’m glad he at least gave Mr. Chamblee something to talk about on Saturday.

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