Major championship golf is here! What a journey it’s been, and it’s a privilege to enjoy such a luxury during these tough times. We feel for the PGA Championship, though. If fans had been able to attend, the atmosphere at TPC Harding Park would have been off the charts. But we still get golf at the municipal crown jewel of one of the best cities in the world in prime time. Can’t complain. Besides, without human bumpers on either side of Harding Park’s narrow fairways, this PGA Championship will be a true test of golf ability.
So let’s dial up a traditional Fried Egg major championship preview! Here are the big storylines to watch for…
This week will not be about the world’s best players taking on a masterpiece of golf course architecture. And that’s fine. TPC Harding Park has so much else going for it. Check out Garrett Morrison’s new Fried Egg Stories podcast about how San Franciscans stood up, advocated for municipal golf, and saved the course.
Much of Harding Park’s difficulty will come from conditioning. It should be firm and fast (though reports about the turf from the site vary), and its lush rough will penalize wayward tee shots. On the final six holes, the golf course arrives at the best topography and scenery on the property, which will provide great visuals for the telecast on weekend afternoons.
Keep an eye out for the short par-4 16th. Lake Merced flanks the left side of the hole, and a narrow, angled green makes short approaches tricky. We’ll be curious to see whether players try to drive the green, especially down the stretch.
While the course has a dramatic routing, its greens leave a lot to be desired. In the renovation he led in the early 00s, in-house PGA Tour architect Chris Gray apparently took a lot of character out of putting surfaces and their surrounds. What’s left is a collection of fairly monotonous green sites. That’s a shame, considering the ingenuity and variety you see at other Willie Watson designs like Belvedere Golf Club.
But as past PGA Championships and Ryder Cups have shown, the world’s best players can create enough fireworks on their own to overcome mediocre architecture. Look no further than the 2018 PGA at Bellerive, where Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka battled down the stretch. So we’re still hoping for an exciting tournament.
The best in the world?
His reign atop the Official World Golf Ranking lasted just 14 days, but Jon Rahm has a chance to regain that spot with authority this week. Rahm and current world No. 1 Justin Thomas are the biggest forces in men’s pro golf right now, and it’s frankly surprising when neither player is in contention at a big event. Between the two, Rahm gets the slight edge because of his consistency; he has missed only 11 cuts in his professional career. A lack of a major championship is the sole knock on his résumé, whereas JT can start making an argument for all-timer status if he racks up multiple major titles. Both enter as favorites this week, but if they go another year without wins in the game’s biggest events, the pressure could begin to mount.
Over Brooks Koepka’s past 12 major starts, he has four wins, two runner-ups, three other top-six finishes, and zero missed cuts. Given those numbers, it’s kind of crazy that any other player could be considered the best in the world, but here we are! Koepka shook off questions about his health with a strong showing at last week’s WGC (T-2) and now aims to be the first player to win a major three consecutive times since Peter Thomson won The Open in 1954-56. A win this week would give Koepka five career major titles, lifting him past Rory McIlroy for the most of any active player under the age of 44.
Harding Park should set up well for him; heavy rough and firm conditions have always been his thing. Plus, he’s finally in good form. Last week, Koepka led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach. It was his putter that kept him out of the winner’s circle. Yes, it’s cliché to pick Brooks to win a major, but it feels dumb not to.
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Fried Egg Stories, Episode 8: Golf and the City – Harding Park
In this edition of our audio documentary series, we tell the story of Harding Park, a course that has, at different points in its history, represented both the best and the worst of municipal golf. This week, it hosts the 2020 PGA Championship, but just 22 years ago, it served as a parking lot for the 1998 U.S. Open. We talk to Bo Links, Ron Kroichick, Sean Elsbernd, Joe Shasky, and Sasha Perigo about these highs and lows, and also about the benefits and drawbacks of city golf in general. Produced and hosted by Garrett Morrison. Edited and engineered by J Vierck. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
Shotgun Start: PGA Preview, Mark Twain quotes, and a Jaco Van Zyl retrospective
Major championship golf is back! And Brendan and Andy are grateful to have it, so they begin with a discussion on Ryan Moore skipping to rest for the Courier Cup, which leads to a lengthy chat on Jaco Van Zyl’s career, since he similarly skipped majors to prep for the Olympics. Is this the high point in the history of the FedEx Cup? Following that, they discuss more relevant PGA topics, like the favorites to win this week, the course and its faults, the course and its conditioning, who has the most to gain with a win, some favorite tee time groupings, and an appreciation of the club pro members that actually make up and drive the PGA. Also Bryson, there’s a good bit of Bryson, and Tiger, him too. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
Let a sleeping Big Cat rest…
While we may hear more about Tiger’s “quest for 83,” we all know the only number that matters to Woods is 18. Tiger lost so many opportunities to reach Jack Nicklaus’s major championship total during his prime because of injuries, and it’s too bad that Covid cancellations caused him to miss out on an Open Championship, where older experienced players tend to fare well. Expectations aren’t high for Tiger at Harding Park, as he’s barely played this year. It takes work—sorry, “reps” and “feels”—to contend with the world’s best, and Tiger just hasn’t gotten any this summer. TPC Harding Park isn’t super long, which should play into his hands, but then again, he tends to differentiate himself at courses that demand experience, like Augusta National and Royal Melbourne. Like a regular PGA Tour venue, this week’s version of Harding Park won’t require veteran savvy.
The youth wave is in full force, and this week’s PGA Championship should offer an opportunity for a player in his early 20s to snag his first major. At this TPC-ified course, the likes of Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff, Sungjae Im, and Joaquín Niemann have a serious shot at contending. The three golfers to make waves in the wider sports world this century (Tiger, Rory, and Spieth) all won majors before their 23rd birthdays. Could a current young gun join that group this Sunday?
It’s been six years since Rory McIlroy won a major championship. Six! In that time, Rory has stockpiled PGA and European Tour titles, but he knows as well as anyone that those won’t really register in history’s assessment of him. Fair or not, that assessment centers on major victories. So this late summer and fall would be a good time for Rory to relocate his killer instinct.
Now for a longer shot. Jordan Spieth quietly has a chance at the career Grand Slam bid this week. A win would put him on the same list as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Gene Sarazen. But Spieth hasn’t even contended for a regular tour event recently. At last year’s PGA Championship, he put up a record-setting putting performance but still had no real shot at winning. The shorter Harding Park setup should help Spieth, though—and who knows, maybe his iron swing of 2015 will suddenly reappear on the Harding Park range Thursday morning.
Due for a fluke?
As Justin Ray points out, Keegan Bradley’s victory at the 2011 PGA Championship was the last time a player outside the top 50 in the world won a major. A bunch of guys in this year’s field could buck that trend. No one would be surprised if Ben An (No. 56 OWGR), Bubba Watson (63), Joaquín Niemann (68), or Max Homa (70) won this week. Spieth, by the way, is now No. 62 in the world. Is it their time?
A few fun tee times
(All times Pacific on Thursday)
- 7:27 a.m.*: Tony Finau, Danny Willett, Patrick Cantlay
- 7:49 a.m.*: Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele, Steve Stricker
- 8:00 a.m.*: Henrik Stenson, Collin Morikawa, Zach Johnson
- 8:11 a.m.*: Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, Shane Lowry
- 8:22 a.m.*: Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose
- 8:33 a.m.*: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas
- 8:44 a.m.*: Louis Oosthuizen, Max Homa, Matt Fitzpatrick (*smiles*)
- 1:14 p.m.: Kevin Na, Patrick Reed, Robert MacIntyre (*shivers*)
- 1:25 p.m.: Matthew Wolff, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell
- 1:36 p.m.: Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama
- 1:47 p.m.: Rickie Fowler, Bryson DeChambeau, Adam Scott
- 1:58 p.m.: Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Sergio García
- 2:09 p.m.: Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Webb Simpson
- 12:47 p.m.*: Byeong Hun An, Talor Gooch, Sungjae Im
- 2:15 p.m.*: Doc Redman, Jason Caron, Brendon Todd
*Teeing off on No. 10 on Thursday
One of last year’s most exciting tournaments was the U.S. Women’s Amateur, which ended in a showdown between Gabriela Ruffels and Albane Valenzuela. Ruffels won the match 1 up with a birdie on the 36th hole, and she’s back in the field at the 2020 Women’s Amateur. Through one round of stroke play at Woodmont Country Club, Ruffels is T-15. Rachel Kuehn and Riley Smyth lead the way. Qualifying was postponed on Tuesday because of Hurricane Isaias but is slated to resume today. Leaderboard
The European Tour’s English residency continues with the English Championship at Hanbury Manor Marriott Hotel and Country Club. Sam Horsfield is in the field after his win at last week’s Hero Open. Tee Times
The Korn Ferry Tour heads to the WinCo Foods Portland Open for its final regular season event. Players ranked in the top five of the season-long points race at the end of the tournament will receive U.S. Open invitations. Tee Times
After an exciting return at Inverness Club last weekend, the LPGA Tour plays its second event of the summer at the Marathon LPGA Classic. Tee Times
Citing concerns over Covid-19, John Daly withdrew from the PGA Championship.
With fog and cool temperatures in the forecast for the PGA Championship, a crewneck sweater sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Especially one made by B. Draddy, with the Fried Egg logo? Get yours!