The 2022 PGA Championship is here and it is absolutely loaded with storylines to follow at Southern Hills. There are so many I’m excited for that it was hard to narrow it down to just five as we head into the second men’s major championship of the season, but here’s an attempt with a couple days to go.
Scottie Scheffler’s first individual start since the Masters was at last week’s Byron Nelson. He heads to the PGA winning four of his last seven starts, a scintillating run. Scheffler has been on the record of stating that Southern Hills is one of his favorite courses, and he won the 2015 Big 12 Championships at the course. Many of the traits that thrive at Augusta National will play well here and his all-around excellence is tailor made for major championship golf. The question with Scheffler now is, is this a hot run or is he without a doubt best player in golf?
Only time and more major championship starts will tell.
Phil & Tiger
The weather forecast is shaping up nicely in Tulsa, and if it holds we will see a warm, fiery Southern Hills with a little wind. If that’s the case, there is a path for Tiger Woods being a factor at the PGA Championship. It’s astonishing to even be writing that 16 months removed from a car crash that almost led to an amputation of the GOAT’s leg.
At the Masters, Woods was just five shots off of second place through 36 holes before running out of gas on the cold, blustery weekend. Assuming he is stronger and has more endurance, the warm weather should be particularly favorable for his back. And the windy, firm and fast conditions should favor experience and shotmaking, something Woods possesses in spades. Many pundits have pointed to The Old Course as Tiger’s best shot at a major this year. I would contend that because of the weather and Southern Hills features, this PGA is his best chance. He won the last time the PGA was here, too.
27, 17, 15…
In order, those are the number of major championship appearances since the last win of golf’s youngish superstars Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Golf is in a precarious position as it has no defined lead superstar. At the end 2017, the idea of a drought from all three of these players seemed unfathomable. Golf’s big advantage over other sports is the ability for a superstar to stay relevant for 20-plus years. Staying relevant to the casual golf fan means winning majors. For context, in his prime, Phil’s longest stretch between majors was 13 starts, for Ernie Els, it was 20 appearances between 1997 and 2002.
It’s time for one of these players, all of whom once looked like the lead superstar, to win a major championship. As of now, if you set each of their career over unders at 1.5 on top of their current total – so for McIlroy 5.5, Spieth 4.5 and JT 2.5 – I would go under on all of them. These droughts prompt some other questions: is it possible that there is a new crop of talent that’s younger and better than this trio’s era of golf? At what point does a player become just a star?
Flying under the radar
Somehow lost in the hype is World No. 3 Collin Morikawa. The 25-year old is on the verge of superstardom and seems to be under-discussed heading into Southern Hills. All Morikawa has done in his short professional career is win two majors and rack up six wins in 70 starts. This trajectory has Morikawa looking like golf’s best chance at a larger-than-life figure approaching the mold of Woods or Mickelson. Morikawa registered a non-competitive top five at Augusta National, a venue that doesn’t set up super friendly for his cut shot. At Southern Hills, there are spots that a draw is called for, but it should favor elite iron players and accurate drivers of the golf ball. Nobody is better at that than Morikawa. For an elite player like Morikawa, being the fifth or sixth storyline with minimal attention is an ideal place to be heading into a major.
Will the PGA speak out about LIV Golf’s efforts to create a rival tour to the PGA Tour? Last year, Seth Waugh made strong comments about a potential Saudi golf league, but since then, the PGA’s silence has been telling. The field at the upcoming LIV Golf opener at Centurion Golf Club is likely to come out next week. It makes this the last time players heading for guaranteed Saudi money can hide behind the veil of anonymity.
An example of this mysterious element would be Rickie Fowler, whose pre-tournament comments were not overwhelmingly positive for the PGA Tour. “So I think it’s an interesting position,” Fowler said. “Obviously, there’s the LIV and Premier (Golf League), as well. These tours or leagues or whatever – however you want to classify or call them – they wouldn’t really be coming up if they didn’t see that there was more opportunity out there. I’ve always looked at competition being a good thing. It’s the driving force of our game. You know, being able to have games with guys at home, that’s how I always grew up, is competing. I think competition ultimately makes people better, whether it’s business, sport.”
The LIV tour is going to pick up players and that’s significant. If 20 bona fide PGA Tour players head to Saudi Arabia, that’s not a good thing as it will lead to many more fields littered with players closer to collecting social security than contending in a tournament. Last year the PGA spoke out strongly against it but now, it feels like they are content to sit on the sidelines.
For this exercise we were also joined by ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg on The Fried Egg podcast for our usual “five things” format ahead of the major championships. The Apple version of that episode is embedded above, and the Spotify version is here:
Here, in written excerpts, are KVV’s five storylines to watch from the podcast. Follow KVV on Twitter here and read his work at ESPN.com throughout the week in Tulsa.
“My favorite thing about that is when people were like ‘Wow, I can’t believe you slighted your friend in that.’ And he was like, ‘Pfff, I don’t know. We’re not even, like that close. You guys made that..it’s a media creation.’ And then there’s clips out there of him being like, ‘You know who’s your best friend on tour.’ ‘Oh, Dustin. We just get along so well. He’s my guy.’ [laughs] Brooks rewrites history like he’s George Orwell. He’s will basically erase things and pretend you know, we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.”
Spieth’s Best Chance at Career Grand Slam
“It would be a neat thing if he did win the career grand slam. Obviously, only 4 guys have done it. And this might be his best chance in a while. He’s playing good, but not so good that all the attention is on him, all this pressure is on him. No one is out there writing “Will Spieth win the career grand slam this week?” like they were the first time around when he had the shots at it. Oak Hill’s next year, then we have Valhalla in ‘24, then Quail, then Aronimink, and by the time we get to Frisco it’s a home game for him and [he might have] way too much perspective by then.”
Phil (recorded prior to his announcement)
“It would be so sweet if Phil came this week with a full, big, gray beard, 15 extra pounds, wearing those aviators, hair kind of like long, maybe in a ponytail, walked into that presser and was like, ‘Whatcha got. Hit me. I’m ready to answer it all.’ Phil should just be in full, doesn’t give a [explicit] in the next stage. That would be the way immediately he would be won back by a lot of people.”
Stewart Cink Redemption
“I wanna see ol’ Stew Cink get a little redemption at Southern Hills. The fact that Stew Cink is still relevant, I want to see Stew Cink have a little bit of a redemptive moment. He’s still playing good golf, that’s why I want to see it.”
Low Club Pro
“The PGA of America should have way more focus and attention, not necessarily during the broadcast, but about who’s going to finish as the low professional, the teaching professional. Obviously, there’s some of that always, but there should be big wagers, stories about every guy, spotlights. There should be gambling all the time on it. I think that would be fun.”
MORE PGA COVERAGE FROM THE FRIED EGG
- A video with Gil Hanse on what the pros will confront at Southern Hills
- The Restoration: Southern Hills and the future of championship golf
- A PGA Primer on the traits and challenges of Southern Hills
- Paulie’s Picks: Attributes and players to consider for the PGA
- What to Know About Perry Maxwell: The life, work, and philosophy of the architect behind Southern Hills
- Oklahoma and Maxwell-themed T-shirts for the 2022 PGA