LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Steve Flesch had an easy day planned when he arrived at Valhalla on Thursday morning. He was going to complete his morning commitments as an analyst with the Golf Channel and dash home 70 miles to Cincinnati for dinner with his wife. But at around 9 a.m. the Golf Channel broke away from the live set (where Flesch was on camera) to the news that Matt Kuchar had withdrawn from the PGA Championship with back spasms. Though he didn’t know it, Flesch’s dinner plans had just changed.
Kuchar’s withdrawal got first alternate John Huh into the field, and raised an important question: If anyone else withdrew, then what? It then took the PGA two-and-a-half hours to find the next alternate on site. At 93rd on the list, it was Steve Flesch. At around 11:30 a.m., as he was removing his makeup following the show, he was approached by PGA of America chief championships officer Kerry Haigh.
“I said ‘Alternate to what?’” Flesch recalled. “Why would he be talking to me? I thought it was some sort of a joke. I didn’t even know I was eligible to be an alternate to be honest. It was literally the furthest thing from my mind.” That isn’t surprising, considering he hasn’t competed in a major since the 2010 Masters. What was surprising is that no other alternates showed up to see if they might luck their way into the field.
Now all Flesch needed was one of the 78 afternoon golfers to WD. Well, that and golf clubs -- he hadn’t bothered to bring his gear to Valhalla.
“Being left-handed was the biggest challenge,” Flesch said. “I have absolutely nothing with me. I wore my suit pants that I wore on air today. Golf Channel got me a white Valhalla golf shirt. I had a hat with me in my car and a glove and some balls. All I needed was some sticks.”
The clock was ticking. Afternoon tee times were beginning at 12:40 p.m., and Flesch still needed to warm up. A Valhalla assistant found some clubs from the nearby Golf Headquarters store. All of a sudden, Flesch’s get-up was coming together and his story became breaking news on the TV set he was a commentating from just hours earlier.
He hit a few wedge shots and few drivers on the range, leaving the plastic covering on the irons before heading to the 1st tee.
“I walked back to the tee thinking ‘What the hell am I doing here,’” Flesch said. “I’ve been reporting on this event, now I’m hitting balls on the practice range, maybe walking down the first fairway in a few minutes.”
But that was as close as he would get. Among the players who filled the 26 afternoon tee times, none withdrew (though Jason Dufner would WD after 10 holes with neck pain). Flesch’s easy day that had taken a turn for the incredible was now over. He said the experience was “surreal,” knowing opportunities to play the PGA Championship at age 47 are uncommon, especially as an alternate. At 2:45 p.m., his day was finished and he made his way back to his hotel room. As for that dinner date with his wife, it could come Friday; Flesch has another easy day planned. As for the next time he’ll tee it up? “I have no idea,” he said. True enough -- you just never know.