Sunday's final round should be great -- and a reminder of what this game is all about
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Here we are, at the 92nd PGA Championship, at Oak Hill, and it's all good. Phil and Tiger have left the building, and it's all good. Anchored putting and the FOX deal and Vijay's lawsuit and all that chatter, it all means nothing now. On Sunday, somebody is going to follow in the footsteps of Trevino (won the '68 U.S. Open here) and Nicklaus ('80 PGA) and Curtis Strange ('89 U.S. Open). It might be Jim Furyk (a name) or Jason Dufner (a semi-name) or Jonas Blixt (trying to become a semi-name). But somebody is going to do it, on a superb course in a great golf town with an exceptional golf tradition. This is not glory's last shot. This is what it's all about.
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There's no humidity in the weekend air here, nothing to hold the warmth of the day. By late on Sunday the greens will be, for the first time all week, crispy and unputtable, and viewed that way, you have to go with the best putter of the bunch, and that's still, after all these years, Gentleman Jim, now 43. Some years ago, I was having a serious conversation with Arnold Palmer, talking about life and death and choices, etc. I asked him what he might do differently, had he another go at it. He said, "I wish I would have tried left-hand low. I love the way that Jim Furyk goes left-hand low." Left-hand low once made Furyk a golfing weirdo. Now it's considered smart. That's what it's all about.
Golf blends continuity and the new better than any other sport. Furyk, looking for his second major and a ticket to the Hall of Fame, and Jason Dufner, looking for his third Tour win, are playing on Sunday at 2:55 p.m. Dufner is seven years younger than Furyk. It's not a lot, but it's enough that on Saturday night he could talk about watching Furyk, with admiration, when he was in his wonder years. The voice is a monotone and eye-contact is minimal, but his words of respect for the man he's trying to beat tomorrow could not have been more sincere. Yep -- that's what it's all about.
The PGA on CBS. That marriage is 22 years old now, and Jim Nantz, in his clubby blazer and his University of Houston golf pedigree, represents the game to many, many people, most of them experienced enough in the game to tell you the difference between a pitch and a chip. Showing golf to an audience of golfers, that's been the nature of the beast for years and decades. This new FOX deal with the USGA -- reportedly $95 million a year -- will actually put a lot of pressure on the game. The pressure to sell, to sell, to sell. The thing about Nantz, the thing about Dave Marr on ABC, the thing about Gene Sarazen doing the old Shell series, they were selling -- selling their networks, selling their sponsors products, selling the game -- but the touch was so gentle you never even knew it. That was part of the appeal.
There's not going to be any shouting on Sunday. Furyk watched the Steelers on Saturday night. Maybe he screamed. Hard to say. It's kind of hard to imagine. But on the Oak Hill links, there won't be shouting. Henrik Stenson, trailing by two, doesn't make you want to shout, does he? But if he jars from the fairway, arms will go up and cheers will fill the excellent air here. Such is the way of golf. Maybe not when Tiger's hanging around the lead, but pretty much all the other time. We do things differently in golf. That's a huge part of the appeal. You kind of hope the PGA Tour and the PGA of America and the USGA will somehow be reminded of that, as this excellent year of major championship play concludes on Sunday.
On Saturday night, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, Furyk's caddie for 14 years now, walked through the clubhouse door and found himself a seat in an area marked "caddie hospitality." That's a development that began with Walter Hagen of Rochester, former caddie turned celebrity golfer, about 100 years ago. Golf is slow to change, which is, in ways, its weakness, but also its strength.
Fluff came out when Trevino was still in his prime. Furyk remembers his age by remembering his father's age. (His father is 66 and Fluff is 65.) Fluff can cite Trevino in his prime, Jack in his prime, Curtis in his prime, Oak Hill then, Oak Hill now. He surely does some of that for his man, subliminally. What he really does is keep him in the moment. "I like his cadence," Furyk said of his caddie Saturday night. Jim, left to his own devices, would speed-walk to the next shot, but Fluff slows the whole thing down. Golf's not fast. It takes a long time to learn how to play it, how to talk it, how to be part of it. It's not meant for these times, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The golf on Sunday should be wonderful. The drama will unfold in acts, over hours. There is a zero percent chance of rain. There will be a hint of fall in the air. Jason Dufner will be sweating up a storm. You'll just never see it. That's our game, right?