#AskAlan mailbag: Does something need to be done about rowdy New York golf fans?

May 22, 2019

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck reviews the 2019 PGA Championship, answering questons about rowdy New York golf fans, Brooks Koepka’s likeability, Jordan Spieth’s comeback and more.

Yeah, he’s not likable, but we have to give Brooks his due. If he had hit a serviceable tee shot on #12 at Augusta, he would have won three majors in a row and four out of the past five. That’s dominance. How many major wins do you predict for Brooks in his career? [email protected]_Latina25

Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. (See Ryder Cup 2018.) If we had asked this question about Rory McIlroy in August 2014 – or Tiger Woods in June 2008 – I’m quite sure all of us would be stunned at how the future has played out. So many things can derail a career, and Brooks got a little taste of that with his wrist injury a couple of years ago. But I liked when he said double digits is his goal for a career haul of major championships. I’d love to see him get there, and certainly Koepka has the game and the head for it. But so much more than that will tell the tale.

New York crowds…. does something need to be done OR do you just know what you are getting into when you “sign up”? [email protected]

This is certainly on everyone’s mind with the Ryder Cup coming to Bethpage in ’24. The crowds last week were often obnoxious and occasionally disruptive, and that was merely for a PGA Championship, a tournament which rarely arouses passions. The Ryder Cup could easily get out of control. A zero-tolerance policy carried out by trained and uniformed Pinkertons in the gallery would be a good start, but that costs a lot of money and has the possibility of leading to a bunch of confrontations and related messiness. A simpler solution is to not sell alcohol at these events. I know that’s a bummer for some folks, but it would lead to a much more pleasant and peaceful experience for everyone on the grounds.

Fans cheer during the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

I think Koepka’s win was diminished since he didn’t win by at least 8. Agree? [email protected]

Not in the slightest. A win is a win. However, it was a missed opportunity to justify the Tiger comparisons by extending the lead with airtight play, which was Woods’ Sunday specialty. But Brooks got the victory and that’s all that really matters.

#AskAlan How big of a story is it that DJ can hang around the top of a major leaderboard but hasn’t shown enough to close it out? The money is great but Brooks is up 4-1 on him. [email protected]

It’s poetic that Dustin is returning to Pebble for another U.S. Open, to end a star-crossed decade in the majors which began with his epic meltdown at the 2010 national championship. By finishing second at this year’s Masters and PGA, DJ now has 17 top-10s in the major championships but only one victory. This most recent blown chance was revealing, and I keep going back to the 16th hole on Sunday.

Johnson had played nearly perfect golf to that point, cutting Koepka’s lead from seven to one lone stroke. The crowd was on his side, and Dustin had a chance for a monumental comeback which would have validated his greatness and dramatically altered his relationship with Brooks, the frenemy who become the player we all expected Johnson to be. A good drive left DJ in the fairway on one of Bethpage’s toughest holes, facing the defining shot of his tournament. No doubt Dustin felt he needed at least one birdie, but ahead of him were a downwind par-3 (#17) and one of the easier par-4s at Bethpage (#18). Brooks was falling apart one hole behind him; the key for Johnson was to avoid making any mistakes that would take the pressure off Koepka.

The pin on 16 was back-right. Long was dead. Dustin had acres short and left, but after spending a long time trying to read the gusts he attacked the flag with a roping hook. On that line the green was much more shallow. There was no room for error. Alas, Dustin’s ball flew over the green into a nasty patch of rough. With the green sloping away from him, the best he could do was gouge it out to seven feet. Shotlink stats show that pros make it only 50% of the time from that distance, and that’s not with the PGA Championship on the line and all of Bethpage at full throat. Dustin missed, of course, and his bid was blunted.

Afterward, he expressed surprise that his 5-iron flew the green. Did the wind die? Maybe, but that is always a possibility on a gusty day. Was it too much adrenaline? That happens, too, but he didn’t allow for it by recklessly firing at the flag. Playing short/left would have given DJ room to miss. Quite simply, it was the wrong shot at the wrong time. It’s a subtle thing that led to yet another coulda/woulda/shoulda near-miss.

How important has being an equipment free agent been to Koepka? And do you think other players will start following his lead? [email protected]

There are tons of examples of players who have struggled after signing endorsement deals, most recently McIlroy confiding that he spent all of 2018 fighting a driver he was mandated to play. Brooks has made the correct calculation that you can make an obscene amount of money simply winning the biggest tournaments, so why compromise any bit of performance just for more dollars which he doesn’t really need? Tour players are noted copycats, so you have to assume more of Brooks’s colleagues will unshackle themselves from onerous endorsement deals.

How encouraged are you by Jordan’s performance at Bethpage? #AskAlan [email protected]_SMisner

Massively! Bethpage is a big ballpark with relatively flat greens – on paper, it’s not Spieth’s kind of course. But he was in control of his golf ball and poured in plenty of putts, and that formula works pretty much everywhere. Golf is so much more interesting with Spieth on the leaderboard. I hope this is the start of another run because we need a few superstars to step up and challenge Koepka.

Jordan Spieth finished T3 at the 2019 PGA Championship.
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

What courses don’t set up well for Brooks? [email protected]

They all do, but certain courses minimize his advantages. Pebble Beach will be one of them. Because it plays so short — especially with the firmer conditions of summer —very few drivers will be required, thus neutralizing Brooks’ biggest weapon. Or a course with light rough, which means less-accurate bombers are not as heavily penalized for their misses as they were at Bethpage.

Rory mentioned yesterday that he’d like to see a few more birdies at the Ryder Cup at Bethpage – do they simply move the tees up to achieve this? Easier pin locations? #AskAlan [email protected]

Either or both of those setup changes would help scoring, but the point of the Ryder Cup is win the damn trophy, not make birdies. The tricky setup in Paris was so successful in reducing the Americans’ power advantage that future European courses are sure to be presented in a way that maximizes home-field advantage. But Le National did not work simply because of the thick rough and narrow fairways; it was more about the watery, target-golf layout. On many of the holes the Americans were forced to lay-up to the same spot as the Euros, who turned out to be far more efficient from 150 yards in. There was simply no space for the Yanks to swing away — it was all risk and no reward. The gnarly rough at Le National suggests that American setups should be wide open, to let the big hitters attack. But look at the leaderboard at Bethpage: penal rough on a really, really long course actually favors the U.S. bomb-and-gougers if they can still hit driver. The likes of DJ and Koepka and Gary Woodland find enough fairways to have a huge advantage, and if they miss they’re still much farther down the fairway so they can muscle their approach shots onto the green using shorter clubs. So it’s very likely that Bethpage in 2024 will feature a similar setup to this PGA.

Ever been a worse final round than Harold Varner excluding Rory at Augusta (2011) of course?! He was playing the round like a 20 handicap hacker. [email protected]

I’ve seen plenty. Dustin’s 82 at the 2010 U.S. Open was worse. So was Jason Gore’s 84 at Pinehurst in ’05, alongside Retief Goosen’s 81. Nick Watney’s 81 at Whistling Straits in 2010 was brutal. Jeff Maggert making a 7 and an 8 in the final group at the 2003 Masters might be worse. Ernie Els’s 80 at Shinny in ’04 was a shocker from a future Hall of Famer. There are a ton more examples of players losing their games (and their minds) in the crucible of major championship Sundays. I was actually impressed by Varner’s comportment. He’ll learn a lot from that disastrous round and hopefully come back stronger.

#AskAlan The media seemed to have more issues with the Bethpage galleries than the players. Or am I missing something? [email protected]

Yes, locker room access. The players were afraid to say anything publicly because they didn’t want the tribal New York fans to turn on them. In private, they were horrified and/or fuming about the fan conduct.

From the difficulty standpoint, there’s little doubting Bethpage is a major-worthy venue. But in many intangible areas, it lags for me. Normally I am locked into majors, but I channel-surfed in ’09 and ’19 alike. Sorry, “tough course and tougher crowd” alone don’t do it. Am I nuts? -DannyLawhon

Not at all. Bethpage is a brutal but one-dimensional test. The course dictates how every hole must be played: smash a driver, then fly the next shot all the way to the green, and if either swing goes awry hack out of the rough, possibly sideways. There is no room for improvisation or creativity. It identified a very worthy and proficient champion, but I would not call this PGA an artistic triumph.

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