Ed. note: Over seven days, GOLF.com is rolling out seven bold takes for 2017. Here’s the latest installment by GOLF.com’s Jeff Ritter, on why someone will finally shoot the elusive round of 62 in a major championship this upcoming year.
Six months later, it’s still hard to fathom how the putt didn’t drop.
On a cool, bright afternoon at Royal Troon, round one at the British Open, Phil Mickelson had taken a run at history, shredding the venerable course with eight birdies over 17 holes. For the final act, he sent an 18-foot putt tumbling toward the hole for the first 62 in major-championship history. The ball bent gently right-to-left and tracked at the cup, dead-center.
Then, inches from the hole, the ball veered right, gently kissed the lip and trickled by. It was an astonishing turn of fate, physics, gravity, golf gods, or wherever else you’d like to point the blame.
“I want to shed a tear right now,” Mickelson said afterward.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 14, 2016
He tapped in for an eight-under 63, and eventually finished second in the tournament to Henrik Stenson, who shot his own 63 in Sunday’s final round during a spectacular head-to-head duel with Mickelson. Those two rounds represented the 28th and 29th 63s in major championship history.
After that week, the record seemed destined to never be broken.
But two weeks later at the PGA Championship, Robert Streb blitzed Baltusrol with his own 63 in the twilight of round two. The 29-year-old didn’t lip out a putt for 62, but he stamped his name into the book as the latest to fall one shot short of history.
And so golf’s version of the four-minute mile survived another year. But make no mistake, every summer more scoring records are dropping (Stenson’s winning score at Troon, 264, was a major championship record, and his 20-under total matched Jason Day’s dazzling mark at the 2015 PGA).
A 62 is brewing. This is the year. In 2017, someone is finally going to fire a 62 in a major championship. Maybe even a 61.
Where might history be made? The year’s first two major venues, Augusta National and Erin Hills, seem unlikely. There have been just two 63s shot in the history of the Masters and four at the U.S. Open.
Augusta may have a few tweaks up its sleeve this year, but don’t expect alterations that make the course any easier. Since “Tiger-proofing” the course back in 2002, the green jackets’ every nip and tuck have been geared toward thwarting low round.
Erin Hills, in Wisconsin, is hosting its first major and therefore a bit of a wildcard. But it’s doubtful the USGA will allow a debut venue to be shredded by the world’s best golfers. Expect the course to be set up on a razor’s edge, per USGA tradition. A record-low round probably isn’t happening there.
That leaves the British Open and the PGA Championship. The Open has surrendered 10 63s. Royal Birkdale, this year’s host, has given up one 63, to — who can forget? — Jodie Mudd in 1991. If the wind is down and conditions are right, just as they were at Troon last summer, Birkdale has an excellent chance at becoming the scene of history.
But if no one goes low at the Open, the record could finally drop at the PGA Championship, an event that has yielded 14 63s in its history. This year’s PGA will be staged at Quail Hollow, a terrific course that since 2003 has hosted the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship. It boasts an intimidating three-hole closing stretch dubbed the “Green Mile,” but this track never ranked among the Tour’s toughest tracks, plus the players know it well. The course scoring record? A 61 by Rory McIlroy en route to winning the event last May with a 21-under total.
To combat a potential shootout, the PGA of America has shuttered Quail Hollow for extensive renovations that will last through the spring. Several holes will be lengthened and three new holes will be created. In other words, the PGA is doing everything it can to guard against a 62, and in about eight months we’ll find out if it’s enough.
But make no mistake: this record is teetering. Judging by the full list of players to shoot a 63 (below), it will most likely be a brand-name, bona fide star who pulls it off.
And after his heartbreaking near-miss at Royal Troon, wouldn’t it feel right if Phil was the one to do it?
7 Bold Takes for 2017
Bamberger: Tiger Will Make ‘Major’ Progress
Sens: The Yips Will Be Eliminated Forever
Zak: A New Star Emerges From the Class of 2011
McDowell: Brooks Koepka Ready to Join Elite Tier
Berhow: Mickelson Bags Major No. 6 in 2017