One of the Pete Bevacqua’s selling points, in moving the PGA Championship from August to May starting in 2019, is that the bossman (and an avid golfer) wants the event played in the height of the take-a-lesson season. I can see that. The presenting organization of the PGA Championship represents more than 28,000 PGA pros. Many of them teach. You’re more likely to take a lesson in May than August, right? By August, you had better have worked out the kinks. Fall golf is all about holding on to yesterday.
One of the things I enjoy most about the many golf tournaments I get to attend is watching the shots and trying to learn something from them, and seeing how differently they are from us (in ways), and seeing ways in which we are all in the same boat. Here’s a fivesome of how-to-play golf takeaways:
1. YOU GOTTA FINISH STRONG PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY
Particularly on Kevin Kisner’s closing bogey Sunday, but for much of his play from 15 on, you could see he was just flat out of steam, that the fight had been taken from him. He had been leading at the end of 18, 36 and 54 holes and was in the thick of it through 63. But finishing is the hardest thing in golf. In this case, it had nothing to do with physical fitness—he’s lean and strong—and everything to do with mental exhaustion. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. I remember once trying to break 80 on a demanding course. All I needed was (this is a distant memory) a bogey-bogey finish. Drove it well on 17. Missed the green. Flubbed the first bunker shot and the shot and the third. Made a 17. I was spent.
2. RAHM’S BACK-TO-THE-HOLE FLIP WASN’T AS HARD AS IT LOOKED
The backhanded shot Jon Rahm played was just stupendous, and thoroughly entertaining. I have to think that it was pure showmanship. He could have stood up to it right-handed with his feet on the grass and well below the ball. I think that would have been a much higher percentage shot. But at that point in the proceedings, Rahm wasn’t interested in percentages. I’ve tried that shot, with an 8-iron, from under a tree. Many of us have. It can be done. One time in three, for me—if that.
3. RORY’S 5-WOOD FROM THE ROUGH WAS WAY HARDER THAN IT LOOKED
On 15 on Thursday, Rory McIlory, playing with Rahm and Rickie Fowler, drove it in the right rough. The ball sank deep and you could literally see maybe 30 dimples. It’s a short par-5 with water and a yawning trap guarding the green. I was standing right there and thinking that, if the shot were mine to play, I would take out a sand wedge, beat down on the ball as hard as I could, and leave myself maybe a 9-iron.
Then I imagined what Rory was thinking, with his immense strength and clubhead speed. I guessed he would hit something longer, maybe even a 6-iron, from that gnarly lie. He hit one of the hardest 5-woods I have ever seen. I was so impressed I took a photo of his divot hole. It was a perfect square, with the depth of a brick. When I asked him about it later he said he felt he could get more club on it with a wood than an iron. That works, for him. Most of us would not have the strength to get a wood through that rough. The clubhead’s girth would be like a loaded snowplow through three feet of slush.
4. GOLF WITS CAN LEAD TO GOLF WINS
Justin Thomas’s wait for his ball to fall, as it sat on the lip of No. 10, indicated that he understood exactly what the standing 10-count is all about. It sits. You walk up to the ball without undue delay. Then the clock begins. You keep your wits about you at all times on a golf course and it can only help. He surely did that all on instinct alone, and that’s fine. When you know the rules well, a lot of it becomes instinctive.
5. TEE IT LOWER TO HIT IT HIGHER
When Vijay Singh finished his third-round 79—playing with Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood—he went straight to the driving range. Well, not straight. He stopped to talk to a security official with a German Shepard guard dog for several minutes. I asked Singh several questions about his game and his round with Spieth and he answered in a good-natured way. (He has a long history of being grouchy with reporters and I have certainly seen that side, as we all have.) I then watched his range session, which lasted about 45 minutes. He hit nothing but drivers and as the session progressed he teed it up lower and lower. I asked him about that when he was done and he said (this is from memory), “I noticed they’re all teeing it lower and lower. I teed it lower and it went higher and longer.” It was amazing.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]