04 Aug 2020 | Professional golf |

Glory's first shot comes unusually late

by Contributor

The famous Wanamaker Trophy is up for grabs at seaside Harding Park in foggy San Francisco.
The famous Wanamaker Trophy is up for grabs at seaside Harding Park in foggy San Francisco.

- By Richard Allen, Australian Financial Review

Before the dates of the world’s four major golf championships – the Masters, US Open, Open Championship and the PGA Championship – were tweaked last year, the US PGA was always last major to be played each year. The professionals called it "Glory’s Last Shot".

But 2020 has been no ordinary golfing year.

Both the US Open and Masters were delayed – to September and November respectively – and the Open Championship, to be held at Royal St George’s in England, was cancelled. In a bit of a Steven Bradbury moment, all of a sudden the US PGA found itself first cab off the rank.

For 2020 at least, the tournament has become Glory’s First Shot.

The $US11 million event, that starts tonight at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park – a public course that hosted the 2009 Presidents Cup – will be played without crowds among the eerie and austere Monterey cypresses that line Lake Merced, around which the course winds, a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. The lack of fans will add another twist to a most unusual golfing – and sporting – year.

"It’s a silent and different world," Tiger Woods said recently.

Fans or no fans, the pros will be ready; the four majors remain their yardstick of greatness. The winner’s cheque of $US1.98 million ($A2.83 million) and golfing immortality are both up for grabs.

The US PGA’s multiple winners are a veritable who’s who of American professional golf. Both Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen won five US PGAs, Woods has won four and Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead each won three.

And there have been plenty of Cinderella stories, too, including John Daly’s remarkable win at Crooked Stick in 1991 when, as ninth reserve, he drove seven hours to Indianapolis from his home in Arkansas in case a spot opened up in the field. It did. Without a practice round – and hitting the ball out of sight with a driver made from the same thermoplastic that German police use in their riot vests – he won by three shots.

In 2009, unheralded South Korean Y.E. Yang stared down Woods at Hazeltine, overcoming a two-stroke deficit in the final round to win by three, becoming the first male golfer born in Asia to win a major championship.

The US PGA has been good to Australians, too. Five have won the event since it was first played in 1916: Jim Ferrier in 1947, David Graham in 1979, Wayne Grady in 1990, Steve Elkington in 1995 and Jason Day in 2015.

Since Day’s win – when he shot a record 20 under par at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin – the event has been dominated by Americans: Jimmy Walker won in 2016, Justin Thomas in 2017 and Brooks Koepka in both 2018 and 2019.

Spain’s Jon Rahm and Ireland’s Rory McIlroy – both of whom have been world No.1 at times this year – will fancy their chances. Despite the fact that the US Tour is arguably the most diverse it’s ever been, history says an American will win at Harding Park. They have won 28 of the past 40 events and currently occupy seven spots in the world’s top ten.

Koepka, world No.6, has a habit of producing his best during major championships. In addition to his two PGA wins, he won the US Open in both 2017 and 2018. He famously shot 63s during each of his US PGA wins, at Bellerive Country Club and Bethpage Black. Winning the tournament three times in a row would be some feat.

Another local to watch is world No.7 Bryson DeChambeau, who undertook a punishing weight-training schedule during lockdown – when the US Tour was put on hold for three months – and added 13kg of muscle to an already formidable frame. Looking more like The Incredible Hulk than a pro golfer, DeChambeau won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit in early July, shooting 23 under par, his drives averaging a touch under 300m, the longest in US PGA Tour history.

Harding Park cannot lay claim to be one of golf’s great shrines. In fact, it was famously used as a parking lot for the 1998 US Open at nearby Olympic Club. Earlier, in the 1960s, it was a regular stop on the US Tour, with winners including Billy Casper and South African Gary Player. Another winner was Ken Venturi, whose parents ran the Harding Park pro shop.

The course has been lengthened to 6,555 metres, with back tees added on five holes. The fairways have been pinched to around 60 per cent of their normal width, and the rough has been allowed to grow freely.

The player who holds aloft the giant Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday afternoon will be the one who drives the longest and straightest, putts out of his mind and comes to terms with the silence. Simple.

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