17 May 2023 | Professional golf |

The PGA: A momentary detente in world golf

by Australian Golf Media

Jon Rahm PGA image
Jon Rahm gives some time to the fans at Oak Hill on Monday. Photo: Getty

By Richard Allen

The most important thing we learned from the Masters last month was that golfers from the rebel Saudi-backed LIV tour remain a force to be reckoned with in world golf. Many thought that the shortened annual program for the 48 LIV players, the 54 hole-tournaments the play and the mind-boggling sums of money they were paid to join the breakaway tour (quite apart from the amounts they are playing for each time they tee up) would cause them to become lazy, unprepared and disinterested. That is clearly not the case. Although Spain’s Jon Rahm won the Masters (his short iron from under the tree to the green on 14, resulting in a birdie, was the highlight of the tournament), LIV golfers Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed filled three of the top six spots. There is no reason to think anything will be different at the year’s second major championship, the US PGA Championship, which will be held at the Oak Hill Country Club in New York state on 18-21 May. Many LIV players will play and will be keen to make further statements. They know that when players retire from the game it is their wins in major championships, rather than career winnings, that matters. There was a refreshing détente in hostilities at Augusta. “I thought it was exciting that this tournament rose above it all to have the best players in the world here and lost all the pettiness,” said Mickelson after his final-round 65. “This tournament isn’t about what tour you play from. There are players from all over the world on many different tours, and you’re bringing the best players to play against each other in the majors. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the game of golf should be.” Having said that, as the months roll by, fewer and fewer LIV players will qualify for the majors. LIV tournaments still do not attract world-ranking points, and it is these that determine who gets into the fields for the majors. The only LIV players who appear to be guaranteed entry into the majors are those who have won them in recent years, which includes Australian Cam Smith, Mickelson, Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson. Unless the world ranking points imbroglio is resolved, other LIV players will increasingly find themselves sliding down the world rankings and watching the majors from the sidelines. Oak Hill occupies an important spot in US golfing history, having hosted three previous US Opens and three previous US PGAs. Winners include golfing luminaries Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Cary Middlecoff and Curtis Strange. It also hosted the 1995 Ryder Cup, in which Europe prevailed over the USA 14½ to 13½, having trailed by two points before the final-day singles. The course – near Lake Ontario in New York state – was designed in 1921 by Donald Ross, the carpenter’s son from Dornoch in Scotland and former apprentice to Old Tom Morris. Ross had a very productive course-design career and is credited with the design of around 400 courses, including Seminole (Florida), Aronimink (Philadelphia), East Lake (Atlanta), Inverness (Ohio) and Oakland Hills (Michigan). So, what can we expect at Oak Hill? Firstly, history matters. The last seven winners of the US PGA have been American: Koepka twice, Justin Thomas twice, Collin Morikawa, Jimmy Walker and Mickelson two years ago at Kiawah Island, at the ripe old age of 50. Quite apart from the fact that there will a large number of Americans in the field, it appears they are best equipped to deal with the traditional punishing course set-up for US PGAs, which requires long and accurate driving, high approach shots and inspired putting. The last non-American to win the event was Australian Jason Day, who prevailed by three strokes over Jordan Spieth at Whistling Straits in 2015. Spieth is one of several well-credentialled players keen to put an end to a long major drought. Although he has won three majors, his last was in 2017. Irishman Rory McIlroy, too, has a major drought that goes back to 2014. Last year McIlroy finished second, eighth, tied fifth and third in the four majors, and must surely feel he is getting closer. A missed cut at the Masters was disappointing. After his victory at the Masters Rahm’s confidence will be high, and he will justifiably be favorite at Oak Hill. Other players who have had hot starts to 2023 include Sahith Theegala, Tony Finau, Max Homa and England’s Justin Rose. And don’t forget Day, who is currently 34 in the world rankings, up from 112 at the end of last year.

Richard Allen is a journalist, author and Golf Australia board member. His article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review

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