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August 13, 2018

2018 PGA Championship - A sign of things to come?

 

"Fairways and Greens" is the old golfers' motto to shoot consistent low scores. That especially holds true for major championships. Course strategy and position golf have been hallmark ingredients that champions have demonstrated in tackling major course setups. However a new age of golfer has emerged. A few years ago, I used the term NASCAR golf to describe Jason Day's victory at Whistling Straits. It was all out-peddle to the metal golf with very little held back. The last three U.S. Open winners used that approach. Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy play that style. Brooks Koepka has a finely tuned body, swing, and mental makeup that excels at record speeds. Like a top racecar designed to perform at high speeds, Brooks lets go of doubt and plays to his strength. When you drive it 320 yards and hit 75% of the fairways you are going to have a distinct advantage over the position golfer, even if that position golfer is Tiger Woods!

Tiger Woods had a wonderful week. He battled every day and finished only two shots back in second place. There were many "what if" moments that could've made it even more interesting. On the last day alone, he had two bogies; a rim out; a missed short birdie putt on 1; a putt that stopped ΒΌ inch short of the cup; and a wayward tee shot on 17 that cost him a chance at birdie. But the rest of the round was magic. He battled with everything he had, but Brooks didn't blink and firmly put his stamp on this championship.

Truth is that Brooks Koepka had more game then Tiger and the rest of the field this week. Tiger was playing strategic golf and leaving himself 150 to 170 yard shots to the green. Brooks went with driver and had 90 to 120 yards left to the green. Even with Tiger's conservative approach, Brooks hit more fairways then Tiger. Approaching from an average of 50 yards closer to the pin, Brooks' average birdie putt was considerably closer than those playing from much further back. Looking back at Koepka's final round, his "what if" moments could have made it a runaway like Tiger used to do. He missed five putts inside 8 feet and a couple more from 11 and 12 feet. Still, he made his final round 66 look easy and without drama.

With three major wins in the last 14 months, Brooks now is a verifiable star. He validated his 2017 U.S. Open championship by defending his title at Shinnecock Hills. Winning at Bellerive and the manner in which he dominated makes you think that we will see many more titles in his future. Drive it that far and straight and you can make any course much easier. His game has no holes in it, other that the fact that he only seems motivated to excel in grand slam championships. Tiger on the other hand has a problem with his driver. This is nothing new, but with the new age of golfers like Koepka, Thomas, Johnson, McIlroy, Day, Rahm, and others, Tiger cannot afford to lose opportunities with erratic drives.

What Tiger has shown this year is that he is capable to win and that most parts of his game are in major championship caliber form. I am not sure that Tiger will adopt the NASCAR mentality and go all out with every tee shot, but I do believe if he is to win more majors, he must use his driver more and attack. He has gotten this far in his comeback, so I don't see why he can't figure out the last piece of the puzzle.

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