May 11, 2019

Bethpage and the PGA Championship

The PGA Championship has moved from August to May. Normally, as a traditionalist, I would be opposed to change, but this is a very good move for the PGA. The PGA Championship had become almost an afterthought. The NFL season was building enthusiasm and the Major League baseball pennant races where heating up and the PGA Championship had become just another golf tournament. Having a prime date in May will add to the prestige and excitement of this major championship. Also having one major a month is another plus. Having the last major as the British Open in July will be a fitting end to the major tournament season.

This year's lineup of major championship golf courses is about as good as it can get; Augusta National, Bethpage, Pebble Beach, and then Royal Portrush Golf Club. Each are very demanding courses with rich histories. Bethpage might be the toughest of the four, but I understand that the rough will not be as high as it was in the last two U.S. Open contests. I played the Bethpage Black about five years ago and even under normal conditions the rough was very penal. Course conditions should be firm, which will make the greens difficult to make the ball stop. The Black plays at 7,468 yards, so even the big hitting pros will be using longer clubs into the greens. Fairways will be narrow and even out of average championship caliber length rough the second shots will be quite difficult. I don't expect the winning score to be much under par.

Bethpage State Park encompasses 1,477 acres on Long Island. My favorite golf architect, A.W. Tillinghast, designed three of the five courses at Bethpage and modified the fourth. Besides his masterpiece, the Black, the Red course has hosted many state opens and professional events and is rated just behind the Black in difficultly, challenge and beauty. Tillinghast's third course, the Blue, is another gem. The front nine is equal to both the Black and Red in difficulty and challenge, but then the terrain levels out and final nine is less memorable. My father, who was a sea captain by profession, played many a round at Bethpage. When he was not at sea, he was an avid golfer and would get up very early and drive over an hour from our home in Brooklyn and get to Bethpage at 4:00 am in the morning and get in line for a tee time. This was in the late 40's and early 50's. People are still standing in line to play any of the courses at Bethpage. They are all good tests with over 200,000 rounds played there each year.

Predicting the winner of this year's PGA Championship is difficult. Tiger hasn't played since the Masters. Dustin Johnson had a big collapse at Hilton Head. Rory McIlroy had another poor Sunday at the Wells Fargo tournament. Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, and Ricky Fowler have been very quiet. Jordan Spieth is still finding his game. Francesco Molinari will be hard pressed to shake off the disappointment of the Masters. That leaves Brooks Koepka as my number one pick. Bethpage is a slugger's golf course. You need length plus strength to get it out of the rough. Brooks can hit it straight and he obviously has the strength. He should be a heavy favorite. Next, I like Bryson DeChambeau, who also has length and strength. This could be the ideal course for him to win his first major. Right behind, I like Jon Rahm. He has the same traits of my first two picks and is a person that will have a few major championships before his career is over. Maturity is a factor, but maybe this will be his breakthrough. Finally you can't overlook Tiger Woods. Yes he hasn't played a competitive round since the Masters, but he has been in the New York area for two weeks preparing. Nothing he does should surprise us. Why not win two in a row! Wouldn't that be something! Don't put anything past him and nothing too great for him to accomplish. If he wins, the legend will grow even bigger.


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