A Different Kind of Championship
The PGA Championship crowned a deserving champion in Jason Day. But this was a different kind of championship. Major championships have the intrigue of raw nerves on display that produce missed putts, errant drives and haunting meltdowns that cost players a chance at history. Jack Nicklaus won many of his major championships by outlasting his competition. He played steady conservative golf and watched his competition succumb coming down the closing holes. He admitted that his success had a lot to do with his rivals not being able to handle pressures that present themselves at major championship venues. Lee Trevino and Tom Watson were up to the challenge, but they were the exception not the rule in Nicklaus’s era.
This PGA Championship at Whistling Straits reminded me of a NASCAR race. All the players were going at their maximum speed heading for the finish. There was no backing off or playing conservatively. Players were there to win and not afraid to hit the bold shots to narrow fairways and tight pin positions. Whistling Straits had disaster on every hole. One misstep could easily lead to a double bogie. Hit it in the fairway and the course played easier, but venture off just a little and anything could happen.
Brandon Grace and Justin Rose were firing on all cylinders, but both were derailed by double bogies on the incoming nine. Neither result were the product of poor or nervous shotmaking, but aggressive decisions that didn’t pan out. They gave it their best and fell a bit short.
Jordan Spieth again continues to impress. His play on Sunday was impressive. He didn’t hold anything back and played aggressively. Maybe a few putts could have dropped, but you couldn’t fault his play. In NASCAR terms, he was driving at maximum speed, except the winner had a faster car. Jason Day played full out the entire last day. He fully knew that Spieth would be right there if he faltered even a little. Drive after drive were straight down the middle and many were the longest of the day. He hit one drive 380 yards and was 80 yards ahead of Jordan on that particular hole. Jordan admitted after the round that he was very pleased with how he played, but that Jason just played better. This is very similar to Tom Watson out playing Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry for the Open Championship. Tom and Jason were just better on that given day and week.
Jordan now is the number one ranked player in the world. Earlier in the year, I was hesitant to give him superstar status. I fully give him that title now. He is not as spectacular as Tiger Woods was in his prime. He has reasonable length off the tee, good iron shots, expert wedge control and short game and presently the best putting game on the tour. But what separates him from the rest, at the moment, is that he can hit the clutch shot at the crucial time. He has shown that special talent, just like Tiger in the past, to rise up to the occasion. That’s a special talent.
This major championship might signal a change in what we will see in the future. The Nicklaus era saw expert shotmaking, but a conservative approach to major championship strategy. Tiger Woods aggressively attacked the major championship golf courses. He won a US Open by 15 shots, the Masters by 12 shots and the Open Championship by 8 shots. His competition hadn’t seen that type of approach for a major and they were slow to adapt. This generation has more good to great players and there is little back-off in their approach to winning tournaments. What Jason Day did was win a major with a full out approach. Whistling Straits is a tough long golf course and that should not have yielded a 20 under par score. I think Jason Day’s accomplishment this week was one of the best four day tournament performances in history. But that said, I think this could the norm in the future.