Europe once had a wretched record in the PGA Championship, Padraig Harrington finally ending a 78-year drought when taking the 90th edition at Oakland Hills in 2008.
The Wanamaker trophy has returned to American hands in recent years with a hat-trick of wins for big hitters Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka although Francesco Molinari did finish runner-up ….. I was about to say 12 months ago.
Of course, that time reference is now incorrect after this year's tournament was brought forward to May.
Already accused of being like an enhanced regular PGA Tour event, does that claim grown even stronger now it has a May slot, wedged between The Masters and U.S. Open and losing its USP of ‘Glory’s Last Shot’?
At least host venue, Bethpage Black, brings it some extra gravitas given that the course hosted the U.S. Open in both 2002 and 2009.
And, taking a pro-PGA stance, all top 100 world-ranked players are set to take part. In that sense, it’s a lot harder to win this major than The Masters.
The Black Course at Bethpage State Black in New York State is an A.W. Tillinghast design with some Rees Jones renovations. The tree-lined, parkland (public) course is a par 70 measuring 7,432 yards. The greens are primarily Poa Annua but mixed with Bentgrass. It also staged the 2012 and 2016 Barclays tournaments and we have Strokes Gained for those two events.
2016 -9 Patrick Reed SG: Off-The-Tee: 38th, SG: Approach: 6th, SG Around-The-Green: 8th, SG: Tee-To-Green: 3rd, SG: Putting: 27th.
2012 -10 Nick Watney SG: Off-The-Tee: 8th, SG: Approach: 1st, SG: Around-The-Green: 52nd, SG: Tee-To-Green: 2nd, SG: Putting: 18th.
Notes: Both winners ranked in the top three for SG: Tee-To-Green and in the top six for Approach.
For Glover’s and Tiger’s wins, we can add in the conventional stats.
2009 -4 Lucas Glover (DD: 8, DA: 17, GIR: 4, Scr: 8, PA: 10, AA: 1)
2002 -12 Tiger Woods (DD: 7, DA: 7, GIR: 1, Scr: 12, PA: 33, AA: 1)
Notes: Green In Regulation and All-Around are the standout stats.
Also note Ball-Striking. Glover and Woods were both ranked 1st and Watney 4th.
There's plenty of rain to soften the course in the build-up but for the tournament days the forecast is sunshine and partly cloudy. Temperatures are in the high 50 and perhaps just making the 60s on Sunday but this is all very different to the previous late-summer heat of the PGA in its August slot. Winds are around 8-10mph all week.
Brooks Koepka (2019): “The fairways are relatively tight, and they've got some turn to them. So you've really got to pick and choose what you're going to hit off the tee. You don't always need driver. It's all about placement. And then coming into these greens, the greens aren't as undulating. There's just a constant slope on them. You feel like everything is at like a 1½-degree slope.”
Justin Rose (2016): “It's a great golf course, one that I wouldn't say I've done particularly well on per se, but it's a golf course that should suit me well. It's the type of test that I like. It's a long golf course. Ball-striking pretty much gets rewarded here, I believe.”
Henrik Stenson (2016): “You have to be pretty accurate with your mid-to long-iron shots into the greens. And if I remember correctly, you're going to have a few of those around here.”
Rory McIlroy (2016): “It's a great golf course. I feel like it's a course that sets up well for me. You've got to drive it well, especially this week.”
Jordan Spieth (2016): “These par 4s are so challenging, so demanding. So you've got to be able to carry the ball, in my opinion, a good 275 or more off the tee. But again, premium on the fairways. Just got to make sure you're hitting that driver straight.”
Kerry Haigh (Chief Championships Officer, 2019): “The fairway widths we have not adjusted at all since the last events that have been played there. The fairways are not overly-wide or generous, so I think there's certainly going to be a premium on keeping the ball on the fairway and keeping it straight from the tee and then obviously good iron play into the greens, and the greens themselves, they are generally not over-severe. Two or three greens have some significant moment. The rest of the greens have more gentle movement, more subtle movement, which we allow for possibly quick speed of greens, will be probably pretty quick. In terms of rough, our plan is for it to be 3½ to 4 inches long. So it will be a challenge, and it will be pretty tough if you get into it. So overall, just like most other weeks, you're just going to need a good game. But I think there will be certainly more of a premium on driving than some other venues due to the fairways and due to the health of the rough.”
This backs up the idea of Ball-Striking and Tee-To-Green prowess.
Top 10 Euros
Rory was a very creditable T10 in the 2009 U.S. Open here but he’s rather underwhelmed in the two Barclays tournaments with T24 and T31. He was never in the top 15 at the end of any of those 12 rounds until the Sunday of 2009 when he jumped from T32 to T10. McIlroy has a great record in this event with two wins and two other top threes although he’s finished outside the top 15 in the last four. A brilliant winner at TPC Sawgrass in March, his game has come down from that peak with T21 at Augusta and T8 at Quail Hollow when he drifted away on the final day. Fun but possibly relevant fact: McIlroy has won more events in May in his combined PGA/European Tour career than any other month.
After the shock of missing his first Masters cut, Rose will be keen to bounce back here. A winner at Torrey Pines in January, he also took T8 at THE PLAYERS and shook off that Augusta flop with third place in the Wells Fargo last time. Hasn’t really worked out Bethpage Black though with finishes of MC, T46 and T31. Fourth place in 2015 is his only top 15 at the PGA since 2012. Ranks 13th in SG: Approach this season.
Didn’t have his best game at Augusta National but battled for a T9 and followed it with a fine display alongside Ryan Palmer to win the Zurich Classic. Other pluses? T4 in this event at Bellerive last year, third in the Northern Trust in New York in 2017 and 13th in SG: Tee-To-Green this season. Has played well on Poa and this course really does look right up his street.
Put down a marker for last summer’s Open Championship win with T2 in the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow and added T6 at Bellerive last August. And then, of course, that bold bid for a green jacket last month which ended in T5. T27 (2009) and MC (2016) at Bethpage but the new, improved Molinari shouldn’t be judged on old results.
Not the ideal prep for young Tommy this time as he’s just hosted the British Masters at Hillside. T8 was a good performance but he looked jaded in the final round. Nothing better than T35 in four PGAs but this may feel more like a U.S. Open course and that should help given that he has a second and a fourth in the last two editions of that event. As should his 4th spot in SG: Tee-To-Green on the PGA TOUR this season.
Quick take. Sergio loves Bethpage Black and could be one of Europe’s best bets. The form is old but 4-10-3 in three starts at the event (2002, 2009 and 2012) shows that his elite ball-striking works wonderfully here. Sergio is 3rd in SG: Approach, 14th in SG: Tee-To-Green and returns to Bethpage on the back of a top four in the Wells Fargo. Has a second and a third in the PGA and I have a sneaky feeling the change in date will help him.
Eight of the last ten winners of the PGA had posted a victory earlier that season and Casey ticks that box after defending the Valspar in March. He recovered from a Masters 81-73 headscratcher with T4 at Quail Hollow. T10 (2016) and T13 (2017) in two of the last three PGAs but has never broken 70 at Bethpage (MC 2009 and T31 2016). Great stats (including 9th SG: Tee-To-Green) apart from 153rd in SG: Putting but may be able to hide that somewhat at this venue.
Stenson has a great record in the PGA Championship but is that a reflection of it previously being played later in the year when he usually finds his best form? At least one of his three U.S. Open top tens was at Bethpage in 2009 and his second place in SG: Approach this season suggests he’s got the tools to tackle it again. He’s had an underwhelming campaign so far but T20 at the Byron Nelson hints at better things.
A beacon of consistency this season. No missed cuts, a bunch of top 10s, T12 at Augusta National and some excellent SG numbers, including 7th in Ball Striking which may raise eyebrows. T18 in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage and T36 in 2012 Barclays. Poulter has two top tens in the PGA, with a best of T3 at Kiawah Island in 2012.
It’s a first start at Bethpage for RCB but he’s been reliable at this level in recent years, making the cut in seven of the last eight majors. The highlight? T10 in this event at Bellerive last year. He brings good form to the table too with a top three at Bay Hill, T36 at Augusta and T16 at Hilton Head.