Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Justin Thomas captured his first major championship on Sunday to go along with three other victories this season. Is Thomas a lock for Player of the Year?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): As Sirnick Faldo said to Jim Nantz on the broadcast on Sunday, “it IS only mid-August”, when Nantz proffered the “lock” theory. If somebody other than Thomas — and in particular, Spieth, Garcia or Koepka — manages to dominate the FedEx playoffs, then I would say NO, Thomas doesn’t have a lock. In other words, I find myself agreeing with Sirnick.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well if Spieth wins another event (especially the Tour Championship, which would give him four wins on the year)…boy that would be a toss up. Matsuyama is no slouch either with three wins – he’d be a close runner too. These last four weeks will be fun to watch for those three players alone.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): He’s not a lock yet, but he’s awfully close. Spieth, who has won three events this year including a major, or Matsuyama, who has also won three times including two WGC events, could both end up winning this year’s honours if either of them have especially strong playoff runs. If JT wins won more event, however, they might as well give him the award early.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Wow, interesting question, since he’s been so quiet after a hot start to the season, having won his first “2017” tournament last October, and then winning the first two weeks in January. I hadn’t even considered him for player of the year. But if you look at the stats, he’s certainly in the conversation. Tied for first in Top 10’s, second on the FedEx Cup points list, most wins, who would have thought! Not sure he’s a lock, but he’s leading the race at this point.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: This wrap around goofiness now recognizes the Player of the Season. Anyway, this ‘season’ ain’t over ’til the Fed Ex fandango ends. Thomas is definitely out front, but Matsuyama still has a chance, and the game, to run the table and make it a very tough call.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Not yet. Four wins including a major is usually pretty compelling but Thomas won a couple of limited field events and the Sony Open, which typically has a pretty weak field. Spieth and Matsuyama, with three wins each, are both in position to nab the POY if either can win the Tour Championship or a couple of playoff events.
What impressed you most about Sunday’s final round and did Quail Hollow pass the test of being an appropriate venue for a major championship?
Deeks: I think almost any course, if tricked up enough, can be considered a major venue. That’s what I felt about Quail Hollow, especially on Saturday, when holes seemed to be cut in impossible places. That said, however, QH does give the appearance of a lovely, classic parkland course and I wouldn’t roll my eyes if they played the PGA there again. For the US Open, I’d stick to the bigger, more historic names, with the occasional links-like neo-classic thrown in, like Erin Hills.
Loughry: The tournament was exciting as the lead flipped several times and several players still had a chance to win, that was the story. I enjoyed the venue, but I don’t think the players loved it. Pretty tricky (tricked up) greens and hole locations. But it was an exciting back 9 finish, what more do you want out of a Major.
Kaplan: Quail Hollow certainly passed the test. It was extremely difficult. In fact, it might have been the most difficult major venue this year, Augusta National included. Those greens were brutal and the Green Mile just ate the entire field up. It was great! I loved how there were three different solo leaders on Sunday, as well as a 5-way tie for first at one point on the back nine before Thomas separated himself from the field. I had no idea who was going to win and that was really exciting! JT really impressed me with both his game and his strong mental approach this week. He looked like a much more mature player out there and I truly believe that that was the difference coming down the stretch.
Rule: I really wasn’t all that interested in the tournament to be honest. It wasn’t the most exciting leaderboard, and it’s definitely the fourth of the four majors on the “give a hoot” scale, but it turned into an interesting final day with so many guys in contention. I think the course held up well, but won’t be one that I remember as one of the great major championship hosts. All in all, it was a typical PGA Championship. I’ll be happy when it moves earlier in the year and then perhaps I’ll care a bit more about the tourney.
Quinn: The lasting impression was greens so tortuous and unsuited to the length of the tee shots or approach shots, that some of the game’s best were reduced to looking like my weekend foursome. On the weekend there were whole groups missing greens, not just one guy. Par 4s of over 500 yards do not a great course, or championship venue, make. And setting up driveable par 4s is a Band-Aid balancing act. Hope the members love their new course.
Mumford: Quail Hollow was awesome and even the tricked up greens didn’t diminish the excitement or the outcome. Two things impressed me most about Sunday. One was how cool Thomas was. He started poorly but showed amazing patience and when things went really well or occasionally not so well, he maintained an even temperament. The other was Patrick Reed. He played superbly and almost won the PGA Championship. He’s been MIA in the majors to date but seems to have an extra gear that he can turn on occasionally – like this past weekend and the Ryder Cup. Not everybody has that. I hope we see it more often.
On Saturday, Jason Day faced a decision on the 18th hole after hitting his drive behind a tree. After opting for an aggressive approach and ultimately making a quadruple bogey, hindsight would show that it was a very poor decision. Was it the worst decision you ever saw in a major or PGA Tour event?
Deeks: Certainly one of the worst, and from a player I wouldn’t expect stupidity. I suppose Van de Velde’s dip in the brook at Carnoustie is the all-time modern classic doofus move. Mind you, I could count on all fingers and toes the number of lobotomy moves I’ve made in competition over the years, so I really shouldn’t be pointin’ no fingers!
Loughry: Well, IMO the worst decision was Jean van de Velde in the Open (1999). A 3-shot lead with one hole to play, and an absolute debacle unfolds, and in the end, loses the tournament. Nothing beats that, NOTHING, not even Day’s poor decision(s).
Kaplan: It was right up there. I think Jason Day has been watching too many Spieth highlights or something. All he had to do was punch out and make a par or bogey and he would have been right there in contention on Sunday. And where was his caddie during all of this? If I was looping for the Aussie, I would have left a wedge by his feet and then just took off running down the fairway. You can’t let your guy hit that shot when he’s only a few shots back! Come on! For my money, Phil Mickelson’s driver/3-iron-through-the-trees combo on the final hole at Winged Foot in 2006 is still the highlight that makes me cringe the most, considering that Lefty had the lead at the time and only needed to make a par to seal the deal. Day’s decision was a pretty close second though.
Rule: Yeah, that was an interesting (read: stupid) decision by Day. Not sure what the heck he was thinking! He’s lucky he didn’t hurt himself. But come on, it doesn’t even come close to the worst decision in a major championship. That title will forever belong to Mr. Van de Velde obviously!
Quinn: Not even close. Mickelson’s brain cramp on the 18th at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open tops it by a long shot. In fact, a long shot off the hospitality tent so far left that it hadn’t been in play all week. The next dumbest decision was Phil following that by trying to hit a 3-iron over a tree. What makes it the worst decision(s) ever was that it was the 72nd hole and he stood on the tee with a one stroke lead. In gross understatement, after the double bogey meltdown he said: “I am such an idiot.”
Mumford: Van de Velde in 1999 at Carnoustie and Mickelson in 2006 at Winged Foot are the two really bad decisions that immediately spring to mind. Both players had the lead and made lousy decisions under pressure. But in Jason Day’s case, he absolutely didn’t have to do anything special at that point. There was still one round to go on a very tough golf course. A bogey kept him in it. The risk reward in that decision wasn’t a toss up. He had no shot. There was no reward at all – only risk. Maybe the extreme heat and 5 ½ hour round left his brain fried but where was his caddie?