Despite unusual circumstances, usual suspects favoured to win PGA Championship

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.

The PGA Championship kicks off this week at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco and will be the first major of the year. Brooks Koepka is the two-time defending champion and Justin Thomas has returned to World #1 after winning the WGC FedEx St. Jude event last week. They’re the betting favourites at 10-1, followed by Bryson DeChambeau at 11-1 and Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy at 14-1. Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson round out the Top 10. Who is your pick to win on Sunday evening and who might surprise a few people as a longshot?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’m gonna go with Jon Rahm to win, and Louie Oosthuizen as a longshot.  No reason or rhyme to my picks, they were just the first two to show up in my brain.  Looking forward to watching a major!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: I wish I thought otherwise but I just can’t make myself choose a #1 over Koepka. After his drive on the 72nd hole that cost him roughly $500,000, he should be a tad motivated. What I would like to see is a Canadian in the ‘mix’. I don’t recall there ever a time when there were so many Canadians playing on the PGA TOUR, and they are all doing very well. My ‘long shot’ is Tom Lewis. Boy, does he ever look good!

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): My pick continues to be Patrick Cantlay, a tradition that now stretches back at least two years now. I haven’t been successful yet, but he’s going to win a major one of these days and I don’t see why it can’t be this weekend.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I think this week will produce a first-time major winner, but maybe not the one people think.  I’m picking Xander Schauffele to play well this week and pull out his first big win.  He’s seemingly always around and is due.  My longshot is Corey Conners; it would be great to see a Canadian or two in the mix come Sunday.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It may be wishful thinking, but I would hoist a dram of Bushmills (Black) should Rory get it done Sunday. Failing that, Rahm keeping it together for four rounds would also be cause for celebration. Koepka emerging from the doldrums would be great too. Love the PGA Championship for its setups and course choices. As for the rest of the field, anyone but Chambeau, with a de.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Tough choice. Do you take the hot hand, Thomas, to win in consecutive weeks or the double defending champion, who almost won last week? I’ll take Koepka because I suspect he’s angry that he let the WGC get away from him in Memphis and is super motivated to correct that gaffe. Not that anybody should need extra motivation to win a major, but there it is. As for a Sunday surprise, my pick is Jordan Spieth to complete the career Grand Slam. Four years ago, Spieth would have been a rock-solid top pick. Today, he’s a longshot. My, how times have changed.

Rory McIlroy said in a recent interview that all golf tournaments feel pretty much the same without fans and that would include majors. There will be no fans at Harding Park, no loud raucous cheering and little energy. Will the players still feel the same kind of pressure they would normally feel at a major championship?

Deeks: Yes, I think they will… the same way we all feel when playing in a tournament vs. just a casual round.  There’s something about a major that I sense makes the players’ nerves just a little more edgy: they know that winning will have a major impact on their careers, and that even if they only win one, they’ll be remembered for it for their entire lives.  The same can’t be said for the winner of the St. Jude Classic, or the Heritage Classic or any of the other events of the week.

Schurman: This a strange discussion that Rory seems to put forward. I don’t hear other players saying the effects and or benefits are as much as Rory believes. One player who undoubtedly feels the same is Tiger. He definitely is motivated by the fans but then he has had most of them following him for the past 20+ years.

Kaplan: Well, I don’t see how Rory could know what a major without fans feels like without having ever played in one so I’m not buying that there’s any validity to that statement. Majors come with their own internal pressure. The fact that there are only four of them a year, and that some players at the top of the leaderboard after 36/54 holes will likely never be in that position again for the rest of their careers, creates a sense of urgency and pressure that can easily derail rounds. That will be present at Harding Park this week, regardless of the absence of fans.

Rule: I have to say that there have been very few times where I have noticed the lack of fans while watching on tv the past few weeks.  But it might be weird coming down the stretch of a major, especially if Mr. Woods somehow finds his way into the mix on Sunday, which is highly unlikely I know, but stranger things have happened!  I don’t think it will affect the guys who are in contention, especially if they haven’t won a major previously.  The pressure of the moment will be there, gallery or not.  The only way it would help players is if they were mano a mano with Tiger on Sunday, because the crowds would be heavily in his favour and it would intimidate even the most veteran players.

Quinn: The guys seem to have adjusted well, and while missing the applause don’t miss the yobs shouting inanities. Thomas and others have said that Saturday and Sunday will be all about the pursuit of a Major. The pressure will be the same, the adrenaline rushes will be tempered by the silence.

Mumford: I think last week showed that fans or no fans, when the title is on the line, all players feel pressure. Both Thomas and Koepka stumbled on the back nine Sunday and that was clearly nerves. Some players that might otherwise be encouraged by cheering fans may feel their absence but overall, any player that gets into a major championship has learned to tune out the distractions. The pressure to win a major will still be there.

Last week, Davis Love announced he was stepping away from his announcer role at CBS to spend more time with his family and work on his golf game. Just in case you missed it, Love was actually an announcer at CBS for almost a year, after replacing Gary McCord and Peter Kostis in a so-called major change of direction for the network. Love was rarely called upon during a broadcast and didn’t have much to offer when he was. Presumably, CBS will be looking for a new analyst. Who should they be looking at?

Deeks: I said at the time that Davis Love was a terrible choice and surprise!  He was.  Colourless on and off the golf course, although a fine player in his day.  Y’know who’d make a great analyst?  Nick Price.  Personable, thoughtful, insightful, and while he’s probably too nice a guy to be very critical of a player’s performance, I think he’d be willing to question why a player decided to make the choice that he did.  AND, Nick speaks with the finest accent in the English language: the South African lilt, which is always a pleasure to listen to.  We have Aussies and Kiwis on broadcast crews, why not a Zimbabwean?

Schurman: Davis Love was a ‘fish out of water’. I like the role played by ‘Bones’ Mackay, Frank Nobilo and Dottie Pepper but none of them are anchor material. This is a difficult task because it is rare the network has an opportunity to either groom someone or even test them. However, my choices are Ray Floyd, Graeme McDowell, Paul Goydos or Martin Hall.

Kaplan: They should rotate comedians into the booth for the rest of the 2020 season as an experiment. It’s not like they’re doing anything right now. They’re likely sitting at home like the rest of us and would probably be into the idea of making fun of golfers. Start with Bill Murray. Then try Bill Burr. John Mulaney. Pete Holmes. Patton Oswalt. You name it. The less they know about golf, the better.

Rule: Well, I don’t think he’ll be missed, I’m not sure I even heard him utter a word during his year at CBS.  Can’t they just bring Kostis back?

Quinn: If you’ve had the pleasure of listening to his responses during interviews or read his insightful columns and course critiques, then you’ll agree that the most articulate, erudite, and thoughtful candidate is Geoff Ogilvy. He would not hesitate to puncture balloons — of players and course designers and Tour set ups — and he would not gladly suffer fools sharing airtime. That sums it up. He’s too smart to take the job.

Mumford: As predicted, the Love experiment was a dud. It was an odd choice to begin with, since Davis was never noted for voicing strong opinions in public or offering a quick one-liner or quip. I’ve talked to him on a couple of occasions and he’s a very congenial guy and has some great stories to tell but none of that was allowed to come through on the golf broadcast. One thing CBS doesn’t need is another “analyst”. They have too many of those already and a couple of them are stale dated. Bring back David Feherty or find another funny guy who can keep things light and humourous between the solemn incantations of Nantz, the banality of Faldo and the incessant nattering of Baker-Finch.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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