ST. LOUIS – Here’s what I learned before the 100th PGA Championship, although I was unable to confirm plans that Illinois may build a giant croquet player hitting a ball across the Mississippi River from the iconic Gateway Arch:
The Dynamic Duo: Apparently, we view the Ryder Cup selection process all wrong or, at least, nothing like the way the captain does.
We think the team should be loaded with players who are playing well or are hot at the end of the season. That’s not how two-time Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III views the selection process.
“The way I look at it, if I’m captain, I’m looking to make pairings,” Love said. “And everybody on the team wants to play with Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods or some veteran who’s done a lot. So, I think Tiger is an easy pick in that regard, and the way he’s been playing, if I was on the other team, I wouldn’t want Tiger picked, so that’s another good reason. I’m sure Tiger will definitely be up on our list [of picks] if he doesn’t make it on points.”
That’s what Love said. Here’s what I heard (even though Jim Furyk is the captain, not Love, and Furyk has been non-committal about Woods as a playing member of the team): Woods and Mickelson will be captain’s picks.
Mr. 2-for-99: Rory McIlroy looked forward to the highlight video at Tuesday night’s PGA champions dinner, part of the weeklong celebration for the 100th edition of the PGA Championship.
“The 100th year of anything is a big deal,” said McIlroy, who won the 2012 and ’14 PGA titles. “If I was able to win this week, that would be three times out of a hundred. Three percent’s a pretty good ratio.”
Any player’s agent wouldn’t settle for less than 15 percent.
Disc golf: CBS golf analyst Peter Kostis has a unique view of Tiger Woods and his comeback from back-fusion surgery. John Kostis, Peter’s son and a pretty good college player, is 30 now and has had two discectomy surgeries, similar to Woods’ procedure last year. John is OK now and made some adjustments to how he had to swing the club, just as Woods did, Peter Kostis said.
“Tiger’s golf swing isn’t going to be an issue,” Peter Kostis said. “It’s his physical condition – God willing his back holds up – and, No. 2, he’s got to get back to the mindset he had prior to all the injuries and surgeries. I like the way he’s moving the club and moving his body, given that he has the fused vertebrae.”
One note of caution, Kostis added, was that fusions put more stress on the adjoining unfused vertebrae. In other words, Woods needs to be smart about playing too much. One more back injury would put him on dangerous ground.
The three-peat: The next three major championship will all be televised by CBS. How’s that possible? Oh, that’s right, the PGA Championship moves to May next year. So, the next three majors will be the PGA this week, the Masters in April and the PGA in May.
“I think it’s good for golf, the PGA, the fans and really good for CBS,” said Sean McManus, CBS Sports’ chairman.
McManus is surprisingly upbeat about golf, with its improved ratings – coincidentally at the same time that Tiger Woods returned to tournament golf.
“Television ratings are up; awareness is up,” McManus said. “Golf is incredibly well-positioned right now.”
Actually, what’s well-positioned right now is the PGA Championship, with its broadcasting contract with CBS expiring in 2019. With chief executive officer Pete Bevacqua leaving the PGA after this week to join CBS golf rival NBC (and Golf Channel), the PGA of America could score a record windfall from whoever is the winning bidder for its next TV contract.
The Century Club: Davis Love III will become the 15th player to compete in 100 major championships this week, a highly select club. He’s still 64 majors behind the all-time leader, Jack Nicklaus. So, Love, 54, could tie him in, oh, another 16 years if he somehow were eligible to play in all four each year.
That mark is out of reach, but Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer hold the record for most PGA Championship appearances, with 37. Love, with 31 PGAs, could make a run at that if he stays healthy and keeps performing well.
“I don’t want to just play; I would like to compete,” Love said. “If I’m just showing up to catch Jack and Arnold, I wouldn’t do that. But if I can compete and not get in the way, I would love to break that record.”
The mark at which Love really is aiming is most PGA Tour starts: 803, by Mark Brooks. “That’s the guy I’m gunning for,” Love said. “I would like to hang in there long enough to get over 800 starts and pass him.”
With this week’s PGA, Love will claim 757 starts. So, check back in a couple of years.
The Tiger Effect: This is what happens when Tiger Woods is in a tournament and inevitably steals the tiger’s share of attention. Nobody notices Masters champion Patrick Reed, the fact that he finished fourth at Shinnecock Hills and that his right-to-left ball flight is perfectly suited for Bellerive.
“It’s hard to remember another course that has so many dogleg lefts,” Reed said. “Being a draw-er of the ball, it fits my eye really well. Everything sets up perfectly. I feel like it’s my home course.”
In, ahem, totally unrelated news, Reed’s betting odds of winning the PGA are 40-1, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
That’s just Faldo being Faldo: Six-time major champion Nick Faldo was asked if one reason he didn’t win the 1992 PGA Championship here was that he lost focus during the third round and fell too far behind eventual winner Nick Price.
“Well, if you’ve lost focus,” said Faldo, who seemed possibly joking or possibly annoyed, “you can’t remember a thing.”
The long story: Dottie Pepper will be reporting play-by-play for select groups this week on the CBS telecast of the PGA Championship. I asked Pepper, a former LPGA star, about golf’s distance revolution. The average driving distance on the PGA Tour is about 295 yards; on the Web.com Tour, it’s 305. Eleven Web.com Tour players are averaging 320-plus yards per drive, led by Cameron Champ, whose average tee ball is 342.7.
Pepper said women’s golf hasn’t been transformed by increased distances because there’s a certain clubhead speed (or ball speed) at which the energy transfer and carry distance increases exponentially, and few women can generate that kind of speed.
“Michelle Wie probably could at one time,” Pepper said, “and maybe Lexi Thompson and Ariya Jutanugarn.”
Yani Tseng leads the LPGA driving stats at 275.8. That would rank 205 on the PGA Tour, ahead of only Ken Duke, and 41st on the Champions Tour.
Pepper’s bigger concern is that men’s golf is losing the playability of old courses and even many modern ones.
“The golf ball has to change,” she said. “A line has to be drawn in the sand. To me, the standard is the Old Course. They have to use parts of five or six other courses now to make it long enough to hold the Open. Where does it end? Bigger courses mean more time walking and less time hitting, plus more money to maintain them.
“The mantra is, ‘Golf is dying.’ No, you’re killing it. You’re killing it.”
I hereby nominate Pepper for president of golf.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle