Keeping Score

The end is near, and it’s only July

David Duval asked himself a big question in 2001, shortly after he finally won The Big One that had eluded him for so long, the British Open.

The question: Is that all there is?

The answer he found was an unsatisfying Yes. Winning the Open wasn’t as fulfilling or as meaningful as he had expected or had hoped. Duval didn’t win another major title despite being immensely talented. Were those things connected? Possibly.

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David Duval finds that winning a Claret Jug doesn’t make his cup runneth over.

Welcome to July 2019. We’re two weeks away from the British Open. I should be excited about this Open. It will be held at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, a dramatic break from the modern rota of courses in Scotland and England.

We will see classic links golf. We might see some dramatic Irish weather. I always root for weather at the Open. Battling the elements is the quintessential part of links golf, and watching the world’s finest golfers do the battling is must-see TV.

Portrush is sure to provide a memorable week.

However, I am not as excited as I should be. The reason is that under the new-and-maybe-not-as-improved-as-we-thought PGA Tour schedule, the major-championship season now ends in mid-July.

In my mind, and probably in the minds of many other golf fans, the Open means the end of the golf season in America. That used to be the PGA Championship’s role in its traditional August date when it was Glory’s Last Shot or Golf’s Final Curtain or The Last Train to Clarksville or whatever the marketing department called it.

The PGA Championship moved to May, leaving the Open as the last major of the year and, therefore, the last major of the 2010 decade.

So, I have to repeat Duval’s question: Is that all there is?

Yes. I don’t want to sound like one of those nutbags in cartoons carrying a sign that warns, “The end is near!” But the end is near.

Here’s where I sort of apologize to the Wyndham Championship and the Barracuda Championship and the World Golf Championship event that Memphis stole from Akron and the FedEx Cup series events, plus the European Tour and assorted amateur championships.

You’re all wonderful, good-looking tournaments chock full of potential, and I know you’ll go out there and do your best to get modest ratings in the next Nielsen book. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that most of us aren’t going to stand around the office water cooler and discuss your highlights. It’s not because most of us don’t have a water cooler or an office or friends. It’s because you are not majors.

You may be fun. I like your wacky Stableford scoring system, so keep up the good work, Barracuda.

You may be lucrative. It’s impossible to ignore your obscene $15 million bonus, Tour Championship.

You may be a hot ticket. I mean, actually hot. Memphis, in the last week of July? It’ll be steamier than fresh asphalt.

You may have cool cars on display by the clubhouse where the media parking lot should be. I’m still waiting for my media discount, BMW.

You may even be memorable. Quick, name last year’s Wyndham Championship winner. Or any Wyndham champion. All right, now I see that may be a bad example.

You’re just not major championships, and in the grand scheme of golf, you can only hope to be Significant Others. Some of you are.

The problem is, it’s July and my interest in golf is at its zenith. Brooks Koepka won a PGA Championship and finished second in the Masters and the U.S. Open. He’s about three swings away from going for a calendar-year Grand Slam at Royal Portrush. He is Tiger Woods without the fist pumps, the smiles and the stampeding galleries.

We want more Koepka. We want more history. My favorite quote of the year remains Koepka’s comment in Augusta about fending off Woods at last year’s PGA Championship in St. Louis. “I enjoy stopping history,” Koepka said.

He should be the favorite for the Open because his caddie is Ricky Elliott, a Northern Irishman who grew up at Portrush and is on a first-name basis with every blade of grass. That’s a nice little course-knowledge edge over the other Americans, most of whom have never seen the course, or at least a playing-field leveler with the Europeans who do know Portrush.

Woods could be a factor. So, could local legends Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Contenders could include Gary Woodland, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and the usual suspects, plus rising stars such as Patrick Cantlay.

The possibilities seem less enthralling with the realization that the curtain is about to fall right after the Open. It feels like getting on a roller coaster when you know it’s the last ride of the day. It’s still going to be fun, but there’s a sense of melancholy and dread at the same time.

The European Tour has some of its best tournaments coming up, but as always, that tour is out of sight, out of mind here in the U.S.

After the Open, how long will it be until we have another golf tournament that fires up our interest to the levels they’re at now? Maybe something on the West Coast, such as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, or the party known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open, is the appetizer in early February. Maybe the Florida Swing and the Players in March. Maybe the Masters. That nine-month wait is going to feel like a prison sentence.

I’m sure the multimillionaire who snags the FedEx Cup’s $15 million bonus will perform heroics. It’s not likely to be as memorable as Tiger Woods’ turn as Golf’s Pied Piper on the Tour Championship’s final hole last year.

It’s been a great year in golf. Woods resurrected himself at the Masters, Koepka reasserted himself at the PGA and Woodland reintroduced himself at the U.S. Open.

After the British Open, there’s the FedEx cash grab and the start of another golf season, an expanded fall season that includes former full-size-purse stops at the Greenbrier and in Houston returning as downsized fall events.

A few other fall menu offerings are the Sanderson Farms Championship, the Zozo Championship (a new stop in Japan), the Bermuda Championship and, in December, the Presidents Cup.

Yes, David, that’s all there is. So, enjoy the Open … if you can.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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