News & Opinion

How low can they go in 2020 PGA?

Martin Kaymer 2020 PGA Championship 1st round
Germany’s Martin Kaymer, a 2-time major champion who shot 4-under 66 on Thursday in the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park to share 3rd place, was among 67 players to shoot par or better in the 1st round.

With 67 players shooting par or better in the 1st round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, the excitement level ratchets up for what’s to come during the next 3 days

Earlier this week, two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka’s assessment of the 102nd PGA Championship was that San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park would play like a big-boy course, with rough as lush and unruly as tangled spaghetti.

The greens, though receptive to iron shots, quickened a bit for Thursday’s first round, and the rough grew even nastier. With temperatures that pushed 70 degrees and nothing more than a light breeze all day, a feeding frenzy ensued for the best golfers in the world.

When the dust settled after the first round, 67 players were at par or better in a field of 156, led by Australia’s Jason Day at 5-under 65 (scores / tee times).

To provide some clarity, when the PGA Tour last visited TPC Harding Park for a stroke-play event, it was in 2005, for the WGC-American Express Championship. In the first round, only 38 players recorded shot par or better, with Colin Montgomerie leading at 6-under 64 and 11 others at 67. Ultimately, Tiger Woods would win in a playoff over John Daly, after they tied at 10 under for 72 holes.

What this history lesson tells me is that equipment and the talent level of the players in 2020 are collectively better than in 2005. It could be the result of equipment, athleticism or talent, or perhaps a combination of all three.

Few venues can contain these players for four rounds. Professional golf is a competition, but it’s also entertainment. So, did the PGA of America meet its goal of creating a competitive event as well as entertaining one Thursday?

Golf fans overwhelmingly want to see good shots rewarded and at the same time see scoring.

The Masters has found the perfect mix, and generally on an annual basis. The anticipation for the second week in April in Augusta, Ga., is talked about months in advance.

Watching the PGA’s first round for 12 hours, I was wondering whether the event kept my attention and was entertaining.

Yes, it did.

It might seem easy to bash the low scoring and, in turn, suggest that this 102nd PGA Championship was not worth of major status, but I would disagree.

Thursday was more of a shoutout from the best players in the world that it is difficult to contain them. At the same time, the systematic dissection of TPC Harding Park can be entertaining, as well.

The combination of watching Tiger Woods hitting a bad tee shot into the gnarly rough and then finding a way to have a solid look at birdie, or watching Bryson DeChambeau hit a driver on the par-5 10th hole so far that he only needed an 8-iron on a 562-yard hole.

That’s entertainment.

Thirty years ago, golf majors almost always demanded driver off the tee and then, if the ball found the rough, gouging the ball back out and then trying to get up and down for par.

Golf has evolved, and as we are seeing with this new generation of talent, changing and advancing to something that likely will be a different game in 15-20 years. Younger players – not just the professionals but the amateurs, too – are playing a different game.

But then, as with Thursday’s first round of the PGA, a trusted old name such as Zach Johnson pops up near the top of the leaderboard, at 4-under 66.

Of the players under par, only Germany’s Martin Kaymer, Koepka, Woods and Johnson have won more than one major championship.

Koepka and Woods won major titles as recently as last year. Kaymer last won one of golf’s four big prizes in 2014, in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, and Johnson hasn’t won a major title since 2015, in the British Open at St. Andrews’ Old Course. Neither has won since on the PGA Tour.

Thursday held something for just about everyone, but most importantly it seemed to offer the promise of three exciting rounds to come at TPC Harding Park.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.