Thursday, August 7, 2014

2014 PGA Championship

When I arrived at Valhalla on Sunday night I told the audience of PGA 
Championship Committee Chairs that this week's PGA would be the greatest week of professional golf in 2014 and nothing has happened to defuse that point.

This week the PGA of America established a new PGA Championship ticket sales record. We expect 45,000 spectators each day from Thursday through Sunday when the tournament takes place. Valhalla, which was renovated in 2011, is in perfect condition. It's a big championship venue and many are saying that it is the best presentation of a major in recent years. 

Tuesday night was the annual Champions Dinner hosted by defending champ, Jason Dufner and his wife, Amanda. Many are saying that it was the best Champions Dinner in years because of Dufner's speech and the humbleness that he showed throughout the evening. He grew up in modest surroundings. His dad was an assistant manager of a grocery store.

"My grandfather played golf and belonged to a country club. I loved playing with him when I was a kid because the course was nice and I could ride in a golf cart," recalled Dufner. "My dad didn't have a lot of money and when we played together it was always at a beat down 9-hole course where I had to carry my clubs."

Dufner continued, "When I was younger I always liked playing with my grandfather better because of the course and the cart. But, now if I had one round of golf left to play it would be with my dad (now deceased) on that beat down 9-hole course."

Dufner is battling a neck injury and if he does play well enough to make the Ryder Cup team on points this week, he will shut it down through theFedEx Cup playoffs. The most notable injury of the week belongs to Tiger Woods.

In the most heralded practice round entrance of all-time, Woods showed up at Valhalla shortly after Noon on Wednesday. The world had been waiting for word on whether or not he would be in the field. The Golf Channel televised nearly every minute of the 2 p.m. round which Woods was joined by Steve Stricker, Davis Love III and Harris English. 

Around 12:30 p.m. On Wednesday, Rory McIlroy exited the clubhouse and headed to his Mercedes courtesy vehicle. There were 25-30 reporters and photographers standing near Rory's parking spot. The media herd was guarding Tiger's spot in the past champions parking lot. McIlroy was carrying the Claret Jug, the hoist from the Open Championship, and not one reporter or photographer acknowledged this special moment. Talk about the Number One player in the world flying under 
the radar......

At the same time Tom Watson was starting his Ryder Cup press conference. During that time he announced Stricker as the third Vice Captain to join his Ryder Cup staff. Stricker is suffering from a hip ailment and it was a smart move by Watson to name a contemporary vice captain to join Andy North and Raymond Floyd.

On Thursday morning,  Matt Kuchar who has a guaranteed spot on the Ryder Cup team withdrew from the competition due to a back injury. This further raises questions about the U.S. Ryder Cup team which has many health issues. The Europeans, on the other hand, are in top form with McIlroy, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia playing as well as anybody in the world.

Another great storyline to this PGA is Kenny Perry playing in what could be the final major of his career in his home state of Kentucky. It was my privilege to offer Kenny the special exemption from the PGA back in May. I had the chance to play here at Valhalla with Kenny back in June and we had a great time. He won the Champions Tour event last week in Minnesota and comes here as a sentimental favorite. 

Finally, on Wednesday night the PGA of America presented President Bill Clinton with our Distinguished Service Award. It was a special night to honor a man who has made golf a major part of his life. the Clinton Foundation has raised $88 billion dollars for people worldwide. 

Clinton has resurrected the Humana Challenge, the former Bob Hope Classic, and his impact with humanitarian deeds through golf is incredible. What a thrill it was for me to present him with the DSA. 

Lots of drama and many intriguing plots here at Valhalla.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 14, 2014

Every Monday morning I anxiously await the latest Ryder Cup standings which are distributed by the PGA of America. Captain Tom Watson and I receive this each week. He probably will spend more time looking at the numbers with each passing week leading up to Sunday, August 10 which is the final round of the PGA Championship when the nine automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team will be determined.

On Tuesday, September 2, Watson will be situated somewhere in the Northeast and he will announce three Captain's picks rounding out his squad. No doubt he will spend Labor Day with Andy North and Raymond Floyd watching the final round of the Deutsche Bank Classic and collaborating on who the last three players should be.

Ryder Cup points are based on prize money earned. One point is awarded for every $1,000 earned in the 2013 major championships and all 2014 PGA Tour events beginning with the Fall Season last October. In 2014 the major championships receive two points for every $1,000 earned. Also, this year there are a couple of Tour events opposite the major championships and they earn 1/2 point for every $1,000 earned. It's actually a lot simpler than it sounds.

As of last week's Players Championship here are the top nine U.S. Ryder Cup players and their points earned.

1. Bubba Watson  6,283
2. Jimmy Walker  4,772
3. Matt Kuchar  4,060
4. Jordan Spieth 3,988
5. Jim Furyk  3,909
6. Dustin Johnson 3,781
7. Patrick Reed 3,038
8. Phil Mickelson 2,821
9. Zach Johnson 2,787

Based on the past couple of Ryder Cup teams the projected total needed to make the top nine would be approximately 4,500 points. Watson and Walker have secured spots while Kuchar, Spieth and Furyk are knocking on the door. Dustin Johnson is not far behind which means there will be a lot of scrambling for the last three guaranteed slots on Tom Watson's team.

Rounding out the current top 20 in the Ryder Cup standings are:

10. Jason Dufner  2,692
11. Harris English  2,680
12. Chris Kirk  2,526
13. Ryan Moore  2,334
14. Webb Simpson  2,243
15. Kevin Stadler  2,165
16. Rickie Fowler  2,150
17. Matt Every  2,102
18. Gary Woodland  1,902
19. J.B. Holmes  1,865
20. Keegan Bradley  1,847

Notably missing from the top 20 are Hunter Mahan (25th); Brandt Snedeker (33rd); Steve. Stricker (48th) and Tiger Woods (57th).

It is safe to say at this point that 2014 could be a transitional year for the Ryder Cup when the competition takes place at Gleneagles in Scotland, Sept. 23-28. Currently, there are six Ryder Cup rookies in the top thirteen on the American points list. Europe's team is still unfolding and it looks like there could be 3-4 rookies there, too.

Both Watson and Paul McGinley, the European Captain, could have some tough choices come September. If both teams have a high percentage of rookies making their top nine, will the captains look for experience to round out their teams?

In 1993 at The Belfry, Watson captained the last U.S. Ryder Cup team to win on foreign soil. He had two captain's picks and he used them on Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins who were ranked 22nd and 32nd on points. For sure, Stricker and Woods will be down the 2014 points list based on Stricker's limited playing schedule and Woods' injury. It could be tough choices for Watson.

As I said, the majors count double and three of those remain. Lots of things could change and most likely will. The PGA Championship raised its purse to $10 million dollars with the winner receiving $1.8 and 3,600 Ryder Cup points. That means the PGA Champion could jump from somewhere around 50th to 9th and be an automatic pick. Currently, that brings into play names like Erik Compton, Chesson Hadley, Martin Flores and Indiana's Jeff Overton.

You can follow the standings each week on It will be an interesting three months leading up to the PGA. Bubba Watson proved the value of winning a major and three more Americans could do the same and make moves. But, in the past month or so, the Europeans have been in better form and they are winning some tournaments as evidenced by Germany's Martin Kaymer last week.

Stay tuned. The Ryder Cup drama is just beginning.