1. We start, as always, with the winner. Brooks Koepka is an all-time great. Five major championships is hard to wrap your head around, and his career has been truly unique: not good enough to get a scholarship offer from his beloved Florida Gators, so he opts for Florida State. Likes baseball more than golf. Goes over to Europe and cuts his teeth on the famously gritty Challenge Tour. Finally breaks through relatively late in his career, then won four majors in a three-year-span, then became engulfed in a beef that lasted way too long, then injuries, then a high-profile move to LIV Golf, then a return to prominence, then a blown Masters, and then a fifth major championship at Oak Hill.
His fifth sees him pass Rory McIlroy and move into a tie with the great Seve Ballesteros and, whether you like him or not, that’s the kind of comparisons he now warrants.
The temptation here is to turn this into some wide-ranging LIV Golf thought, but the narrative really doesn’t change. The Masters proved that these guys can still play. Heck, that’s why LIV paid them so much money. Today is about Brooks Koepka's comeback. The guy is a terminator on the golf course. The strongest player mentally since Tiger Woods.
2. Brooks Koepka got a horrible break on the 9th hole on Sunday of the Masters. He hit what he thought was a perfect shot, expecting it to trickle down that famous slope and leave a good birdie look. Instead it hung up and left a devilish putt off the side of a mountain. Jon Rahm cited this in his CBS appearance as a turning point in the round, indicative of the razor thin margins that separate birdies and bogeys on the hardest golf courses in the world. Koepka wound up making bogey and, as his coach Claude Harmon III told SI's Gabby Herzig, bothered him.
For Brooks,” Harmon III told Herzig, “it was probably one of the few times when he let a few things bother him on the golf course that he normally doesn’t. The shot on 9, he told me if he had a million golf balls, he’d hit the exact same shot. And probably 99% would roll all the way to the hole and he’d have a legit birdie chance but instead he made bogey. He really let that shot bother him.”
This time, one went his way. It came on the par 312th to a front left pin that he had no business firing at. And he didn’t. He tried to hit it well right of it but hit a pretty gnarly pull; you could tell by his finish that he hated it. It could’ve easily plugged in the front left bunker, leaving him short sided. Instead it caught the front edge and left an uphill putt, which he drained. You need those breaks to win majors.
3. Viktor Hovland’s tournament unraveled at the 16th, when he went for the green from a poor lie in a fairway bunker, off a downslope, with a huge lip in front of him. It was the right decision. With Koepka over the bunker and with the opening on that green, he had to think he was going to make par. I don’t doubt him for stepping on the gas on the 70th hole. A lovely birdie at the last salvaged a T2, and he’s now been in the mix for the last three majors. Keep knocking on that door, as they say.
4. Michael Block, man, what a story. Virtually every angle of this has been covered, so I’ll highlight a cool aspect of it: he’s actually a club pro. Like, he deals with members and gives lessons. There are a few club pros in ever PGA Championship who play year-round, don’t really spend any time at their “home” club and yet reap the benefits of having an affiliation with a club. He is the exact type of club pro that this opportunity to play in the PGA Championship is supposed to reward. A 10/10 performance from him, capped off by a pairing with Rory McIlroy and a hole-in-one on 15 on Sunday. I would say it’s Hollywood stuff but it’s even too cheesy for Hollywood. Hard to believe this actually happened.
The question now is whether he’ll make a run at the PGA Tour Champions in a few years—he’s 46—just like fellow club pro legend Rob Labritz did. Brendan Quinn’s excellent feature in The Athletic tells his story beautifully, but here’s the spark notes: he played at Mississippi State, transferred to a smaller school closer to home, then took a club pro job. After winning the Cal St. Open in 2001 the members at his then-home club threw some money together to fund a trip to Q-School. He got to second stage, failed to move further and gave up the dream.
“It didn’t take me 10 years to figure that out,” Block told Quinn. “It took me one year and I was happy with it.”
You have to wonder if he’s feeling differently now. His confidence all week suggests he does. He never once said he felt like he was having the week of his life, that he couldn’t understand how he was beating Rahm and Cantlay and Finau and Fitzpatrick. Quite the opposite.
“I can compete against these guys, to be honest,” he said after a third-straight 70 on Saturday. “I can hang. I can post a 3- or 4-under tomorrow.”
If he feels that way against the world’s best at a major, he surely feels he can play full-time against the 50+ guys. Let’s hope he gives it a go just like Labritz did. It’s one of the beauties of this game and the existence of the Champions Tour: it’s never to late to chase the dream. Yes, most of the guys out there were PGA Tour players. But not all of them. There’s Labritz. There’s Ken Tanigawa, who regained his amateur status and had it for 14 years before turning pro again when he turned 50. Tanigawa won the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2019. Who’s to say Block can’t do the same? This was the best golf week of his life, sure, but it wasn’t a fluke. He’s been the Southern California PGA section player of the year 9 out of the last 10 years. He plays often with Patrick Cantlay and Beau Hossler, and they speak wonders of his game. A truly life-changing week. Now, how will he process it?
5. We like to highlight a pros—they’re just like us! moment for every major. This week’s edition came on the par-4 1st hole on Thursday, which was Collin Morikawa’s 10th of the day. The 26-year-old had just salvaged a very major-championship bogey: drive into the fairway bunker, layup short into the fairway, over-aggressive wedge shot that pitched onto the green but finished just right of it, short-sided. A nervy chip from there left a good six feet up the hill, which he buried.
The ball was likely a bit scuffed after a full wedge from the fairway bunker, and guys often like to switch balls after bogeys anyway. You know, vibes. And so Collin tossed one to the side and grabbed a fresh nugget from his bag. His caddie, J.J. Jakovac, reached for a marker but couldn’t find the one he wanted.
“Hey, Col—where’s the blue marker?”
“In the tee pocket.”
Jakovac rummaged through the pocket. No dice.
“There are three black ones in there.”
Collin shrugged. He marked the ball with a black marker.
6. One more from the relatability department. Often times in golf tournaments it’s not until after the week’s over that you can look back on a moment and view it as a turning point. But once in a while something transpires that’s so clearly a high-leverage situation even in that moment. Which brings us to that same Collin-JT-Rory group just one hole later.
McIlroy came into the week in a rather despondent mood. He gave a bunch of one-word answers in his pre-tournament presser. He said he’s done talking about LIV. He flew in his borderline hermit coach, Michael Bannon, in a last-ditch effort to sort out a two-way miss with driver. He missed the cut at the Masters and the Players. He didn’t look nor sound like the No. 3 golfer in the world. He didn’t say as much explicitly, but he didn’t seem to have much belief that he could contend.
That narrative held firm after 10 holes—he sat three over par and fanned an iron into the right rough on the par-4 2nd, which is just a position hole. His layup back into the fairway trickled into the very left corner of the fairway, cutting off any ankle he had to a back-left pin. He opted for a high spinner but forgot the spin part, and his third bounded over the green and down a slope into a tightly-mown area. He put his head in his hands and looked like he’d rather be anywhere besides a major championship. He looked around, he looked down, he looked dejected.
We’ve all been there. The round feels like it’s getting away from you. You’re in some terrible position hitting your fourth shot on a par 4. You’re pissed, and maybe you go through your pre-shot routine a bit quicker than you normally would. You’re on tilt. And then…it goes in.
Rory holed that putt, up a ridge and right into the center, for a most unlikely par. That’s golf, isn’t it? Just when you’ve resigned to anger, it teases you with a stroke of good fortune. McIlroy hit his next shot to two feet on the par-3 3rd. Birdie. The following hole, a par 5, another birdie. He managed to salvage a one-over par 71 that kept him in the tournament after it was so, so close to falling completely off the rails.
“It was massive,” McIlroy said of the save. “I was staring sort of just hoping to get done in two and make bogey and go to the third hole at 4-over par. When you walk off the green 3-over and then you hit a tee shot like that, and all of a sudden, the pendulum swings or momentum goes the other way, and all of a sudden you make a couple of birdies in a row, and you feel like you're sort of right back in the tournament. So, yeah, it was massive. I don't know how -- depending on what happens over the next three days and what I go on to do, you know, I may look back at that shot as being the sort of turning point of the week.”
He followed that up with a one-under 69 that left him, somehow, just five back heading into the weekend. Two straight 69s on the weekend gave him a T7. He looked nowhere near capable of a top 10 before that hole-out.
8. Brooks Koepka went on Pardon My Take this week for the first time since his move to LIV Golf. The interview was well-received; Brooks shows a different side in those interviews than he does in his press conferences, where he tends to be pretty stoic and tough guy-ey. He shows his personality and answers questions honestly. I found this exchange to be pretty revealing.
Big Cat asked Koepka what the vibe is like at LIV events, and how it differs from that of PGA Tour events.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Koepka said. “The music’s going the whole time. It’s like if you go play with your boys—it’s exactly what it would be like, just with fans there.”
Sounds like fun for the players, sure. And that speaks to the core of the entire LIV Golf universe: it’s a great deal for the players. Less golf, more money, no missed cuts, all that jazz. But do we think that’s what LIV is going for? Because their broadcasts do have a pretty flippant feel to them. Despite the announcers’ repeated and annoying efforts to suggest otherwise, there’s a distinct lack of intensity during those events. Guys want to win, sure, and there’s always going to be incentive when there’s so much money at stake. But on the other end of the spectrum, there’s just not a ton of grinding going on. There are two types of pressure: opportunity pressure, when you’re nervous because you want something. Then there’s avoidance pressure, which is when you’re nervous because you want to avoid something—like missing cuts, or losing your card. Avoidance pressure is a lot gnarlier than opportunity pressure, which is really more like excitement. Just ask a guy in Q-School.
And therein lies the problem with LIV. Their best asset is their players, who continue to prove they’re world class. That’s not surprising. They offered them a ton of money guaranteed, and so they came. But is the produce going to appeal to fans when it looks and feels like casual rounds with your boys? When you’re entire business model relies on turning golf into a team sport, which has been tried and failed in tennis so many times? Call me skeptical, call me a hater, but I don’t think it will.
9. All the LIV drama has entered a new chapter, where no on really seems to care all that much anymore. Even Rory, arguably the face of the entire conflict, is done talking about it. There were a ton of questions to players this week about where they see the dynamic in pro golf in a few years and all responded with a similar shrug: I have no idea, and I don’t really think about it.
Because LIV’s set with its 48 players for the year, there’s no rumor-mill drama to keep it in the headlines. It’s product against product at this point. Which, of course, isn’t a fair fight. The PGA Tour has decades of history on its side and a massive PR advantage given all the Saudi talk. LIV is facing a monumentally uphill battle because, on paper, what they want to happen has happened: Brooks Koepka has won an event this year. So has Dustin Johnson. They showed well in the Masters. And it still isn’t generating any buzz at all, let alone dollars. The question is how long the Saudis will want to keep funding this if they don’t see progress soon.
10. Old-school, East Coast golf courses have a certain mystique to them. They’re almost always designed by one of the legends of golf course architecture. They tend to have super charming clubhouses. Oak Hill fits the bill on both—a Donald Ross masterpiece and a Tudor-style clubhouse that wouldn’t look out of place in Downton Abbey.
Then there’s the quirks of the club itself. The Country Club, host venue for last year’s U.S. Open, has a bowling alley in the clubhouse. Oak Hill does, too. Winged Foot used to decide the order of tee times by having members place a ball on the first tee. The ball closest to the tee is first, a true first-come, first-serve system. (That method has been retired, a casualty of COVID). Baltusrol has its iconic water bottles. And Oak Hill has some really cooky plaques stamped onto trees to commemorate its members.
I love East Coast-golf.
11. Jason Day didn’t play a single hole at Oak Hill before Thursday’s opening tee shot. No, seriously. He said Wednesday that he was prioritizing rest after a taxing week in Texas, where he won the AT&T Byron Nelson for his first victory in over five years.
“I haven't played the course. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the course,” Day said. “I most likely probably won't see the course today. I'm just not fighting anything, I just want to make sure that I'm mentally prepared and mentally ready for tomorrow. No matter how well I prepare, even if I go out and play a practice round, if I come in tomorrow tired and exhausted, it won't do me any favors, so I'm just going to try and take it easy. It's not the first time I've come into the major championship not playing a practice round.”
Sounds crazy, right? Surely you want to know how the ball’s coming out of the rough? How far downhill or uphill a certain shot is? How a putt breaks?
“To be honest, the yardage books that we get these days, the difference between back in the day when you had to make your own yardage book, you had to really focus on having a really good caddie that would go out and get the correct numbers. These days the yardage books are so good that if you aren't playing a practice round or preparing for a tournament and getting out on the golf course, the yardage books definitely help a long way just because it gives you sight lines in the books with the pictures and then tells you pretty much every yardage to every bunker, fairway bunker, going to the greens. Gives you all the yardages that you need there, as well.”
He’s right in that yardage books help a ton, and his comments are indicative of a newfound emphasis on rest that’s pervasive in all sports. And we’re not saying that his lack of a practice round is the reason he missed the cut badly just five days after winning. But if you’re already in the area—like, what else are you going to do all day? This isn’t exactly New York City. You’re staying close to the golf course…and as far as mental freshness goes, you don’t need to grind over every shot like it’s for the U.S. Open. Just go out there and hit a few shots on holes that look tricky. Roll a few practice putts. Do nine holes one day and nine holes another. I can’t wrap my head around that decision.
12. Scottie Scheffler’s still as confused as you are by that Tiger interaction. For those not familiar: TaylorMade dropped a video last week showing Scottie Scheffler asking Tiger Woods why he’s not taking divots. Tiger responds by asking why Scottie does take divots, and Scottie’s brain immediately becomes a pretzel. Keep in mind he was literally the No. 1 golfer in the world at the time.
I asked Scottie on Thursday if he was surprised by how many people got a kick out of that video. He said he hadn’t seen it…but suggested that he thinks Tiger was trolling.
“That was one of the first things we did that day, so I was just trying to wake up. I look over, and he hadn't made any divots, and I was, like, a little bit confused. So the look on my face probably said it all. But, I don't know, I think he was doing some sort of drill or something like that and maybe didn't want to tell me because the cameras were on. Who knows? Maybe he really doesn't take divots. Ask JT.”
Ask JT! There was a tiny bit of edge in that answer. The younger guys definitely view JT as “Tiger’s guy” and it’s possible there’s a touch of jealousy there. I think back to last year’s Masters, when Jon Rahm was asked if he’s gotten tips from Tiger Woods.
"I think there's only one man in this field that hears advice from Tiger because I've asked before and I get nothing. So you might need to ask Justin Thomas because I'm not," he said. “I’ve asked him before. I remember asking him at East Lake the year he won, before on the putting green in the practice round, 'Hey, man, any tips for Bermuda?' Or this and that. He turned around and said, 'It's all about feel', and just kept going. I was like cool, thanks. Yeah, I asked him at Albany once about chipping into the grain. [He told me] You just got to be shallow. Okay. Meanwhile I turn around and J.T.'s there with him, and he's getting a whole dissertation on what to do.”
13. Oak Hill basked in praise from players all weeks and two nuances of the setup illustrate the terrific job Kerry Haigh and co. did in setting it up. (They even got the thumbs up from Phil Mickelson, which isn’t easy to do). Starting on the par-5 4th hole, which doglegs right. The bunkers guarding the right side of the fairway were flyable for most players, and taking it directly over those could produce a huge kick and leave a long iron into the fairway. But the PGA of America made the rough right and long of the bunkers some of the longest on the course. Why? Because if it wasn’t so juicy, guys would just aim it at the bunkers and wail away with impunity, knowing they’d rather be in the rough right then blocked by trees left. Letting that grow removed any opportunity of getting it on the green with a right miss that would’ve made the hole shorter.
Then there’s the par-5 15th, which used to look entirely different before Andrew Green got his hands on it. That hole used to be surrounded by water. Now the right side of the green is bordered by a little ridge that falls off into a flat spot of fairway. But in-between that fairway and the green is a thin strip of rough that makes it impossible to putt the ball up the ridge. If that wasn’t there, they’d all put it. Instead, guys who missed short right had to play a shot off a tight lie to the green with rough short. And because it’s coming off a wedge off the fairway, the ball comes out with a ton of spin and very low. It’s extremely difficult to get that shot both high and not have it carry too far. Just a terrible place to miss that, unless you’re keyed in to golf course design and tournament-quality play, wouldn’t seem all that tricky. That context makes this full-flop from Phil that much more impressive.
14. We’ve beat this drum before and we’ll beat it again: the PGA Tour getting rid of cuts in its signature events is a huge mistake. The optics alone aren’t great—LIV comes along with a model of 48 players and no-cut events, and the PGA Tour switches some of its legacy tournaments (Riviera, Bay Hill, Memorial etc.) to fields o 75ish players with no cuts. I also believe the cut adds significant juice and makes for better content! As discussed above, there’s nothing in golf quite like avoidance pressure. Take Justin Thomas’ week, for example. He headed to the 18th hole one shot inside the cut line, blocked his tee shot into a fairway bunker and then hit the lip with his second shot. He needed to make three from there to avoid missing the cut for the second straight major. These guys, especially the big ones, hate missing cuts. So he grinded his tail off to make an excellent bogey. His good pal Jordan Spieth had to hoop an extremely nervy downhill eight-footer to make the weekend…and fist-pumped when he did. Matt Fitzpatrick fell on the other side, missing an 10-footer to make the cut and looking positively dejected afterward.
Sure, majors will still keep cuts, but that’s part of the problem: the majors have only gotten more powerful since the Schism, and having them be the only “classic” tournaments the big guys play (with full-fields and a 36-hole cut) only further solidifies them as the gold standard of golf. The arguments the PGA Tour makes in favor of no cuts—that sponsors want the guys around, and that guys from behind the cut line can push up the board—feel a bit corporate-ey and place commercial interests over the fan. That’s never a good strategy. I’ll keep repeating this nugget: when Tiger Woods was asked at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony what record he’s most proud of, he didn’t hesitate: his streak of 142 made cuts in a row. Cuts matter. They’re part of golf’s mental challenge. Getting rid of them is such a miss.
15. The mics…they were hot. Very, very, scoring hot. Hotter than they’ve ever been before one might say. The reason so many F-bombs made their way onto live air? Per James Colgan of Golf.com, who’s on top of all things golf media, is that only “networks” are expected to have their broadcast on a 10-second delay. That’s why none make it onto CBS on a weekly basis. But when the golf is on ESPN, that’s technically cable, and there’s no requirement for them to air it all on a delay. So what you saw on the worldwide leader this past week was live in the true sense of the word. There is, however, a general expectation of “decency,” so it’ll be interesting to see if we continue to hear the un-cut versions in future years because there were more f-bombs on TV during this one week than any other I can remember.
This being the website it is, you can probably guess where I fall on this issue: I love it. One of golf’s main charms is its relatability. Literally every golfer has had an outburst directly after impact. So hearing Jon Rahm complaint about a hole setup—“nice fucking hole, PGA!”— or Jordan Spieth beg himself to “hit one good fucking iron shot,” or Rory McIlroy call himself a “fucking pussy” after bailing out on a drivable par 4, that’s the good stuff. And as Riggs said in one of our podcasts this week, at the end of the day this is an entertainment product, and those outbursts are entertaining. You might think agents would be upset, but I’d argue that their guys showing the full range of emotions only makes them more likable. But the country is a big place, and I’m sure ESPN will receive a ton of complaints from those not so down with the kids. Something to monitor moving forward.
16. An unreal accomplishment for Phil Mickelson to make his 100th cut in a major championship. After he finished (with a birdie) on Sunday, I asked him why he doesn’t just ride off into the sunset so to speak? Why he keeps stepping into the mud by calling people out on twitter? He’s an absolute legend of the game, the fans love him, and this should be the part of his career where he’s adored by all. Instead he keeps on tweeting. So, why?
"I guess it’s because I know some things that others don’t,” Lefty said after his round Sunday. “I just want to make sure everybody’s held accountable..I know a lot of stuff that will come out later.”
17. So much of chipping is about technique. It’s why when Viktor Hovland’s asked about his—the clear weakness in his game throughout his young career thus far—he constantly talks about release patterns and feels. He has an extremely strong grip in his full swing and has a bowed wrist at the top, great attributes for keeping the face stable through impact. But that same pattern can make chipping tough because the tendency is to drag the handle through impact rather than let the club pass, which is crucial toward using the club’s bounce and giving yourself some margin of error. He used to chunk quite a few chips because when you drag your hands, it’s far easier for the leading edge to dig into the ground before impact.
He’s fixed it, but let’s also highlight another awesome technique he used to great effect during Sunday’s final round. Coming off a bogey at 7 he had missed the green just long of 8. With Brooks safely on, he really needed a momentum-preserving up and down. But the ball was nestled down pretty deep and he didn’t have much green to work with. The ideal shot would be to just pop it up with no spin (obviously you can’t spin it from the cabbage), have it land just on and trickle like a putt. To produce that shot he went with a technique I’m seeing often these days on weeks with juicy rough. He took the club back super steeply, dropped it behind the ball and actually recoiled backward after impact. Negative follow through. Very, very sick. He did the exact same on the ninth for another par from long of the green. Technique, baby.
18. Just an electric atmosphere in Rochester all week and, despite a late Brooks pull away, the PGA Championship delivered for the sixth consecutive year.
2018: Tiger lights St. Louis on fire, Brooks prevails
2019: Brooks vs. DJ at Bethpage
2020: Collin’s eagle to emerge from silly leaderboard
2021: Phil, for history
2022: JT comes back from 7
2023: Brooks, Michael Block
It’s great when massive tournaments come to smaller cities because the entire area comes together to put on a show. It happened last year in Tulsa, it happened this year in Rochester, and let’s hope it happens next year in Louisville.
See you all at LACC. Fun nerding out as always.