PGA Championship offers glimpse of golf's excitement for Ryder Cup

By Dave Orrick
Published on
PGA Championship offers glimpse of golf's excitement for Ryder Cup

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- In muggy, sopping wet conditions, the 2016 PGA Championship offered up some of what's most exciting about golf right now.

Right now. No Tiger. No hyped, pre-storylined rivalries.

Just a mad scramble from a compressed field of the world's best players, some who dazzled with golf acumen, and some who disappointed with shocking error, featuring a last-minute charge to roars from stadium-seated and well-beered crowds who were just as likely to jeer as cheer.

This matters -- right now -- for Minnesotans who even vaguely enjoy golf -- and we are many -- for two reasons:

First, because there is a malaise upon the sport, both as entertainment and as a pastime. The reasons are varied, perhaps deserved, and not the point here.

Second, because in less than two months, Minnesota will host the Ryder Cup, the apex of golf excitement for players and fans, in a year that will see golf make its modern debut on on a truly global stage next month when it appears in Rio, for the Summer Olympics for the first time any of our lives. It's a summer to capitalize.

But the Olympics, for better or worse, will likely still be prelude to the Ryder Cup, which will be held Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. The Ryder Cup is team competition -- 12-on-12 -- pitting the U.S. against Europe. As we speak, Hazeltine is being transformed into as close to a gladiator's arena for golf as one can imagine, with stadium seating and jumbotrons to handle 40,000 people each day, chanting "U.S.A." (or whatever songs and slogans the Euro fans will sling). In the Ryder Cup, home field matters.

The Olympics man's golf will undoubtedly carry an asterisk, as the U.S. team -- Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar -- does not include the likes of Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, high-ranked players who also happened to be favorites coming into the PGA Championship. Spieth tied for 13th, while Johnson, the long-hitting U.S. Open winner, missed the cut. (But he'll play in the Ryder Cup.)

The Olympics, which will offer one individual medal, will also not feature Rory McIlroy, one of the game's most charismatic players and another favorite here at Baltusrol Golf Club. McIlroy, whose putting woes, he said, were the worst he's experienced "in my life," failed to make the cut here, too. (But he'll play in the Ryder Cup as well.)

So the 2016 PGA Championship lacked several stars and suffered from weather delays that washed out much of Saturday, prompting third and fourth rounds to be played simultaneously Sunday morning. The final major off the year resulted in a victory for Jimmy Walker, a 37-year-old whose name recognition to non-golf devotees probably ranks as high as one of those elected officials we're supposed to know but don't.

From the buzz on social media, as well as frequently overheard comments from the media tent here, many viewed Sunday's proceedings as a snoozer. Well, until Jason Day's eagle on the final hole was followed by Walker pushing a 3-wood into the steep green-side rough, forcing Walker to earn his victory by one stroke with a difficult par. Hard to know how many viewers were still paying attention by then.

But for much of the day, there was action all over the course, and given the state of golf right now, no one could predict whether Walker would hang onto what became a wire-to-wire victory amid a dozen players jockeying for position just a few strokes back.

Because this is the state of golf right now: All four majors were won by first-time major winners, ranging from 28-year-old Danny Willett at The Masters to 40-year-old Henrik Stenson, whose duel with 46-year-old Phil Mickelson in Scotland for The Open Championship provided a novel-worthy narrative.

Or, in Walker's words this is golf right now: "It's deep. Anybody can win."

Walker himself is evidence. He entered this week 29th in Ryder Cup points. His victory put him in fourth.

A hodgepodge of perhaps 50 golfers, some eye candy for the masses, some not, is a hard sell to the casually golfing public that imbibed on a decade-long bender of one red-shirted, fist-pumping Tiger Woods, who now sits idled from an injury.

But it makes for some darned exciting 12-on-12 match play, with international bragging rights at stake. And we get to host it.

And just in case, Tiger will come, too, as a vice captain for Team USA.

This article was written by Dave Orrick from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.