An Ode to The King: Greg Koch's Bold Pitch That Led to a Memorable Weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
By Ryan Adams, PGA
Greg Koch surveys his shot with caddie and brother Matt during the second round of the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
It’s all been a blur.
Just a few days removed from a wild weekend at the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational and Greg Koch, PGA, is still processing everything that happened.
Alarm bells going off at 4:30 a.m. Little sleep. The overwhelming sense of pressure to get up and down to make the cut. Trying to remain calm.
Playing in the fourth designated event of the PGA TOUR season as North Florida PGA Section Champion, Koch needed par on No. 9 the morning of March 4 — the end of his second round was delayed due to darkness — to play the weekend at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando.
This was a familiar locale for Koch, a PGA Teaching Professional at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes, who played in the tournament last year. Yet the vibe felt different — tougher, more on the line, bigger names and, of course, a heftier purse to the tune of $20 million.
“I was like a fish out of water,” says Koch. “It was as good as a field can be. I was comfy, though. Bay Hill is a place I knew so the flashing lights and big stage of a designated event didn’t overwhelm me.”
That is, until Koch was standing over his second shot before sunrise on March 4, 210 yards from the flag. Two shots or less, and he’s in . . . three or more and he’s headed home.
“Friday night was not fun,” Koch recalls. “I didn't sleep at all, and Saturday came early - we were at the course by 6. It just was a position I’ve never really been in.”
Trying to make things easy on himself, Koch instead caught his approach high on the face and it went left of the green, where he was left with a nasty short-sided 30-yard pitch. All week, Koch had spent time at Bay Hill’s short game area, however, and now it was time for the work to pay off.
“I just tried for an open-faced soft pitch with lots of spin,” he recalls. “It came out perfectly and rolled to about three feet. To pull that off was a testament to having a pre-shot routine and being ready for the moment. If there's anything I share with my students from this experience, it's that.”
Koch sauntered over to the green, pre-stroke routine ready, and poured in the putt.
He was onto the third round, family and friends exploding with joy near the ninth green before most people had sipped their first cup of coffee that morning. There was no real time to even soak it in because he was on the tee for the start of his third round in a matter of minutes.
By the end of the third round, however, it had started to sink in.
Crossing the putting green after he finished, Koch was headed to sign his scorecard when Justin Thomas approached him.
“Great up and down this morning,” the 2022 PGA Champion said to Koch, extending a well-earned fist bump.
“I think he had seen the spot I was in, but to get that acknowledgement was probably the coolest moment of the whole tournament,” notes Koch. “And then going home on Sunday and watching the tournament wrap up on TV, knowing what they’d be going through or where the putts break . . . there’s just not a whole lot that tops that feeling.”
Equally as impressed as Thomas would’ve likely been Arnold Palmer, who Koch has admired forever.
"I've always been a huge fan," adds Koch.
There was no shotmaker bolder than Palmer during his heyday, but on a Saturday morning at The King’s Club in sunny Central Florida, Greg Koch was the bold one. And somewhere high above, Arnold Palmer was smiling as a new fan of Koch himself.