10 revealing admissions from the PGA Championship

It's PGA Championship week, and there's plenty to learn.

It's PGA Championship Week — and there's plenty to learn.

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Come Thursday we’ll begin the process of establishing the very best golfer at this week’s PGA Championship. Shaun Micheel, winner of the 2003 PGA (held, like this year, at Oak Hill) will send the first tee shot in the air and we’ll start winnowing the seeds from the chaff.

But we’ve already learned plenty in the lead-up to competition.

It’s partly the structure of a major week that means players are particularly available and obligated to chat. PGA Tour pre-event schedules can get compressed to a Tuesday practice round and a Wednesday pro-am, but much of the field arrived in western New York on Sunday or even earlier, setting up a lengthy lead-up to the year’s second major.

It’s partly the event’s significance, too: majors draw more top players and more media members. More media members means more press conferences and it means more people with more questions in those press conferences. Sometimes the golfers even answer ’em.

And it’s partly the current nature of professional golf. Some of the vim and vigor may have left the PGA Tour vs. LIV battle but the conflict presses on without clear resolution; this week marks another clash between the establishment and the breakaway tour and there’s no question the leadership on each side is pulling particularly hard for their guys.

Whatever the combination, Tuesday and Wednesday meant truth-telling time at the PGA Championship. Pro golfers are essentially part-time public speakers and on good, interesting days they take us on that ride with them. Let’s get into what we learned.

1. Rory McIlroy

Admission: He can’t handle any more of the LIV stuff.

Quote: “Yeah.”

What it means: We need some context for that one-word answer, namely the question that preceded it. McIlroy was asked if he was stepping back from the LIV vs. PGA Tour drama — Is it going to be a conscious thing for you going forward to try and sidestep that narrative?” — and that terse answer (and others like it) made it pretty clear that he was.

Last summer McIlroy was doing double duty as one of the Tour’s top players and its vocal leader, too. He went to battle on behalf of his home circuit, decried the choices of the LIV defectors and made it clear exactly which side he was on — all while helping to reshape the Tour’s future. He became a hero to some but a lightning rod for criticism from others, too. And while he seemed to ride that emotional wave (he won three times in 2022, contended in every major and battled back to World No. 1) he seemed to crash onto shore beginning at the Players Championship.

When things were going well, the Tour/LIV stuff was a boost. It seemed to help McIlroy focus; every week he had something bigger to play for, defending the Tour’s honor as its standard-bearer. But once things started going south it seemed to turn into a burden. McIlroy didn’t look himself in a missed cut at the Players Championship nor in another at the Masters. He skipped the elevated RBC Heritage and finished in the middle of the pack at the Wells Fargo Championship. He did say he’s trying to enter this week with lowered expectations. But he also wants to make sure his play is doing the talking.

“I’d rather people be talking about me because of my golf rather than stuff I’m doing behind the scenes or stuff that I’m saying in press conferences or whatever else,” he said.

The reality of Rory McIlroy is that his press conference makes news when he doesn’t say anything, too. Including this column. Which means it’s time to move on to another player.

2. Jon Rahm

Admission: He has no idea where the LIV stuff is going

Quote: “I have no idea. I wouldn’t be able to tell you. It all depends who you talk to. If you talk to a LIV player, this is going to be great, it’s only going to get better. You talk to people on the other side, in two years they’re going
to be done. I really couldn’t tell you. I have no clue. I really have no clue.

Jon Rahm addressed the media ahead of the 2023 PGA Championship.
Jon Rahm never criticizes LIV — here’s the interesting reason why
By: Dylan Dethier

Our take: Because their pressers came back-to-back, Rahm and McIlroy were a study in contrasts. While McIlroy made it clear he was trying to worry less about the inter-Tour drama, Rahm emphasized just how little he had let it affect him. He gets occasional reminders, of course: he mentioned seeing Dustin Johnson’s Footjoy shoes at the Masters, just one thing that has changed since Johnson left the PGA Tour — and Adidas — in the rearview. But Rahm is close with Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson, among other LIV competitors. He’s stayed out of the fray.

I was particularly appreciative of this take, though, because it rings so true on Tour. Everybody’s eager to make predictions about LIV and the PGA Tour but those predictions are heavily correlated with which side of things players find themselves.

3. Brooks Koepka

Admission: He “choked away” the Masters

Quote: “Yeah, I’d characterize that as a choke,” he said with a grin on the Pardon My Take podcast. “It was pretty bad. I mean, c’mon. You’ve got a four-shot lead. I was playing good and just choked it away. But it’s all right, we’ll figure it out.”

What it means: I’m always slightly reluctant to take stuff out of context from podcasts because they’re so conversational, but Koepka was pretty clear-cut on the subject and seemed eager to get this admission off his chest. Credit to him for avoiding any excuses; he began Sunday with a four-shot lead over Jon Rahm and began the final round up two but closed with 75 to finish T2.

What’s the difference between losing and choking? We’d need Koepka to expand on that to know for sure what he meant. But there’s some distinction between someone else beating you and you beating yourself. Koepka seems to be characterizing his performance as beating himself.

Still, there’s no shame in a silver medal at a major and there’s even less shame when Jon Rahm won gold. Now that Koepka’s healthy it would be silly to ignore him at any major championship going forward. Time will tell if he can close the next opportunity out.

4. Joel Dahmen

Admission: He’s not playing golf at a high enough level

Quote: “I mean, if I was any good at golf right now, I’d feel better…”

What it means: Dahmen was typically self-deprecating after a Tuesday practice round when he joined us for a pre-tournament preview. Dahmen cited his recent record; he finished 2022 with three consecutive top-10s but has four missed cuts and zero top-40s in nine starts in 2023.

Still, Dahmen actually seemed optimistic about his ability to compete at this particular course, predicting an “eclectic leaderboard” and likening it to Brookline, last year’s U.S. Open venue, where he finished T10.

“Everyone can play the golf course this week, which is great,” he said. His caddie Geno Bonnalie cited Dory from Finding Nemo:

Just keep swimming.

You can watch the full interview below.

5. Seth Waugh

Admission: The PGA of America isn’t exactly all in on the USGA’s new rollback proposal.

Quote: “We’re glad they’ve left the recreational game alone because we think now is not a time to make it harder or less fun for [amateurs] while we’re finally growing in a way that we want to grow.

“We’re struggling with bifurcation case, like a lot of folks are, in the sense we think that’s an integral part of the game that we can all test ourselves against others. And frankly, where does it stop and start? Policing another 28,000, [we] would be in the position of kind of being the policemen on that, and we struggle with that a little bit, as well.”

Hmm. Hardly a ringing endorsement! The PGA of America head pledged his general cooperation with the USGA but those specifics suggest there’s still a significant gap between his position and that of golf’s most significant governing body, which has proposed a golf ball rollback for elite competitions. Something’s gotta give going forward — but what?

6. Phil Mickelson

Admission: He’s back to shooting from the hip — and accusing the PGA of America of collusion.

Quote: “Colluding with the Tour and against LIV. 3 years from now who is more likely to be here? Monahan or LIV? We won’t forget. You too Whan.”

What it means: This chippy version of Phil Mickelson had gone dormant for a little while as he spoke softly and pledged cooperation. But like all passionate internet posters, Mickelson couldn’t resist logging back on ahead of this week to stand up for Hy Flyers teammate Cameron Tringale, who wasn’t invited to the PGA. Tringale is higher in the world ranking than some other golfers who were invited to compete but lower in the PGA’s own invite list, which looks at a variety of other factors and involves some level of subjectivity.

The above tweet was later deleted, but plenty of others weren’t — including an additional spat with Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch. “See you next week,” he wrote to Lynch with a winky face. Mickelson has no scheduled time with the media this week but if he speaks after any rounds, we’ll be eager to hear which version of the 2021 champ shows up.

7. Zach Johnson

Admission: It’s tough to evaluate LIV golfers for the Ryder Cup

Quote: “Really difficult for me to judge that. Again, I don’t know the golf courses they’re playing. Never seen them. I’m not there on foot in person.”

What it means: Zach Johnson, this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain, was asked about Dustin Johnson — specifically whether he’s one of the top 12 American golfers at the moment. His answer was revealing in the sense that he seemed to key in on the idea that it’ll be tough to use LIV results to determine form ahead of choosing his Ryder Cup team.

In some ways it makes sense; Johnson’s admission lines up with the OWGR’s assessment that it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

In other ways it’s a slightly odd admission given it’s not as though Johnson is watching every potential Ryder Cup candidate in person on the PGA Tour. I’m sure he gets snippets here and there, but plenty of insights will come from TV and from data. One site that includes LIV golfers, DataGolf, currently has Dustin as the 11th-ranked American. Koepka is slightly further down the list but his Masters T2 has him on some people’s radar, too. Captain Johnson was similarly non-committal about his chances.

“It’s one week, at a major venue, at the Masters Tournament,” he said. “[Koepka] played great. But there’s a lot of golf. There’s still a lot of golf between now and then.”

8. Dustin Johnson

Admission: He tweaked his back earlier this year.

Quote: “I was ready at the start of the season,” he said. “I was going out to play the Saudi International and I tweaked my back right before that.

“So I didn’t hit balls for a few weeks until right before I went and played Mexico. It’s just taken my a while to get back, get the patterns right and just get my body moving right. Developed some bad habits, and it’s just golf; things happen.”

What it means: For further context, Johnson added that he pulled a muscle in his lower back “lifting up a kid, just a bigger kid” but feels good coming off his first victory of the LIV season, which he claimed in Tulsa last week.

9. Jason Day

Admission: He’s going into the PGA without a practice round.

Quote: “I haven’t played the course. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the course. 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.”

What it means: Last week’s PGA Tour winner is going to be flying blind come Thursday. That hardly means he won’t know where to go — unlike when you play a new course, he has a caddie who has been scouting sight lines, landing areas, green speeds and everything else — but it does mean he’ll be a bit behind on course prep.

Still, Day said this isn’t the first time he’s taken this approach. And maybe ignorance is bliss.

10. Cameron Young

Admission: He shaved his trademark beard at his wife’s suggestion.

Quote: “Why? Honestly, my wife just kind of said, why don’t you shave. It wasn’t like — I don’t think I looked terrible. I don’t know. Yeah, I haven’t been clean-shaven probably since our first son was born.”

No real reason. It just happened to be a couple days ago.

What it means: It means Young won’t be wearing a beard at this week’s PGA Championship. I’d still expect him to play well, though. And I’d expect the beard will be back before too long.

“It probably won’t stay this way,” Young said. “It’s too much work.”

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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