Bernd Wiesberger stepped to the first tee, and the crowd started to laugh. On a video screen a few yards away was a 2017 clip of the European Tour’s Awkward Reporter series, and the awkward reporter was asking Dustin Johnson questions meant for — Zach Johnson.
“So, uh, thank you very much for joining us,” he started. “You’re a two-time major winning champion. You’ve won the Masters. You’ve won the Open. What’s next for Zach Johnson?”
“Dustin Johnson, bud,” Dustin Johnson said.
“Sorry,” the awkward reporter said.
“Dustin Johnson,” Dustin Johnson said again.
If Wiesberger reacted, it was but a blink. He grabbed his scorecard and fist-bumped the first tee announcer.
Before he hit a shot, before he played at one of the most prestigious tournaments on the European Tour, before he wrestled, at the age of 35, to hold onto an automatic spot for his first Ryder Cup, this is how Wiesberger’s day started at the BMW PGA Championship. With confusing Dustin Johnson for Zach. He says he had never felt how he did on Sunday on a golf course before, and ain’t that the truth.
Of course, you know how this ends if you look at a leaderboard today — Wiesberger didn’t win, and he did. He shot even par — three birdies and three bogeys. He’d tie for 20th. And he’d finish just high enough to represent Europe next week at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. But his route from stroke 1 to stroke 72 was a trip on Sunday.
Like his tee shot on 1.
“First tee was actually the best I’ve felt all day,” Wiesberger said afterward. “It’s strange. You know, obviously you get tested out there and you find a diverse situation, and there was a lot of it out there. I just tried to react as quick as I could and tried to not get ahead of myself too much.
“But obviously head spinning every now and then.”
Some context here. Wiesberger’s won 10 times around the globe (and narrowly missed an 11th two weeks ago, when he hit into the water on the final hole, double-bogeyed and finished a stroke back of a win). But to play in a Ryder Cup? And to play on a global stage? And to become the first Austrian to do so? And to maybe become a household name at home and possibly beyond? Head spinning. Obviously.
On 1, after hitting the fairway off the tee, Wiesberger birdied. On 3, he parred on a 10-footer. He bogeyed the par-5 4th after hitting into trees. He bogeyed the 7th. He missed a birdie putt inches to the right of the hole on 11. Ahead of the BMW, European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington spoke of wanting “a bit of drama at the end,” and Wiesberger was following captain’s orders.
“Thankfully I’ve laid the groundwork in the first three days because today was something different,” Wiesberger said. “… I’ve never felt like this on a golf course before. It was very high pressure. Normally when you play for tournament wins, you’re excited and you’re anxious on the first tee and you kind of improve into it as the round goes on.
“Today, I never, never let off and I just had to take deep breaths for every shot and I guess that’s what it means to be able to play for a Ryder Cup Team. I mean, I don’t think I have to mention, it’s been a lifelong goal for me to be part of a European Team and I’m very proud to have just done enough to get into that team and go to Whistling Straits in a couple weeks.”
Finally, on the par-5 12th, he two-putted for birdie. On 13, he birdied again. It gave him a cushion ahead of the par-5 17th, where, from less than 100 yards out, he pitched over the green and bogeyed.
On 18, Wiesberger parred. He saluted the crowd, took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair.
And “the guys at the end told me it’s good enough,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve been in situations where I’ve played in big events and throughout 18 holes, I’ve never felt like this, ever,” Wiesberger said. “It was quite a roller coaster. Not only from the state of my game today, but sometimes you really have to grind it out. I have no idea if at some point I was out of it or what went on.
“But I just tried to grind on every hole, really, and standing here now making an automatic qualification feels like a big relief. I’m very proud to have achieved that with people not only that work with me right now, but from basically when I started my golf.”
Four or so hours after he teed off on 1 to laughter, Wiesberger could smile, too.
“Yeah, I’m going to probably need a couple days off, but I’m going to be as ready as I can for the captain and the team.”