Welcome to “Seen & Heard at Southern Hills,” a daily compilation of insights and observations from our PGA Championship coverage team that is available exclusively to InsideGOLF members. Check this space daily — or your inbox, where we’ll also be sharing these dispatches to members in newsletter form — for inside scoops on the year’s second major championship.
Hidden history at Southern Hills
by Sean Zak
This week’s broadcast will explain that Gil Hanse’s Southern Hills renovation is a step back in time. The real history lesson, though, is indoors, hidden to all but the players and event staff. It’s called History Hall.
The space is exactly as it sounds: a hall of history. All the history at this 86-year-old country club. There’s a write-up on the 1942 World War II benefit organized by Bing Crosby. There are photos from the 2014 Trans-Mississippi Am, signed by an 18-year-old named Scheffler. There’s a special section devoted to Babe Zaharias and her Women’s Amateur win in 1946. On the other end, there are the juicy quotes about Tiger Woods in the 2000s.
“He knows he’s going to win. The scary thing is just that maybe he knows that you know he’s going to win.” — Aaron Oberholser
“It’s just like Nicklaus used to do. When Jack walked on the tee, everyone’s knees started shaking.” — Stephen Ames
“How do you get tired of watching Secretariat?” — Roger Maltbie
Three years before he turned pro, Jack Nicklaus played Southern Hills in the 1958 U.S. Open. The $200 he forfeited as an amateur that week is commemorated in History Hall, as is the $8,000 won that same week by champion Tommy Bolt. Bolt’s driver and putter are in there, behind a pane of glass, as is a 4-wood from some guy named Hogan.
Name a golf legend, and they’re on the walls of Southern Hills’ clubhouse. The only issue is, it’s largely off-limits this week. The clubhouse is walled off to everyone but the competitors, caddies and event staff like my new friend Gary, who stands at the entrance to History Hall for 14 hours a day this week. His role is simple: keep players from walking out the door unexpectedly onto the 1st tee box. Dustin Johnson tried his best to get through Monday, with those languid steps, but Gary shooed him away.
Gary’s gig is the ultimate tease. He can crane his neck to catch a glimpse of the action on TV, or press up against a window to see golfers’ backs rotate during tee shots. That’s it. His real treat, besides reading up on golf history at 6 a.m., was seeing Tiger Woods Monday afternoon. Gary greeted Woods with six words: “I enjoy eating at your restaurant.”
Golf history on the walls, and in the flesh!
It’s gotta be the shoes!
by Dylan Dethier
Most weeks on the PGA Tour we talk about yards. This week? We’re more focused on feet. *Ba dum tss*
That’s right, folks. You may have seen that Tiger Woods is still wearing FootJoy shoes. He has a slightly updated version of the white shoes he wore at the Masters but it’s still the same basic idea: These shoes allow him the structure and support to walk 18 holes on a demanding golf course.
It’s clear that the new footwear is still a work in progress; he halted his practice session on Tuesday to adjust a little cushion beneath the toe of the insert in his shoes. But he’s clearly committed to this model, despite being the face of Nike’s golf brand for two-plus decades. But he’s not the only one. Jon Rahm, who was born with a club foot, was asked why he thinks he’s hitting the ball so well this year. He cited his new shoes. This year’s kicks, which are Cuater by TravisMathew, are a “game-changer,” according to Rahm. Either he’s a particularly good salesman or these are a big deal.
“I shouldn’t wear flat shoes like that because I end up with some pain,” he said, remembering last year’s inferior footwear, which did have the added benefit of trotting him to World No. 1. But he said he feels like he can stay more stable this season and maintain consistent ball speed numbers for four consecutive days. His ball-striking numbers actually support that, particularly in his last start, when he won at the Mexico Open.
“I think it’s overlooked what a lot of players do behind the doors,” he added. It was a reminder that behind every swing we see on television — or even on the grounds at Southern Hills — there are a whole series of behind-the-scenes decisions that led to that moment. Professional golf is a results-based business. We’re obsessed with outputs. But there are so many different inputs.
As for why shoes are so important? “For any athlete, the only point of contact we have with the ground is our feet,” Rahm said. “So I think that should be the single most important thing.”
Where players get their groove on
by Luke Kerr-Dineen
The greens are small out at Southern Hills, and the runoffs around them have been consuming players’ thoughts for days.
“It’s kind of like Winged Foot,” Bryson DeChambeau said of Southern Hills on Tuesday. “With a little bit Shinnecock slopes on the greens.”
But unlike Shinnecock, the course is set up so Bermuda rough cuts into the runoff areas. That means when players do miss greens, putting won’t be an option.
“It’s forcing you to chip,” Rory McIlroy says. “It’s forcing you to get a wedge in your hands.” Preparing for that eventuality, players have been spending the early part of their weeks at the 2022 PGA Championship testing and refining their wedge setups.
Wedge maestro Bob Vokey has been busy making the rounds on the range during the early part of the week, at one point stopping to chat with Patrick Cantlay, who, with the help of a Trackman, was testing 14 different wedges. Fourteen. They were all variations of grinds, finishes and bounces for each of his 46-, 52-, 56- and 61-degree models.
Cantlay on this occasion was searching for the sweet spot in his spin numbers and, crucially, how the wedge interacts with the turf — especially important on these grainy Bermuda grass lies. The winner this week will be the player who excels in the fine margins, and on Tuesday at the PGA Championship, Cantlay was deep in the small stuff.