Tiger, Phil, JT, Mito and Tulsa: 50 takeaways from the PGA Championship

Justin Thomas

Justiin Thomas on Sunday at Southern Hills after his victory at the PGA Championship.

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THINKING OF LAFORTUNE PARK GC IN TULSA, Okla. — Before we get into the meat of this PGA Championship week, let’s go back to what happened in Vegas. Not everything can stay there, despite what they say.  

A day after his pre-tournament practice round at Southern Hills, Tiger Woods found himself with a cellphone camera in his face during his Tiger Jam charity poker tournament. And the conversation with the event’s emcee turned to the media coverage in Tulsa. 

“All right, I’m with Tiger,” poker pro Phil Hellmuth began. “Now, Tiger, they have f***ing — this is unbelievable — they have helicopters following you around.” 

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“They did,” Woods said. “They did, for six holes.” 

“And they’re like — what’s happening in Tulsa?” Hellmuth asked.  

“Um, not a lot,” Woods said. And the poker pro and the golf pro laughed.

Was everything said there a little tongue-in-cheek? Yes. Were the stories written excessive? Perhaps. But it reconfirmed something else. Tulsa’s golf is great. LaFortune, noted above, is a fun muni in the heart of town. And its golfers and its golf fans are great. Damn straight they want to know whether you’re coming to town, Tiger. 

We’ll call that takeaway one from the week that was at Southern Hills. Let’s find 49 others. To help, I opened up a text chain with a few Tulsans, and they’ll weigh in too.   

2. Let’s stay with Tiger for a bit. One of the funniest things I read came from TJ Eckert, the sports director of the Tulsa ABC affiliate. As Woods warmed up on the range on Tuesday, he dinked a 6-iron about 80 yards. Why? To Woods’ left was a large screen tracking his distances, and 80 isn’t 200. Eckert said Woods and LaCava laughed afterward. 

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3. I like the super groups, of which Woods was a part of one during rounds one and two, with fellow stars Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. And I don’t. They’re good for TV and hype. But it looked impossible to get a consistent view on the grounds. Of course, that did open up viewing of nearly everyone else. 

4. With that, let’s introduce my buddy Nick. He goes by Gus. Gus is a Tulsan and was there for Saturday’s third round. What’d ya see out there?

“I snagged a ticket for Saturday at the last minute from work,” he texted back. “There were great crowds having a good time even with the colder weather that day. After following the leaders for a few holes, I spent most of my time hanging out at the 1/10 teebox grandstand, which also had a great view of the 9th and 18th green. 

“Even in tougher conditions, it’s unreal seeing how well these guys can drop a shot right where they want it. TV doesn’t pick up how hilly that course really is, but it was set up really well for fans to be able to get right on top of the action. I chatted with a few out of towners who seemed really impressed with the setup and Tulsa in general. People don’t typically expect tree-lined hills when they come here.” 

We’ll get back to Gus in a bit. 

5. I’m not going to try to rank Tiger’s performances all-time today. But what we saw Friday, after a double bogey on 11 dropped him below the cutline, was as good of golf golf as you’re going to see. He was playing on one leg, which manifested itself a day later. And he shot two-under over his final seven holes when he needed to. You know why now he won there in ’07. And 14 other majors. 

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6. Saturday. From the highs of Friday. To seeing him stumbling just outside of a bunker on the range ahead of his third round — and it not getting much better from there. Does he return? Yeah, I think so. But I don’t say that confidently. He made the cut at a major. And the leg should get better. But how much so? Can the most competitive golfer ever stomach another Saturday happening? 

7. But if you ask Shaun Norris, Woods’ playing partner on Saturday, the day wasn’t all bad. “You know, he’s such a phenomenal player,” he said afterward. “You feel so sorry for him having to go through this. But then again, you also see the type of person that he is, that he grinds through everything and pushes himself, even all the pain and that. It’s not easy to see a guy like him have to go through that and struggle like that. He’s swinging it nicely, and I think he’ll be back once he gets back to normal health and sorts out all the problems.”

8. What did Norris and Woods talk about? “Our kids,” Norris said. “I mean, how Charlie is doing, what he’s been up to and becoming a teenager. I said to him, ‘My son is only 3½ years old, so I’ll experience the same thing in a couple years’ time.”

9. A lot of talented folks wrote about Woods, what happened this week, the feelings around it and what could come next. This piece from GOLF’s Dylan Dethier was excellent.  

10. As was this, from ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg. 

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11. On to Justin Thomas, your winner. It’s here where we’ll note that not one of our staffers picked him to win ahead of time. Let’s move on. 

12. How could we not have? Every gambler says this, I know. But Southern Hills was asking creativity out of its champion more than anything. And JT, more than anyone, likes to paint outside of the lines. The 67 he shot on Friday, with the Oklahoma winds blowing his morning wave up, won him the tournament. 

13. Remember the moment on 18 on Sunday, when, after parring the hole, Thomas took his hat off, looked up and brushed his right hand through his hair? He said afterward that was the first time he had looked at a scoreboard during the round. If he was telling the truth, that must have been a helluva sight to see.   

14. Three things notably influenced play — the bunker sand, the wind and the cold. Let’s start with the sand. It was more pebbly than your normal Tour mix. And GOLF’s Zephyr Melton did a nice job explaining the effects; essentially, the ball might not come off the face consistently. Or, in other words, it was a hazard. Crazy.  

15. Thomas summed it up well: “Some of those bunker shots that are generally pretty easy or guaranteed up-and-downs definitely are not the case this week.”

16. Music break! CBS had tunes during their coverage, and I want to too. My mix will be better, though. A sound that was born in the area is called Red Dirt, and an author of its history is my friend Josh. (You can buy his book here!) He calls the sound “folk music with a hint of swampy blues.” I also asked him for a few of his favorite songs, and here’s one. 

17. On to the wind. Couple things here. On Thursday and Friday, it blew in one direction across the course. On Saturday and Sunday, it blew the opposite way. How do we know? On 13 on Thursday, Jon Rahm popped a drive 401 yards. On 13 on Saturday? 288. 

18. The wind also was blowing upward of 40 mph on Friday morning, and it forced the PGA not to cut the greens as a mode of defense. (Golf balls would blow off greens if they had.) Only, the winds went away on Friday afternoon. And it created a wave scoring discrepancy. According to stats guru Justin Ray, 22 players were under par through 36 — 17 of them played on Friday afternoon. 

19. As for the temps, they dropped about 30 degrees from Friday to Saturday, and there were two ways to look at it. Way one. “I mean, typically I want it to be really hot,” said Webb Simpson, who shot a 65. “But you know, I feel like I’ve grown in the area of kind of coming out and not getting too ahead of myself and be patient out there, kind of grind it out. I love the Open Championship for that reason because it’s kind of in your face all day. Now, if I had my choice, it would be a lot warmer, but I think today what I did well was I just kind of adapted to the conditions, and you know, kind of made a mental note. Tried not to complain about anything. Every player today is going to get a bad gust and probably a good gust, so I just try to roll with it.”

20. Way two. “Pitiful golf on a pitiful setup on an overrated golf course,” Patton Kizzire wrote on his Instagram story, before deleting it. He shot a 78.  

21. Let’s talk about the player who was leading the tournament through 73 holes. If you were to argue that the most memorable moment of the entire week was Mito Pereira talking both on television and to reporters, after coughing up the lead on the final hole, I wouldn’t argue with you. 

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22. “Walking down on 18, just a little bit of both, like ashamed to be in that position that had — maybe that was my second shot there. But on the other side, just happy to be there. I mean, I finished third in my first major this year. I think I have to really just hold to that.” Let’s hope Pereira gets another chance. I think he will. 

23. Davis Riley will win a major. He has one of the most fundamentally sound swings I’ve seen.  

24. Cameron Young will win a major. He has that look. 

25. Will Zalatoris will win a major. Maybe in less than a month. 

26. Golf balls were hitting more than golf clubs. Aaron Wise got “domed” — that’s the word his playing partner, Joel Dahmen, used. ESPN reporter Sage Steele was hit by a Jon Rahm tee shot. But this is the wildest — a fan was filming (!) when a Rory McIlroy drive hit him. 

27. Rory will win a major, too. Maybe in less than two months. 

28. Rory also had a memorable thought on Tiger after Saturday. “Yeah, look, he’s the ultimate pro. Looking at him yesterday, I wouldn’t have — if that would have been me, I would have been considering pulling out and just going home, but Tiger is different and he’s proved he’s different, and yeah, it was just a monumental effort.”

29. Eighteen bucks is a lot to pay for a beer. Or not. “It wouldn’t bother me. I’d probably still buy them,” Shane Lowry said. 

30. Shane, you win quote of the week. Here are a few other gems. Brooks Koepka completely understood how the Vegas sportsbook works, when told that he was going off at 40-1. “It’s about how money goes. More people that bet, the lower my odds are going to be. Obviously not that many people are betting, which is fine. I can’t control it. It doesn’t matter to me.”

31. Music break! Josh says this is another Red Dirt must-listen. 

32. Jordan Spieth talked joy: “Yeah, I think there’s moments where I can experience joy. I’m trying to do more and more of that. It was a grind for so long that you kind of forget a little bit about the kid in you and the joy and stuff. … It’s really fun to contend. It may not look like on my face that I’m sitting there in such joy, but that’s what I love to do. I love the grind. I love the frustrations. I love the drivable par-4. I need to step up and hit this cut right onto this green, like last week on Sunday on 14. And I hit that shot, and I’m just pumped up over there. I may not be smiling and pointing at the camera and being like: Did you see that? No. But inside I’m sitting there going, that was really fun, that was really cool.”

33. Bubba Watson talked trust after his course-record 63 on Friday. “Forget the golf course. It’s about trusting yourself. If you don’t trust yourself out there, it doesn’t matter if you have the perfect yardage, the perfect club. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t feel like you can hit a shot or you’re second-guessing that shot, then it doesn’t matter what golf course it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s at home with your buddies. Doesn’t matter if it’s here. Doesn’t matter if it’s the John Deere in a few weeks. You’re just trying to trust yourself.

“If you have a solid mindset, you’ll be able to play. Any of these guys out here are good enough to play. That’s why they’re here in the field. So you’ve just got to trust it. It’s not about if it’s the right club, the right wind, all those things. There has to be trust in your golf game, and if you don’t trust, tomorrow I could shoot 80 because I didn’t really trust it. I didn’t really trust what I was doing. I started doubting, started looking at the leaderboard. Who knows tomorrow.”

34. At the 2001 U.S. Open, also at Southern Hills, Stewart Cink missed a 21-inch putt that would have put him in a playoff. On Saturday, after rounds of 69, 68 and 71, the now-49-year-old was in contention again. “It feels like a comfortable place for me to play, but the memory — I have one memory, that’s missing a short putt on the last hole that cost me from getting into a playoff. It took me a while to get over, and it’s 20 years down the road almost. It’s a distant memory now, and I’ve got that monkey off my back thankfully.” 

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35. Another Tulsa buddy, Jack, was at Southern Hills on Friday. “What struck me most was the energy in the gallery & buzz around town!” he texted. “Definitely got a bit more vocal & direct as the drunkenness of patrons grew! The elevation change from hole to hole & shot to shot made every shot & putt uncomfortable. So many damn bunkers too!! 88 I think.”

36. He went with another Tulsa friend, Arthur. “I thought the turnout and support for the event was very good,” he texted. “Everyone around town was talking about it. The lady who cuts my hair and my receptionist don’t play golf but were excited to be in attendance. Tulsa is like America’s biggest little city, so it was the place to be and be seen this weekend. The course was beautiful. I’ve never played it but enjoyed seeing how they set it up for a major. Enjoyed watching the golfers be human, i.e., sneak a cigarette, sneak off to the Porta-John.  Impressed the PGA/Southern Hills can build a town on a country club and have it run efficiently for a week. There was lots of orange in the crowd in support of their OSU Cowboys. The locals were pleased the golfers were able to get a true taste of Oklahoma weather where the seasons change in a day. Summer conditions for Thursday/Friday and taste of fall in May on Saturday/Sunday.”

37. I also asked my Oklahoma crew to tell me about the golf scene. Here’s Josh: “Oklahoma golf generally features rolling fairways and courses designed to play both with and against the prevailing south wind that blows six days out of seven in Oklahoma. Hazards and bunkers usually come into play more than trees, and the design approach is derived from Scotland, since Perry Maxwell was the state’s first notable designer.” 

38. Here’s Gus: “Oklahoma has — to me — a great golf culture. Lots of courses around Tulsa that range from top-end country clubs to well loved munis. I’ve played LaFortune Park (county-owned muni) more times than I can count — it’s a decent price, well maintained and right in the middle of town. They’ve also got an 18-hole par 3 that’s lit at night for that after-work weeknight fix. There are some city courses that have great bones and just need some love to really shine. It’s nice that there’s an option for whatever your budget and skill level are. Good pros too that have really helped my sorry game come along — shout-out to Jason Mink at LaFortune for that.”

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39. Here’s Jack: “Right now as busy as it’s ever been! Tee sheets are packed! Just in the Tulsa area, we’ve lost 3 courses in the last 6 yrs! Love being able to play almost year round!”

40. Here’s Arthur: “Tulsa has several municipal courses and they stay very busy. LaFortune Park, a local muni was booked out of tee times for PGA weekend two months ahead of time.”

41. There was also one Oklahoma native in the PGA field, and if there’s such a thing as a major major, this was it to Talor Gooch. “Yeah, I mean, where do I even start, you know, it’s — when you think about Southern Hills, the luster that it has for, I don’t know how many — do you know if there’s any other Oklahoma kids here? Like born and bred?”

“You’re the only one,” a reporter said.

“That makes it even that much, you know, more special, right. And I mean, how many kids did we know growing up that were studs, right. So we know that the tip of mountain to get here, it’s not easy. I don’t take any of it for granted because I’ve seen so many kids that were so good throughout the years that haven’t gone to this point. As humbly put as possible, I’m just grateful that I’m here.”

42. Final music break! Another Josh Red Dirt track. 

43. The PGA was not without its lighter moments. Abraham Ancer showed he can somehow balance a spinning ball marker in his hand.  

44. Aniban Lahiri showed he was able to get in practice while holding his newborn boy, Avyaan. 

45. And John Daly showed he can shoot 72, visit Hooters, visit the casino and shoot 76. 

46. Some Phil Mickelson thoughts. At the start of the week, everyone was asked about the embattled, nowhere-to-be found star. By Saturday, he was brought up once, for about two minutes, toward the start of CBS’ first broadcast of the tournament, and then he wasn’t talked about again. Which I kind of think the week would have gone had he played. It’s wrong what he said. But, for better or worse, most people move on. 

47. When does he play next? I wrote about that question here. I still think there’s a chance he never does. It may just come down to when he thinks his game is right. He’s not going to come back, answer the questions — and go home after two rounds. 

48. Regardless, Mary Mickelson, Phil’s mom, says her boy is doing fine, according to USA Today.  

49. Mickelson’s former caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, carrying the bag of this year’s champion was … a thing. 

50. A year ago, we were one day into Mickelson’s reign as PGA champion. 

A day after the final round of the PGA, the “Brooks eye roll” video came out. What a year. 

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