Think Watching Golf is Boring? Not at Valhalla

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I used to think so too.

That was, of course, before I learned how to play, and play better, and study the form and technique of people who know what they’re doing on a golf course. And at this week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla, the best players in the world are working their magic.

The pros are good. At Monday’s practice round, I probably saw two dozen shots taken by various pros. They never miss. At least not by much. I saw Miguel Angel Jiminez, the Spaniard famous for smoking a stogie during his round, fire a couple of darts from a hundred yards within 5 feet of a hole. Then he put a tee shot on a 210-yard par 3 within 10 feet. All the while strolling along, smoking, as a woman carried an umbrella for him to block the sun.

All the pros I saw seemed at ease. But they were working. Because everyone here wants to win. The prize isn’t just money, it’s immortality. As I learned during last week’s Rusty Satellite interview with Larry Sinclair, the field will be playing in front of the largest crowd in PGA history, with some 250,000 people walking around the course.

The crowd was relatively sparse on Monday, though there were plenty of folks in expansive (and air-conditioned) PGA Merchandise Shop. And everyone is talking golf. The story lines: Rory McIlory is the hottest player in the game, having won the Open and last week’s Firestone tournament. But Sergio Garcia (perhaps Sham to McIlroy’s Secretariat?) has finished second both times. People like the chances for Rickie Fowler, who has enjoying a great year but hasn’t won a major. That’s who national sportswriter Pat Forde likes. Forde is a guest on this week’s Rusty Satellite Show.

Miguel Angel Jiminez on Monday at Valhalla
Miguel Angel Jiminez on Monday at Valhalla

My sentimental choice to win is Kenny Perry, who graduated in my class at WKU and, like me, is celebrating his 54th birthday this month.

And always there’s Tiger Woods. As of Monday night, it’s still not known whether Woods will be here. After pulling out of Sundays’ final round at Firestone with an injury, he called a press conference for Tuesday. But it’s been postponed.

In the media tent Monday, local legend Bobby Nichols was holding a press conference. He won this tournament 50 years ago in Columbus, and this week a mural was erected in his honor along the Watterson expressway. Paul Hornung was there as part of the proceedings.

The great thing about such a big event, happening right here, is that you can run into anyone, at any time. Right here in Louisville.

PGATee
Seeing the pros up close is what it’s all about for golf fans at practice rounds

The truth is that watching a practice round isn’t all that exciting. There’s no scoreboard, no scoring, nothing at stake. But it can have its moments, in the same way that watching sluggers like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa take batting practice was exciting. That’s because you’re watching the best athletes in the world perform in their specialty, feats you can’t imagine.

Most fans don’t know most of the players not named McIlroy, Mickelson, Garcia, or Tiger. But it doesn’t really matter.

You might think the gap between your game and Rory McIlroy’s couldn’t be THAT wide. t watched the final round from Akron on TV Sunday, as McIlroy overcame a three-stroke deficit to edge Garcia by 3 strokes. But he averaged more than 300 yards off the tee. The pros hit wedges 170 yards. They hit it out of sand trips without effort, and make routine putts that would leave you jumping around on the green.

That “These Guys are Good” campaign is truth in advertising. They’re here this week at Valhalla. You don’t want to miss it.