Time to Start Keeping Score at Valhalla

After three mostly uneventful days at Valhalla, watching the best golfers in the world make the game look easy, it’s time to get down to business, starting Thursday morning. The PGA, the organization running the tournament, does a great job of feeding the media horde here (with stories, and food). But there’s only so many ways to manufacture news stories — and three days is about the limit without actual competition.

Tiger-Mania: “The business just got better at the PGA.” That was the comment WHAS-TV’s Kent Spencer made to me as we marveled at how the atmosphere at Valhalla changed about Noon Wednesday, when the PGA let it be known that Tiger Woods was on his way and would be playing a practice round at 2.

Some TV media camped out for two hours in hopes of getting video of Tiger pulling in to the club and parking his car. Later, on the Golf Channel, it was like the video of Tiger driving into the parking lot and getting out of his car was breaking news, worthy of repeated showings.

Ticket-buyers were drawn to every one of Tiger’s steps, forming the largest group I’ve ever seen staring at a man warming up on the range. The gallery lining the first hole was 3-4 deep on both sides of the fairway for 400 yards. No one in this sport commands as much fan and media attention.

On the range, Tiger was the  center of attention
On the range, Tiger was the center of attention

Up until the Noon announcement, the whereabouts and plans of Tiger were the event’s biggest mystery. Even with Tuesday’s Long Drive Contest, which generated some interest, it seemed the Valhalla crowd was acting more like it was at a Catholic picnic, more intent on socializing than watching golf, especially since the casual golf fan only recognizes a handful of the top players.

Tuesdays with Perry: The obvious sentimental choice to do well among the galleries was Kentucky’s own Kenny Perry, who was given a special invitation by the PGA to play in what he concedes will likely be his last major. At his press conference, Perry spoke of breaking his normal routine, babysitting grandkids onTuesdays, to play a practice round at Valhalla.

He’s certainly my favorite. Perry graduated from WKU in my class, 1982, and is celebrating his 54th birthday this month (his is Sunday, mine the 28th). He talked about the challenges in keeping his body going, taking Glucosamine and Fish Oil, overcoming knee surgery, and trying to compete with players 20 years younger. He sounded sort of like my racquetball buddies describing aches and pains and how hard it is to keep going physically.

Perry talked about his joy at getting to play at Valhalla
Perry talked about his joy at getting to play at Valhalla

“I’m taking some things that seem to have helped my knees. I’ve had two knee surgeries, one on each knee, and what I struggle with is uneven lies. That hurts me more than anything now,” he said. Later he mentioned the challenge of keeping his weight down and eating right. Just like the rest of us.

Watson’s Picks: There’s more on the line than simply the $1.8 million purse the winner gets on Sunday. At Tom Watson’s press conference, the Ryder Cup captain spoke of the challenges for players trying to qualify for nine guaranteed spots on the Ryder Cup team that will compete overseas later this year. Several pros have a shot at making the team with a high finish here.

And he announced some news — that he’d picked Steve Stricker as a Vice Captain. That could be good news for Tiger, who won’t qualify for the team and must hope Watson picks him with one of his three Captain’s picks. Tiger and Stricker are friends, and most think he could have some influence on Watson’s choices when he picks three players in September.

Wanna Wannamker?: I admire the PGA’s marketing expertise for coming up with the concept of the Wannamaker ticket. It’s a higher-priced ticket that includes admission to an air-conditioned tent, where they serve food and drink and have TVs. The PGA charges quite a premium for the privilege.

Great form hitting a golf ball at Slugger Museum
Great form hitting a golf ball at Slugger Museum

Gotta be the Glove: Hillerich & Bradsby seems to have struggled in the last decade or so to compete in the crowded field of golf equipment suppliers. Its doesn’t even make its once-popular PowerBilt brand of clubs any longer. But the company has a glove division called Bionic, and hosted a party at Slugger Museum to introduce its golf glove to the international media gathered in Louisville.

At the event, there was a golf pro there to evaluate swings, so I teed it up right on Main Street.