Tuesday notebook: Notes, nuggets from PGA Championship
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Written by Staff @PGATOUR
Rory McIlroy on first impressions of Southern Hills
TULSA, Okla. – Count Rory McIlroy among the interested consumers of the copious preview content that precedes every major championship.
McIlroy had never played Southern Hills before this week, not that a previous appearance would have helped much. The course underwent a dramatic renovation by Gil Hanse since it last hosted a professional tournament. To get ready for this week, McIlroy watched flyover videos from online outlets like Golf Digest and The Fried Egg to get a feel for the course. He went so far as seeking highlights from last year’s Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
“Just did a little bit of digging online, and it sort of seemed pretty apparent that this is an approach shot and short game -- like iron play and chipping is going to be really important this week,” said McIlroy, who also shared the videos with his caddie, Harry Diamond.
What once was a traditional major test, with thick Bermudagrass rough lining narrow fairways and greens, has been reimagined. The fairways have been widened and short grass is more prevalent around the greens. The new design fits modern trends while also harkening back to the Golden Age of course architecture. After playing practice rounds, McIlroy did say that the course seems wider than it appeared on video and that, despite the plethora of short grass around the greens, putting from off the green is often not an option, requiring players to execute touchy chip shots from tight lies to a putting surface that sits above them.
“I think he’s done a wonderful job with it,” McIlroy said about Hanse. “Love the green complexes. I love that he gives you options off the tee.
“I think you're going to see a lot of different strategies this week, guys hitting driver where maybe other guys aren't and vice versa. It's a really good track. I really enjoyed playing it yesterday, and I think it's going to be a wonderful test this week.”
Jon Rahm’s ballstriking stats this season are downright impressive.
He leads the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and greens in regulation. He’s also fifth in driving distance and 14th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green.
What is the key to his impressive ballstriking? New shoes.
Rahm, who was born with a club foot on his right leg, said that the new shoes give him increased stability and allowed him to swing harder without fear of losing control. He called them a “game-changer.”
“They're a lot more comfortable, … and I think it's allowed me to be a little bit more stable and up my ball speed and my swing speed without being concerned,” Rahm said. He’s averaging an additional 7.7 yards off the tee from last year, averaging 316.7 yards this season.
“I shouldn't wear flat shoes … because I end up with some pain,” Rahm said. “I think it's overlooked what a lot of players do behind the doors. For any athlete, the only point of contact we have with the ground is our feet, so I think that should be the single most important thing.”
Rahm arrives at Southern Hills on a winning note, claiming the Mexico Open at Vidanta in his last PGA TOUR start. It is his seventh PGA TOUR win and his first since winning the U.S. Open. He is seventh in the FedExCup with five top-10s in 11 starts this season.
Scottie Scheffler is one of the rare players in the PGA field who’s hoisted a trophy at Southern Hills. He won the 2015 Big 12 Conference Championship here wile a freshman at the University of Texas, shooting 280 to win by two shots over teammate Gavin Hall. The two players who tied for third, Michael Gellerman and Clement Sordet, were seven shots back of Scheffler.
Jordan Niebrugge, who finished T6 in that year’s Open Championship at St. Andrews, finished eight back, as did future PGA TOUR player Kramer Hickok. Two more future TOUR players, Beau Hossler and Mito Pereira, finished nine back.
Scheffler also shot a 64 in a recent pre-PGA practice round. He’s declared Southern Hills one of his favorite courses, though he doesn’t remember where or when he gave that sound byte.
“I didn't feel like Gil (Hanse) made any massive changes to the course and it still played fairly similar to how I remembered it other than a lot of the run-offs are a bit different,” Scheffler said Tuesday. “But outside of that, it still feels pretty much the same.”
Players haven’t been beating down his door for advice on Southern Hills, however.
“This is a golf course you can show up for the first time and know exactly where to hit the ball; there's not really many tricks to it,” Scheffler said. “You've just got to show up and hit good golf shots and stay in position because once you get out of position this golf course will punish you in a hurry.”
It’s not like he needs any advantages, anyway. He arrives at Southern Hills as the top player in the world ranking and FedExCup and winner of four titles in this calendar year, including the Masters. He finished T15 at last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson.
Brooks Koepka is at Southern Hills after withdrawing from last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson, though his arrival Tuesday was a bit later than expected.
Koepka had to push back his press conference an hour after the keys were locked inside his rental car.
“I don't know how the keys locked inside the car,” Koepka said. “It boggles me. I didn't think a car was supposed to do that, but apparently it does.”
After last week’s withdrawal – for which Koepka did not offer a reason except “to just make sure that I'm ready for this week” – the PGA will be Koepka’s first start since he missed the cut at the Masters. He took a few weeks off at the Masters before getting to work on his putting, which he felt was the culprit for his second consecutive MC at the Masters.
“That was really what let me down at Augusta,” he said Tuesday.
Koepka won the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championship before finishing runner-up to Phil Mickelson last year at Kiawah Island. It was one of three top-six finishes in the majors last year.
Anirban Lahiri is already a winner this week. His wife gave birth to a baby Monday and, with mother and child healthy, Lahiri said he was headed to Southern Hills on Tuesday evening to continue his strong season. Lahiri has risen more than 200 spots in the world ranking after a runner-up finish at THE PLAYERS Championship. He has finished in the top 15 in four of his last five PGA TOUR starts and is coming off a T6 finish at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Lahiri is 47th in the FedExCup after finishing no better than 118th in each of the last three seasons. The two-time Presidents Cup participant is 12th in the standings for this year’s International Team after missing the previous Presidents Cup.