It’s been a few weeks since the exciting conclusion of the 96th PGA Championship, and I still hear spirited talk of that memorable Sunday evening. The drama of that late-Sunday finish will long be remembered, but the entire week was filled with intrigue. I was fortunate to be on-location as an announcer for CBS Sports, and was able to follow an action-packed major from inside the ropes. I decided it was worthwhile to crack open my PGA Championship notebook and share a handful of unique memories from the year’s final major.
It was early on Tuesday morning and my rental car and I were learning the route from Louisville to the television compound at Valhalla GC. It was a 30 minute drive, allowing me time to listen to local radio and get a feel for the area. I knew Louisville was a huge sporting town: the Derby, the Wildcats, the Cardinals, Louisville Slugger and Muhammad Ali…but I fully expected to hear a local take on the PGA Championship’s return to Valhalla. The opening story? An increase in Bigfoot sightings. Seriously.
From the crowd reaction, you would’ve thought Butch Harmon was coaching a Sasquatch on the range…but the buzz was growing thanks to another curious legend. Rumors of a Tiger sighting spread like wildfire late Wednesday morning and at 2:15 EST, Mr. Woods indeed made his way to the first tee for a practice round with buddy Steve Stricker, Davis Love III and Harris English. After tweaking his surgically repaired back just days earlier at the WGC Bridgestone Event in Ohio, Tiger’s presence at Valhalla was very uncertain. Love him or loathe him, nobody impacts a golf event like Woods. You could literally feel the excitement radiating through the gallery. I was fortunate to join the former World #1 inside the ropes and get an up-close look at his current swing and his range of motion. His position at impact looked great (see photo), but his backswing was abbreviated…and so was his week. 74 -74 = a missed cut, just his 4th MC in a major since turning professional.
It was Thursday night in the lobby restaurant of my downtown Louisville hotel. I was enjoying an impromptu dinner with some fellow CBS announcers when the energetic waitress informed us that our hotel was haunted. She then offered a post-dinner tour of the basement, complete with a detailed explanation of an unsolved murder and subsequent decades of ghost & guest interaction. Several bottles of wine, ghost stories and a spooked group of sports announcers…you can imagine the commentary.
Squeegees & Plywood:
I’ve covered major championships that were heavily affected by weather, but this was ridiculous. Intermittent downpours late in the week and even during the final round, threatened to halt play and extend the championship through Monday. Barrels of rain were dumped from the sky. The local Home Depot surely hit the jackpot, since the entire CBS compound was paved with 4x8 sheets of plywood. I want to again applaud the efforts of the grounds crew and the hundreds of volunteers with synchronized squeegees who worked through the elements and kept Valhalla playable. Even NFL Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swan dropped to a knee and helped towel off the turf on the first tee.
The Dark Knight:
The squeegee team could divert rivers, but they couldn’t stop the sun from setting. Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were fighting admirably, but Rory’s biggest concern down the stretch may have been darkness. As the broadcasters mentioned, it was far darker than the TV cameras indicated…it was seriously dark. But thanks to the resolve & creative thinking of Chief Championship Officer Kerry Haigh and his crew, the final results were posted Sunday night. McIlroy wins his fourth & second straight major. Flashbulbs illuminated the new dominant golf superstar as he hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy.
As a proud PGA member, I may be a bit biased…but I truly feel that the 2014 PGA Championship had it all. A great champion, incredible drama, and record-breaking ratings & ticket sales. Congratulations to the PGA of America for conducting a memorable championship and for keeping it fun with initiatives like the charity long drive contest and the “Choose the hole location” program. The PGA also made a major impact on the Louisville community with a “Blessings in a Backpack” partnership and various fundraising operations that truly made a difference.
Bigfoot, Tiger, ghosts…Rory, Rickie & Phil…wow, what a lineup! Whistling Straits has a tough act to follow in 2015.