Olympia Fields was the star of the show last week. It showed us how every PGA and US Open course should play in the future – tough but fair.
Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm have both spent time at the top of the World Rankings this year. It was more than fitting that the two locked horns in a wild finish to the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. You could not ask for a better set up going into the Tour Championship at East Lake.
Gigabytes of internet space are already occupied describing Dustin’s double-breaking downhiller to tie on the 18th and Rahm’s 66-footer that broke a good ten feet to win the playoff. Both putts were jump-out-of-your-chair amazing.
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My takeaway from the Ali-Frazier-type finish was how perfectly Olympia Fields North Course played the entire week.
Let’s be honest. Understanding the math behind the FedEx Cup has been the biggest obstacle in getting excited about it. No one really understands it, they just know you want to be at the Tour Championship.
Why? The winner at East Lake gets $15 million. That’ll get anyone’s attention.
Other than a spot at the Tour Championship, the tournaments leading up to that event have historically felt lacking in drama given the payout.
Olympia Fields put that to rest this past week.
Simply put, the course played like a Major. The course already has a storied history and sterling reputation. That was never the issue. But we’ve seen the PGA and USGA bungle course set-ups at equally regarded tracks.
What made the BMW set-up so good? It was fair, balanced, nuanced, and tough. I hope the USGA took copious notes.
The course was long, but not to the point of punishing shorter hitters. The greens were fast but true. Pin placements demanded strategy and execution not just on the approach, but off the tee as well. The rough was not knee-deep. It was just punishing enough that players couldn’t get the adequate spin to hit tight pins.
That combination of conditions created a setting where every phase of a player’s game was tested. It was riveting to watch the players think their way through a round, not just bomb and gouge.
In the end, the two best golfers in the world emerged and produced the best 20 minutes of Tour golf this year.
I have to think Olympia Fields, which last hosted a US Open in 2003 when Jim Furyk won and last hosted a PGA in 1961, just shot up the list of future Major venues. In particular, it would be a perfect venue for a PGA Championship. It will be 10 years before there is an opening on the schedule, but I’d tell them to put Olympia Fields in there right now. It was that good.
An argument can be had about which is more fun to watch – a tournament where the winner is 30-under or one where the winner is 3-under. I’ll take the latter. The BMW produced just five golfers under par for the week. The winner, Jon Rahm, was 6-over after the first two rounds and still made the cut. He went 66-64 over the weekend to finish at 4-under.
This shows a course can be tough but “gettable”. Rahm’s 64 on Sunday was arguably the best round played on Tour this year and a full nine shots better than his Thursday round. That’s indicative of a great player and a perfect course set-up that rewards good shots and punishes bad ones.
As the stakes get higher, it’s thrilling to see the best players in the world rise to the top. It’s even more impressive when the courses on which they play rise to a championship level, too.