In ESPN’s pre-championship media call for the 104th PGA Championship, Curtis Strange was quick to mention that he thinks the biggest story next week is Jordan Spieth and his quest for the career Grand Slam. It would eclipse everything else.
“We talk a lot about Rory at the Masters, and here we are, there’s one guy that can do it here in the PGA, and that’s Jordan Spieth,” Curtis Strange said.
However, second on the list among the ESPNers was the year’s most successful player to date, Scottie Scheffler, who, right now, is the only player this year who could win the Grand Slam in a season.
“Scottie played so well at the Masters, and he’s been so dominant, and he likes this golf course,” Strange added. “If he does this, we’ll certainly pick up the volume on that conversation in the coming months.”
Everyone in golf knows the Grand Slam is exceedingly hard. It might be impossible as no one has completed it. Jordan Spieth got close when he won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015 and had a shot at the British Open. But he made errors and was outplayed by Zach Johnson which ended Spieth’s run at history.
However, what has been doable is the career grand slam, which is so hard that just five golfers in history have completed it: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. It would not be a bad club to join.
(There was, of course, the unforgettable Tiger Slam, where Woods’ victories started with a US Open and ended with the Masters. As he pointed out, he had all four trophies on the mantel at the same time, and no one else has done that, ever.)
The chance to achieve the career Grand Slam is certainly a part of next week for Spieth. It is a lot of pressure.
“The biggest thing is, pressure is what each person makes it,” North said.
Some golfers, he noted, can’t function under pressure while others use it positively and channel it to help them play better. In the past, Spieth enjoyed the pressure. Does he still?
Strange thinks pressure is really anticipation, and he should know as he is one of two golfers in recent history who had a chance to win three U.S. Opens in a row. (The other was Brooks Koepka, who had a chance for three US Opens and three PGAs in a row.)
Can Jordan Spieth complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship next week?
Jordan Spieth, according to Strange, has more to look forward to at the PGA Championship than anyone else in the field.
When it comes to Scheffler, Strange doesn’t think he has any added pressure at the PGA, but if he wins, then the grand slam talk with begin and that will create it going forward.
Since Southern Hills was last used for a major in 2007, there are going to be many who have seen it and many who have not.
Certainly, Southern Hills has some peculiarities that are different from other major championship venues. First of all, there’s the Bermuda grass, as Andy North was quick to point out.
“We’re talking Bermuda, and Bermuda rough doesn’t have to be really deep to make it a problem,” North noted. “So, if it ends up being three inches or so and the guy puts it in the rough there, it’s going to be hard to get the ball on the green.”
It’s a problem because shots out of long-ish Bermuda grass are hard to control. We can expect to see many fliers from the rough.
North said, in his playing days, he thought Southern Hills was a tough course for hitting driver.
“All the holes curve a little bit,” he explained. “So, you’re always trying to work either against the fairway or helping with it.”
“I’ll be curious on how many drivers they actually do hit,” Strange said. “Southern Hills, as you very well know, I don’t think there’s a straight hole out there.”
The angles of the course make it a challenge for the long hitters. Do they try to blast over everything and challenge the rough? Or do they lay back to make sure they are in the fairway and not in an arm-wrestling match with the longer Bermuda? It will be every player’s decision, but both North and Strange think playing from the fairway should be a priority.
“If you put it in the fairway off the tee, it sets you up to be an aggressive iron player, and you can keep it below the hole or dictate where you hit the irons,” Strange said, adding that he knows the game is different today than when he played. “I applaud the way they play the game because, if I hit it that long, I’d play the same way!”
According to what Strange said about the renovation, the course changes made by Gil Hanse were more to bring the course back to its essence than to make big alterations.
“He shaped bunkers more to the original type, redefined the creeks, which are such a big part,” Strange said. “Even with no rough, as no rough as Andy said, or a lack of rough around the greens, you’re going to see the creeks come into play more than they ever have before.”
The runoffs around the greens that have already been talked about by Spieth may actually cause balls to run into bunkers, according to Strange. So that means a good short game will be essential.
Bunkers were actually Retief Goosen’s friend in the playoff for the U.S. Open against Mark Brooks at Southern Hills in 2001. On eight of the first 10 holes, Goosen one-putted, having either saved par from the sand or the rough. It was an amazing display, and Goosen went on to win.
So, while no one knows for sure what we will see this year at the PGA Championship, we have the chance for at least one historic event. Until Jordan Spieth or Scottie Scheffler play themselves out of it, they are stories No. 1 and 1A.