For an all-around golf aficionado there was almost too much going on over the weekend of 15–16 August to keep up with. The PGA Championships, the fourth and final major tournament of the men’s professional season, was being played out at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin; the USGA’s Women’s Amateur Championship was decided in at the Portland Golf Club in Portland, Oregon; and just across town at Portland’s Edgewater Country Club, a new star on the LPGA circuit shone her brightest as Canada’s Brooke Henderson won the Cambia Portland Classic.
Taken on balance, the PGA Championship was the biggest story of the weekend. Multiple dramatic storylines were being played out during the week at the remote Whistling Straits course, located hard against the shore of Lake Michigan and at least a 45-minute drive from any town with more than two stoplights. The remote location didn’t deter Midwest golf fans, who flocked to the course and lined the fairways to watch the various dramas unfold at the tournament once known as “Glory’s Last Shot”.
Going into the week the two biggest questions surrounding the PGA Championship were: “Would Jordan Spieth win a third major this year?” and “Will Dustin Johnson overcome his majors curse and vindicate himself for his blunder at this tournament, on this course, five years ago?” Trailing those questions was the possibility of a win by Australia’s Jason Day, who has come close to winning several major tournaments over the last couple of years only to fall short – most recently in the 2015 U.S. Open, when a bout of vertigo in the final round dropped him out of contention.
Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open champion, missed a chance at upping the ante on his historic accomplishments when he came up short at the Open Championship (aka “The British Open”) at St Andrews, Scotland, in July, finishing T-4. Coming into the PGA championship this week he was aiming for a win which would make him the third man, after Ben Hogan in 1953 and Tiger Woods in 2000, to win three majors in one season. Claiming the 2015 PGA Championship would have also made him the only man to win all three majors played in the United States in one season.
Dustin Johnson was much on the mind of the golf world coming into the 2015 PGA Championship because of an incident at this event on this same course in 2010. Standing over his second shot on the 72nd hole of the championship, he grounded his club in a sandy area which he thought was a waste area, unaware that all the sandy bunker-type areas on the course (over 1,000 all told) had been designated as hazards. The resulting penalty dropped him out of a spot in an eventual playoff, and he went on to finish T-5. In subsequent years Johnson had similar close calls in major events: a T2 finish in the 2011 Open Championship which resulted from a tee shot that he hit out of bounds on the 14th hole in the final round at Royal St George’s; a T-4 finish at the 2014 U. S. Open at Pinehurst, North Carolina; and most recently, a T-2 finish behind Jordan Spieth in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Washington – the result of a disastrous three-putt on the 72nd hole.
A 1-over 73 in the second round dropped Johnson well back in the race for the 2015 Wanamaker Trophy, but a glimmer of hope appeared when he carded a 4-under 68 in the third round. An opening-hole quadruple bogey in Sunday’s final round doomed his chances for a come-from-behind victory, but he rallied remarkably from that dismal start, carding six birdies and two eagles against three bogeys to post a final round of 69 and finish T-7. Absent the opening eight, his final round would have been good enough for solo third.
In the final estimation, history of one sort was made at the PGA Championship while another story fell by the wayside. Australia’s Jason Day surmounted whatever obstacles had kept him out of the winner’s circle at a major championship, hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy after a record-setting 68-67-66-67–268, notching up his first major and becoming the first man to finish 20 under par in a major championship.
Jordan Spieth, while coming up short of the win, came away from the contest with a couple of distinctions to his name: the lowest aggregate score in the four major tournaments in one year – 54 under par; and the satisfaction of knocking the reigning World #1, Rory McIlroy of Holywood, Northern Ireland, off his perch as #1 in the world.
In LPGA action this week, a new star burst upon the scene as Canada’s Brooke Henderson, a pert blonde 17-year-old from Smith Falls, Ontario, served notice that she is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the distaff tour. Recording rounds of 66, 67, 65, and 69, the youngster flattened the competition at the Cambia Portland Classic at Edgewater Country Club in Portland, Oregon, with a final tally of 268, prevailing over the second-place finishers by eight strokes. Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum, Ha Na Jang, of South Korea; and Taiwan’s Candie Kung tied for second with scores of 275.
The win made Henderson the newest member of an exclusive club—women (well, girls…) who have won an LPGA event before the age of 18. She is the third member of that group, joining Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson. The breakout victory by the Canadian youngster is looked to as the straw that will break the back of LPGA Commissioner James Whan’s objections to granting Henderson a special exemption to membership in the LPGA before she turns 18 – in less than a month.
In USGA amateur championship action just across town in Portland from the LPGA tournament, former Cupertino, CA, resident and NCGA Junior Tour alumnus Hannah O’Sullivan defeated Florida’s Sierra Brooks to claim the 2015 USGA Women’s Amateur title at Portland Golf Club. The two 17-year-olds battled it out over 34 holes of the projected 36-hole final, O’Sullivan prevailing 3 and 2 over Brooks in a closely fought match.
A battle between teenagers for the U.S. Women’s Amateur title is nothing new – O’Sullivan is the seventh consecutive champion under the age of 20.