For the third time in eleven years an international champion was crowned at Whistling Straits on Sunday. This time the “Wonder from Down Under”, Jason Day, hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy by completely dominating his fellow competitors posting a major championship record score of twenty under par. Dominant but still a bit competitive, as the top five finishers eclipsed the total of 2011 Champion Martin Kaymer. Credit the numbers to the PGA for a fair and challenging setup. For those of us mere mortals who have played the Straits, what those players did was nearly miraculous. Of course these are the best professional players in the world.
The predictably boisterous and supportive Wisconsin fans turned out to watch the spectacle dotting the undulating landscape with plenty of Badger and Packer apparel. Even the Callaway staff bags featured a noticeable embroidered state patch in cheddar yellow, their zipper pulls crafted in the form of brats and beer mugs. Native son Steve Stricker played well for the part time player he has become finishing at four under par. On the eighteenth green Sunday after holing out Strick received a warm and loud ovation from the Wisconsin faithful.
Twenty PGA club professionals participated this week. Brian Gaffney of Quaker Ridge GC took low pro honors after a fine Sunday finish of 71 and a plus five total. Wouldn’t it be nice to return to the club and tell your members you “dusted” Tiger Woods in a major championship? Maybe it will help increase his lesson revenue. The Tuesday Long Drive competition took place on the second hole with Matt Dobyns, the National Club Professional Champion finishing second with a poke of 323 yards. For those politicking to remove club professionals from this event, take a seat. These players earned the opportunity to play.
The major championship single round scoring record almost fell on Friday as Hiroshi Iwata scorched Pete’s serpentine routing with an incredible 63. Incredible because on Thursday evening Iwata stood on the practice range searching for answers to a balky driver after his opening round of 77. Witnessing the struggle firsthand I never saw Iwata bouncing back with 63. He could barely keep his driver on the property. His small entourage looked for ways to help him but it didn’t look good for playing the weekend. However golf sometimes provides a switch to turn on one’s game but finding it is akin to searching for the lightswitch in a dark hall of a new house. You never know when you’ll find it but you know it’s there.
In the end it was Day’s week as the worst score he posted added up to 68 during Thursday’s opener. Dustin Johnson jumped out of the starting gate on the calm morning with 66 again impressing golf fans with his athleticism. There may not be a better conditioned player on the short grass than Johnson. Sunday DJ planted his drive on ten on the left fringe, a poke of 360 yards…… uphill! He finished his final back nine with eagles on the two par fives that in the end added up to a 69. His round started off on the wrong foot when he blew his drive on the first toward Milwaukee, carding a quad eight. Johnson is the equivalent of a drag racer. He can go fast for short distances but when it comes to a four day competition there is bound to be a technical issue along the way.
When Friday’s second round finished Saturday morning, Day sat at 135, nine under par looking down from the blown over leaderboard at names like Finau, Lingmerth, Lahiri and Steele. Justin Rose and that kid Jordan Spieth were hanging around too. As the long Saturday played out (Spieth got to sleep in), the leaderboard was stronger than a Kohler stainless steel sink. The late storm that turned the Straits upside down on Friday afternoon softened the playing conditions and allowed a 64 from Grace, 65’s from Spieth and Kaymer plus a 66 from Day. It was one of those exciting major moving days with birdies and eagles being handed out like candy at any holiday parade in Wisconsin. Players, spectators, and volunteers alike were enjoying the thrill ride along Lake Michigan. At the end of moving day two likely players stood one, two — Day and Spieth setting up a spectacular Sunday showdown.
Another warm day with the potential for a stiff afternoon breeze showed up Sunday as the showdown loomed. Could Spieth match Hogan and Woods as the only other player to snatch three major trophies in one year? Could Day’s length off the tee be coupled with the required accuracy necessary for negotiating Dye’s obstacles? Might Justin Rose, ball striker extraordinaire, find a putting stroke to capture a second major? It certainly seemed like a three man race.
Again Spieth and Day were paired together in the final round as they were at the Open Championship. At St. Andrews Day commented it would be interesting to watch Spieth chase the Grand Slam around the Old Course. While Day also wanted a shot at the Claret Jug it seemed he got caught up in the frenzy surrounding his playing partner. That wouldn’t happen this Sunday along an inland stretch of Great Lakes water.
With both players recording three birdies on the outward nine, Spieth appeared to get behind the eight ball with a bogey at the ninth. Advantage Day. Both players drove it close to the tenth green but Day missed his short birdie while Spieth convincingly knocked his in. At this point with the twenty-two year old holding the honors you might have thought the momentum would have carried him to a string of birdies. At the eleventh Spieth was victimized by a piece of Pete’s hardwood in the form of a sleeper shoring up the massive bunker protecting the putting surface. The resulting par derailed his pursuit.
From there Day spotted the finish line of his first major as he negotiated his way along the lakeshore back to the clubhouse. Seventeen stood in his way but a deft putting touch helped secure par allowing him to play the final hole with a three shot lead. His par on the seventy-second hole opened up the emotional floodgates as a deserving player was washed over in a very deserving moment.
In a year of memorable major championships it is fitting that Jason Day is now a member of the elite club. Will it be the first of many or the last of his career one can never tell. What can be said is Day is in a group of young exceptional players that are ready to turn the page on the Woods, Mikelson, Furyk and Els era. Golf is turning over as we watch and the next decade looks bright. The talent is spread across a wide moat. Spieth has shown that players with ink still wet on their diplomas can come out and compete on the Tour. In some cases those diplomas represent two year degrees! The former World Number One will be back once his ankle completely heals. Walking the quirky steps that define Whistling Straits this past week McIlroy acquitted himself quite well.
At the end of this Wisconsin summer Sunday the world golf order is as it should be. Jason day is its newest major champion, Jordan Spieth is the World Number One Player, and a boatload of talented players have landed on the shores of Lake Michigan. Golf is truly a world-wide game. As the future unfolds look for new players rising out of unlikely places. Next year’s Olympics will start to tell that story.
In five years the golf world will return a month later for the 2020 Ryder Cup Matches. It’s unlikely we’ll see Tiger, Phil, Furyk or Stricker walking the fairways unless it’s in a coaching capacity. Who knows if Herb Kohler will have built his fifth course in Sheboygan County? Will Pete Dye still be tinkering with Whistling Straits in order to defend the twenty under number Day posted? Will Jason have more majors under his belt? Will any other player get as close to the Grand Slam as Jordan Spieth did this year? We’ll have to watch.
As the sun has set on America’s Dairyland and the beginning of the end of summer commences it’s time to grab a mug of your favorite brew, grab some crackers and cheese and reflect back on another wonderful Wisconsin major. It’s always a sad time for me as golf’s majors for this year have concluded. I will have to weather another Wisconsin winter in order to arrive at the Masters in April. However another major is around the bend at Erin Hills in 2017. Day and Spieth going at it again? I’m up for that as well as another round of beer and brats.