Lessons From the 2016 PGA Championship

First time’s a charm. So it was for all four major-championship victors, all first-time major winners, this year. But to be honest, Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Henrik Stenson (Open Championship) were on that “best to never win a major” list, meaning their wins were somewhat expected if not now then soon. But Danny Willett and PGA champion Jimmy Walker (above)? Both were big surprises.

Although the Masters was Willett’s fifth victory since 2012, he hadn’t done much in the majors until this past April, and since then he went T37, T53, and T79 in the two Opens and the PGA, and he missed the cut at The Players. In Europe, other than a third at the BMW PGA Championship, his other half-dozen or so finishes were well down the leaderboard.

As for Walker, he had a couple of top-10s on Tour earlier this year, a few finishes in the 20s, and some missed cuts. He was a long way from his three-win season in 2014, when he climbed as high as 10th in the world. If he gets back in the zone he rode in a few years back—is a wire-to-wire PGA an omen?—his first major could be the start of something big.

Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. A good crew can beat bad weather. The team taking care of the Lower Course at Baltusrol did an amazing job getting the course ready for a round-and-a-half on Sunday. Honestly, we’re surprised the tournament got finished before Monday.

No Re-Shuffle. Because of the bad weather, which meant nearly half the field had to finish the third round Sunday morning, the PGA of America made the decision not to stop after the third round and make new pairings based on where players stood. If they had, Walker and Jason Day would have played together in the final group; instead, Day was in the penultimate group, one ahead of Walker. Would it have mattered had they gone head-to-head? Would we have had another Stenson-Mickelson-type finish? We’ll never know.

The Rules Rule. Jordan Spieth and Rules official Bruce Gregory did everything properly on the 7th hole Friday when Spieth’s ball came to rest in casual water. After all the other brouhahas this summer, it’s almost possible to excuse the Rules ranters on Twitter and elsewhere. Almost. But sometimes—no, make that most of the time—the Rules experts get it right.

The Hole Truth. However, it is harder to understand—and excuse—the incorrect pin sheet given to the first group to play the 10th hole on Friday. Let’s hope that never happens again.

If The Ryder Cup Were Held Today… The U.S. team would seem to have a slight edge, based on the PGA results. Even though Dustin Johnson, currently number-one in Ryder Cup points, missed the cut, there were solid performances from Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Zach Johnson, and Phil Mickelson. And Walker, who went into the PGA in 29th place in points, is sure to get at least a close look from Davis Love III as a captain’s pick. For the Europeans, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer played well, as did Justin Rose, Soren Kjeldsen, Tyrrell Hatton, and Paul Casey. However, with the strong performances of Jason Day, Branden Grace, and Hideki Matsuyama, it’s a good thing the Presidents Cup is more than a year away.

Pro Golf Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint. Walker is 37 years old, turned pro in 2001, and had three wins on the Nationwide Tour between 2004 and ’07. He first played the PGA Tour in 2006 but it took him a few years to settle in. He had five Tour victories between 2013 and ‘15, including two at the Sony Open in Hawaii (winning the second, in 2015, by 9 strokes). Before yesterday, his best finish in a major was a tie for 7th in the PGA in 2014; in fact, he’d had only three top-10 finishes in 17 appearances. And he’d missed the cut in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship this summer. (He was T29 at Augusta.)

Wiki Leaks? If you happened to be online while the leaders were playing the last few holes yesterday, you might have noticed that with four holes to play, Wikipedia had already awarded Walker the PGA title. You might want to check there first before you place your next golf bet.