PGA Championship 2018: The can't-miss, sure-fire, super-nice-guy choice to win at Bellerive
History, Churchill once said, is written by the victors. Having never won—seeing as I’m zero-for-the-21st-century at picking winners of major championships—I see history a little differently. So I enter my prognostication assignment for this year’s PGA Championship somewhat dreading it. Helpful as history might be in finding a winning formula, I haven’t found said algorithm just yet. History, begging Churchill’s pardon, is that crushing reminder of the hope we once had. You know, that all-too-clear illustration of, as the song says, “the last time that we might be exactly like we were before we realized we were sad of getting old.”
Wait, did I just reference Adele? I mean, WTF? What’s next, Rod McKuen? The Desiderata? Yacht rock? In a minute, if I don’t stop soon, I might ask, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” (Baobab, obviously.)
But I digress.
While history hasn’t been my friend, what else can you rely on when you have a major-championship venue that will appear on the big stage for just its third time in the last six decades? That’s what we’ve got with Bellerive. It’s been 26 years since the St. Louis course hosted a major, when an unfaltering Nick Price won the PGA in 1992, and 53 years since Gary Player won his one and only U.S. Open title there and cap his career Grand Slam. So, as a major venue, it’s about as unknown today as, well, Rod McKuen, the drecky kitsch poet whose late 1960s “Listen to the Warm,” which is not a Spinal Tap album, sold millions of copies.
As much as the 1992 PGA was historic, Bellerive now stands as a forgotten reminder of what we might have been. After all, it was in 1992 that the USGA wasn’t a bit worried about the oversized-driver trend. Back then, one ruling-body insider who should have known better even went so far to say, “You need a really rigid face on the club. Anything with flexibility will hurt you rather than help you.”
The point is, we learn from history, don’t we? That’s why I’m again turning to history to help me pick this year’s PGA winner. Bellerive in 1992 revealed that a nice guy like Price could become a dominant force in a major championship. Already in the Hall of Fame for nice guys well before he won a major, Price held off the field that year simply by making no mistakes in his final round. Meanwhile, the rest of the contenders dropped away like, well, like they knew it was Price’s to win and they were cool with it. Could Bellerive make for that same kind of magic again?
Well, if you want historic magic, you’ve come to the right place. Because it would be historic magic if my numbers added up to the winner of this year’s PGA. Yet bear with me, for as the Desiderata tells us, “listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.” (Yes, that’s from the Desiderata, which sounds more important than it is but is really just a poem by some guy named Max written in the 1920s that became a chart-topping spoken-word single in the 1970s. Because that makes sense. Like Phil Mickelson doing an impression of Napoleon Dynamite doing the Worm. To sell a dress shirt.)
But seriously, back to my math. With Nick Price’s 1992 statistics as a guide, I figured the more a player matched his baseline numbers in the key stats for driving, iron play, scrambling, putting, scoring and world rank, the more that player might have the right stuff this year at Bellerive. Theoretically. And I mean theoretically in basically the same sense that “theoretically” yacht rock is a form of music rather than a ploy to get me to re-up my Sirius radio subscription through an artificially contrived sound. (It worked. So I like Christopher Cross, Toto and Ambrosia. It’s what they call “musicianship.” Sue me.)
In 1992, Price wasn’t the man-in-full, dominant force he would come to be over the next years, but he was plenty good in all the right ways. He drove it about average for 1992, but more accurately than most (11th in 1992). He hit a sufficient number of greens, but his scrambling numbers were second overall and his putting, routinely maligned for much of his career, ranked in the top 20 for putts per round. That led to a top-10 scoring average, and a world rank of 15th, a player poised for greatness.
My left-handed algorithm then involved counting the number of times a player showed up near Price’s ranking on those statistics. The guy who did it the most must be this year’s PGA champion. My pick was right in Price’s statistical neighborhood in scrambling (first to Price’s second), scoring average (fifth to Price’s 10th), putts per round (15th to Price’s 17th) and world rank (20th to Price’s 15th). Indeed, at Bellerive in 1992, Price simply did not fold making big putts, great saves and steady pars, a lot like what my pick has done already this year at the tournament with the best field of the year.
Even better, like Price, my guy is a nice guy with a quick swing and an occasionally hot putting stroke. A nice guy with a caddie even nicer. A nice guy who almost would rather be a good guy than win, until, well, he starts firing on all cylinders and laps the field, like he did at the Players this year, like Price did for two solid years including and following his PGA Championship at Bellerive. A guy who in the year preceding the PGA saw his World Ranking climb from north of 40 to the top 20. A guy so nice, so smooth, so casually cool he can wear seersucker and a cardigan on the same day, the kind of style statement even the Le Coq Sportif-wearing Nick Price would have appreciated back in the day.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Those are the Nick Price-like 1992 numbers for my pick at Bellerive a quarter century later, one of the nicest guys on tour—Webb Simpson. As noted, Simpson’s was a very Nick Price-like performance at Sawgrass in May, and it could be a very retro, 1992-like performance if he were to do the same at Bellerive this week. A case of history repeating itself, if you will. Like, well, yacht rock.