FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The 2019 PGA Championship's auspicious timing was a hot topic coming into this week's tournament at Bethpage Black. Having moved up to a May spot on the calendar, the event suddenly became the epicenter of the sports world with Tiger Woods chasing a potential calendar Grand Slam. But while the Big Cat cleared out for the weekend, the weather cleared up for what previously had been a miserable spring in New York. The PGA's great timing had struck again in the form of a positively glorious Saturday.
In other words, it was a great day for day drinking. And you better believe the fans took advantage.
"Holy sh*#! Brooks is SEVEN up now?!" shouted one man double-fisting bottles of Brooks' favorite beer, Michelob Ultra. At least, the beer Brooks is paid to say is his favorite. The fan was right. However, Koepka was still an hour away from teeing off in his third round. His lead had been seven since Friday evening. At least he hadn't mistaken Matt Fitzpatrick for Jordan Spieth like a group of fans at the driving range earlier in the week.
Anyway, I made my way out to the 17th hole to hear more
astute observations. I chose Bethpage Black's signature par 3 because of the natural amphitheater created by the hill behind the green that leads up to the 18th tee. Watching on TV the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens, it seemed like a particularly rowdy spot. And on this day, it didn't disappoint.
Within 10 minutes of arriving on the scene, I saw a man fall out of his front-row seat and onto someone sitting underneath the yellow rope. A patron at the Masters causing such a scene would have been removed before the guy took another swig of his drink. At Bethpage Black, this fan was cheered by those around him for not spilling his beer. Well, most of those around him. "You gave me rope burn on my neck!" he screamed. Then he went back to chasing a beer with a giant cigar.
"Who is this?" another man wondered as a player lined up a short putt before being told it's Francesco Molinari. "OH, THIS IS FRANKIE?! GOD BLESS HIM. LOVE THAT GUY." I didn't have the heart to tell him it was Tyrrell Hatton.
But maybe it was a sign the New York crowd won't be too hostile to the Europeans at the 2024 Ryder Cup. On second thought, probably not. They certainly love their Americans, though. Sort of.
"There's no better human being," a fan said as the next group approached, "unless you're his caddie." I'll let you guess who that was in reference to. Although, fortunately(?), the "KUUUUUUUUUUUCH" yells drowned out the bad tipping jokes.
Kuchar's playing partner, Jimmy Walker, despite actually having a PGA Championship on his résumé, didn't have quite the same name recognition with the galleries.
"Who is Jimmy Walker? Isn't he an alcoholic?"
"No," a friend replied. "That's Johnny." Ba dum tss.
I remember Jimmy's wife, Erin, telling me she wished the PGA didn't sell "giant beers" while following Jimmy during his lone major triumph at Baltusrol in 2016. Sorry, Erin, but they're still selling them. In fact, that was about the only thing they were selling in some parts of the course. A fellow reporter saw fights breaking out on long concession lines, and one of my friends said he waited on one of those long lines by the ninth hole for more than an hour before seeing this:
So basically, it was booze or nothing. Which explains why another fan was panicking that a player had left a putter headcover just off the 17th green before being told it was a TV microphone. Imagine how worked up these people would have gotten if they saw John Daly driving through in his golf cart?
And then Phil Mickelson came through. He sent the crowd into a tizzy when he opted to chip from off the green. He wound up bogeying, but no one really seemed to care.
Earlier in the day, Mickelson had shared an amusing video in which he showed off his "thumb activation" to ready for trying to break the unofficial record of thumbs up he set at Bethpage in 2009. And while Phil didn't make the "six or seven" birdies he thought would be needed to warrant such enthusiasm, it looked like his thumbs—and palms—got quite a workout.
The 2024 Ryder Cup here is going to be wild. Let's just hope the PGA provides enough food.