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PGA Championship 2021: Five essential questions to be answered at Kiawah

Patrick Smith

May 19, 2021

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Major championship golf is upon us and, in a refreshing change of pace, it’s not another Masters. Here are the key questions heading in this PGA Championship…

Will any PGA club pro break 80?

The Ocean Course is a beautiful beast that has already gotten into the heads of the game’s best touring pros; in practice rounds probable Hall of Famer Zach Johnson has been having trouble just reaching the fairway on the second hole. How can a part-time sweater-folder hope to compete? There’s actually a little bit at stake collectively for the club pros. There are annual calls to reduce the number of them in the field, which would open up spots for more hardened players who make their living playing golf, not teaching it. And the desire not to embarrass the club pros factors into the typically benign setup at the PGA. If the tees get moved up at the Ocean Course it will be to avoid the spectacle of club pros shooting in the 90s, not because of Jon Rahm’s whining, which will cheat fans out of the glorious spectating that would come with the course being tipped out. So here’s hoping some of the PGA of America’s poster boys play well.

Who is most likely to break Golf Twitter’s heart?

So many to choose from! Max Homa is the darling of the interwebs and looks ready to become a player of real importance. Joel Dahmen has already declared on his Twitter feed that he is confident of a top-10 finish. Tony Finau is overdue for another crushing near-miss. The guess here is that the streaking Homa will contend but won’t win, which is more than a moral victory as Player Impact Performance is now just as important as FedEx Cup points.

Does anyone remember Dustin Johnson?

The world No. 1 has been a non-factor on the PGA Tour this calendar year, including a missed cut at the Masters. But the guy is so flammable he’s always one good round from being a threat again. With his piercing ball-flight he’s particularly dangerous in windy conditions, which are pretty much guaranteed at the Ocean Course. Johnson, who has finished runner-up at the last two PGAs, turns 37 next month. The window is not closing just yet but he needs to win a couple more majors to enjoy a career total on par with his massive talent.

Patrick Smith

Which Rory McIlroy will show up?

The return to Ocean Course is a referendum on the last decade of McIlroy’s career. His eight-shot romp at the 2012 PGA, when Rory was a tender 23, inspired Padraig Harrington to say it was McIlroy, not Tiger Woods, who posed the biggest threat to Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 career major championship victories, even though at the time Rory trailed Tiger 14-2. It has been a wild ride ever since, with flashes of brilliance compromised by inexplicable slumps. Now McIlroy arrives with a new swing coach (Pete Cowen), the confidence of a recent win and the burden of history, as he has been stuck on four majors for seven long years. Rory has already accomplished enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer but the repeated failings in the majors lead to an inevitable sense of what-could-been. McIlroy needs to bust out and win one more—which would tie the career hauls of mega-talents Seve Ballesteros, Byron Nelson and Phil Mickelson—to kick off a triumphant second act to his career. What better place than a big ballpark like the Ocean Course, already the site of one career-altering triumph?

Are we emotionally ready for Jordan Spieth to contend to the bitter end?

Spieth is back. The statistics (16th strokes gained approach, 14th around the greens) prove it, as does his recent win at the Texas Open. But he won’t be back back until he’s in another dogfight at a major championship. Even at his best, Spieth was golf’s most unpredictable high-wire act this side of Phil Mickelson. (Who can forget Jordan’s 71st hole double bogey at Chambers Bay or wild bogey from the driving range at Birkdale, two majors he actually won?) If Spieth has a chance to win coming down the treacherous closing holes at the Ocean Course golf fans everywhere are going to need an intervention, or at the very least a cigarette.