PREDICTION SURE TO GO WRONG
PGA Championship 2022: Another historically and unequivocally incorrect major championship prediction
I miss the PGA Championship in August. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for sweat-stained Dockers (Tom Lehman at Valhalla in 2000, look it up), ice cream as a beverage or how the difference between the temperature on the golf course at a PGA Championship and that of the media center equates approximately to the difference between the temperature on Venus and Uranus (about 1,200 degrees, give or take). Repositioning it in May just seems like making it less of a major. Like hearing an Avett Brothers song in an insurance commercial. Or going stag to your prom (not that I would know). Or finding out that Pluto isn’t really a planet. (According to the International Astronomical Union, Pluto is no longer categorized as a planet because “while it is large enough to have become spherical, it is not big enough to exert its orbital dominance.” Like Greg Norman, currently.)
Sure, it’s been a nice show the first few go-rounds as spring’s second major (compared to August when it always resonated as “Glory’s Last Shot”), but my golf enthusiasm meter isn’t quite ready in May. I always felt we needed those couple of months to let the Masters linger, to let the U.S. Open build. I blame global warming or COVID or whatever it is that has turned April and much of May up here in the Northeast to a kind of nuclear-winter-meets-Yakutsk.
While there were good winners (Koepka in 2019 and the old guy in the mirrored shades in 2021), a May PGA feels off, like it starts and ends before we realize it’s happening (a fun size package of M&Ms, for example). When it was in August, like it was nearly every year from 1969-2018, the PGA Championship seemed to be a kind of golf vacation/celebration, like a big county fair or an Old Home Week with the clacking of metal spikes sounding and feeling as welcoming as carnival rides, piping hot kettle corn and that sound pennies made when you would pitch them on to glassware and finger bowls (to raise money for the Elks Club, of course).
But I digress. The PGA is firmly in May now, and it is once again my appointed task to embarrass myself with my historically and unequivocally incorrect major championship prediction. Me and my constantly evolving statistical mishmosh have been wrong with every major attempt dating back to 2013. And not just somewhat wrong. Defiantly, obstinately wrong. Indeed, my last pick was so wrong, I actually had to check several times to make sure he was playing in the tournament. He was. For a couple days.
But like the idiot in front of you at CVS with a roll of receipts he swears are coupons, I press on undeterred. Well, mostly terred. The thing of it is, I want the PGA Championship to feel like August again. So, to build some August feeling into my PGA Championship calculus, I first culled the field to only those who had played a PGA in August. Turns out, that didn’t help much. Duh, the PGA was played in August two years ago because of the pandemic. (Like the collection of chain saws in that weird neighbor’s garage right next to the oversized spare freezer, this should be a sign that I again am choosing poorly.)
Gary Nicklaus at the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills (Getty Images)
Then I started thinking about what I remember from the last time I covered a major at Southern Hills, the 2001 U.S. Open. Pretty irrelevant, as I spent most of the first two days covering Nicklaus. Gary Nicklaus. (This is the very definition of me being, as the kids say, “on brand.”) I do recall it not being a birdie fest (shocking for a U.S. Open, I know). I filed that away thinking long-ish putting might matter (putting stats from 20-25 feet, check). I also read our golf course man Derek Duncan’s terrific course preview, where he noted that the Gil Hanse redesign of Southern Hills, despite the addition of more than 400 yards, will feel more like a second-shot golf course (strokes gained/approach, check) and that the green runoffs and “Maxwell rolls” around the greens likely will repel any overly aggressive second shots (scrambling percentage, check).
So I added them up, and, of course still not much clarity, not the right amount of spice for the price (see PGA Championship concession stands). One more thing probably matters in my misplaced major metrics. How about some biorhythms (which, as it turns out was not, but could have been, quite the pickup line in Tulsa in the 1980s)? If a major has relocated to the month of May, surely, someone’s career success in May should be the clincher for my pick. And it was.
No player in the field other than Tiger Woods has won more pro events in the month of May than Rory McIlroy (Woods has eight, McIlroy has seven). He is Mr. May, which sort of says a lot. Since McIlroy is hitting his second shots and scrambling at a decent rate (+.255 in strokes gained/approach; T-40th in scrambling; 14th in SG/around the green) and is making almost one-fourth of his putts between 20-25 feet (ranks third), to say nothing of the fact that his birthday was this month, too, well, this all seems a pick that makes sense.
At least as much sense as trying to move August to May.