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PGA Championship 2024: Our idiot prognosticator gets his wrong-way inspiration from Brooks … just not that one

2024 PGA Championship

Maddie Meyer/PGA of America

I don’t think we talk enough about Brooks. Not the “brothers,” though I am in need of seersucker and a particularly sporty rep tie. No, not “Garth” or even “and Dunn,” even though both country-music legends would seem ideal for a major championship played in a state famous for consuming distilled spirits surrounded by “friends in low places” while “beneath the light of a neon moon.”

And even though this is another one of my pathetic attempts at major championship prognostication, nor am I referring to reigning PGA champion Brooks Koepka. He seems a likely pick given that he often successfully defends his major titles. Which, of course, means I would be as likely to choose him to win as I would be to pilot a P-51 Mustang in a competitive air race in Abu Dhabi. Hard. Pass.

No. I don’t think we talk enough about Mark Brooks, the man who almost stole two major titles but settled for one. Back in 1996, Brooks hijacked the Wanamaker Trophy the first time the PGA Championship was weirdly conducted at Valhalla. While local favorite Kenny Perry was cooling off in the 18th tower, yukking it up with Ken Venturi and Jim Nantz in the booth, Brooks lashed his way up the final hole needing a birdie to tie. He hit 3-wood—3-wood!—into the front bunker on the reachable par 5 and got up and down for his 4. Perry, who spent more time adjusting his headset than keeping loose on the range in case of the playoff, made a mess of 18 on the first extra hole and didn’t even putt out.

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Mark Brooks holds the Wanamaker Trophy after beating Kenny Perry in a playoff to win the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club.

J.D. Cuban

Brooks won at a championship that was oddly conceived even for the PGA of America, which once held its flagship event in Florida on greens that were painted, well, green and scoreboards that included bikini hostesses (Apparently, the PGA in the 1980s was the soft-core version of LIV.) At the first Valhalla PGA, the layout’s only interesting hole—the par-5 seventh—had its alternate, island fairway ruled OB because of concerns over “gallery movement.” Never mind that “gallery movement” at a golf tournament played in Kentucky in August (mid-90s in both temps and humidity) would only be from upright and walking to collapsed and flatlining. It was akin to holding a destination wedding in July in the Cardamom Rainforest in Cambodia. Still, when a couple of caddies wore shorts in the first round, PGA officials forced them to change into pants by the second hole because, well, it was 1996 and apparently the PGA of America had just stopped insisting on sport coats and ties.

(Thank goodness golf’s organizations are run with so much more common sense today …)

But back to the regrettably underappreciated Mr. Brooks. In 1996, he made the PGA Championship his third victory of the year and the only players ahead of him on the money list were Tom Lehman (whose swamp-ass Dockers khakis at Valhalla would have broken the internet if such a thing was happening in 1996) and Phil Mickelson (yes, that Phil Mickelson, who while he did not invent the mid-elbow golf shirt sleeve certainly became its poster child a generation ago). Brooks, of course, was on trend with the blousey fit, looking like he borrowed clothes from Tim Herron’s locker. He made it around Valhalla with a Roy McAvoy kind of a ropey-slash swing that only Michael Block’s range picker could love. Brooks got all teary-eyed after he won at Valhalla describing himself as a “golf brat” and thanked the “bunch of bums” who had influenced him to stick with his game. Of course, the bums he was referring to were his local “PGA golf pros.” How proud the executive team and its 23,000 member professionals must have been.

But Brooks was a winner that year by grinding. So this year, when Valhalla will play five football fields longer than it did three decades ago, and the Kentucky Bluegrass rough will be thicker than Johnson Wagner’s lip foliage, I figure we need a similar approach. My thought was to look at various elements of Brooks’ profile from 1996 and see if I get any hits. As you’ll recall, the way I do major championship picks is like a bad episode of one of those crime-police shows. Call it “CSI: Appalachia.” In other words, I have no clue and hope I settle on something that doesn’t lead to intestinal distress. Like ordering Thai for the first time. Or playing Valhalla’s 18th in the dark as a six-some.

So I looked for current players in this year’s field with a similar scoring average, driving-distance rank, putting performance and, of course, the same number of wins headed into the championship. Finally, I thought it would make sense to suggest that the guy coming into Valhalla should be playing some decent golf since Brooks had a couple of top-10s before setting foot in Valhalla. Of course, typing that, I’m reminded that Valhalla is the name of the mythological Norse retreat in the fortress of the gods, known as the hall of the slain warriors. It was just this side of Asgard, which as it turns out was apparently what Tom Lehman needed for his pants that long ago August in Kentucky.

But I digress. Turns out my plumbing of the data didn’t turn up much. There isn’t anyone like Mark Brooks at this year’s PGA. Because there is only one Mark Brooks, a throwback to a simpler time when home grown swings and a competitive spirit shaped by a bunch of bums could win you a golf tournament or two or three. Tiger Woods hadn’t even turned professional (officially) back then. Nobody was pulling their hair out about driving distance. And the biggest crisis the game was facing was the end of metal spikes.

Now, everything has changed for the worse. Maybe a Norse heaven can save us from this hell golf has been living in for the last two years. Probably not.

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Manuel Velasquez

My pick is Joaquin Niemann. Like Brooks he’s won a couple of times heading into the PGA, and winning in Mayakoba and Jeddah on LIV in 2024 is probably not all that different than winning in Palm Springs and The Woodlands in 1996. Two top-10s in his last two starts puts him right in the same family tree as Brooks (That tree would be a scrawny, scrub oak, the kind they cleared away to build this course on the edge of a floodplain.) Turns out Niemann weighs 150 pounds, too, just like Brooks. Seems like the right choice. (Of course, that other two-win guy that everybody else is picking is the same height as Brooks. Maybe I got the wrong guy. It happens.) Still, Joaco makes as much sense as anything to me. Just a regular dude, ready to grind. Golf really needs a global win, and in a year of turmoil, someone whose bio now includes the title "Captain of Torque" seems just the kind of ironic victor we’re most likely to get.

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