The US PGA Championship will see a star-studded field competing for the Wanamaker trophy at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. The tournament starts Thursday 20th May and ends Sunday, 23rd May.
Here are the talking points leading up to the year’s second major.
For all the talk about the Bryson and DJ power-and-speed show being the recipe for major success, last year’s US PGA Championship was the outlier.
Collin Morikawa, playing just his second major, claimed the Wanamaker trophy last year at Harding Park in San Francisco and did so with the best drive of the year – but, ironically, it was one of the shortest.
The then 23-year-old came to the driveable par four 16th with a one-shot lead, having chipped in for birdie on the 14th hole.
While most players went with their three woods, Morikawa effectively sealed the tournament with his TaylorMade SIM driver when he blasted his tee shot 268m and watched the ball finish 2m from the hole.
He drained the putt for eagle to stretch his lead to two-strokes with two holes remaining and didn’t surrender, the only hiccup coming when the lid fell off the famous trophy while he was hoisting it up at the presentation.
Morikawa is one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, ranked 125th and averaging 298 yards off the tee this season, but his iron play is world class.
He won the WGC Concession title in February and if he can bring his best, he’ll go close to going back-to-back at Kiawah Island.
One of the quirks of the PGA Championship is the presence of 20 US club professionals in the field, many of whom are teaching, folding shirts or selling balls for much of the year.
A qualifying championship determines the 20 club pros who earn the right to tee it up alongside the best tour pros in the game.
At best a few will make the cut, which leaves the US PGA field a little on the shallow side.
No club pros made the cut last year but there were three to make the weekend at Bethpage Black in 2019 – Rob Labritz, Ryan Vermeer and Marty Jertson. Labritz took the honours with a tied 60th finish, 18 shots behind winner Brooks Koepka.
This year watch out for Omar Uresti, who started the field to win the qualifying series. While he almost certainly won’t be a contender he looks a decent chance to make the cut.
Uresti played 11 full campaigns back in his heyday on the PGA Tour and appears to be a master at scoring at the ripe age of 52.
But Uresti won’t be the oldest player in the field. Club pro Stuart Smith, a 59-year-old Englishman now based in Nevada, will make his second start at the US PGA Championship after previously missing the cut in 2013.
Kiawah Island in South Carolina is a resort town literally chock-full of golf courses, with seven layouts inhabiting much of the area’s dramatic coastline.
But there’s a big difference between hosting golfing holidaymakers and testing the best players in the world, which is why one course stands out by a mile: Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, host venue of the 2021 US PGA Championship.
The Ocean Course is no stranger to big-time golf events. In fact, it was purpose-built to host the 1991 Ryder Cup – the one that became known as “The War On The Shore”.
And in 2012 the course hosted its first US PGA Championship, at which Rory McIlroy won his second major.
Designed by Pete and Alice Dye, the husband-and-wife team behind the stadium course at Sawgrass, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course straddles the dunes on the eastern most point of Kiawah Island.
Running alongside the Atlantic Ocean and measuring 7876 yards, the par 72 layout is styled on classic British and Irish links courses and wind will almost certainly be a factor during the tournament.
Ten holes run alongside the Atlantic Ocean, with the other eight running parallel to them, so expect to see plenty of panoramic wide-angle shots during the broadcast.
For a player ranked once ranked as high as no.4 in the world, Rickie Fowler’s slide out of the top 100 players in the world has been puzzling.
An immensely likeable and popular player, Fowler has been battling with a game that hasn’t clicked for some time and is currently ranked 116th in the world.
His ranking precluded him from receiving a Masters invitation in April, which was the first major he’d missed since 2010.
And he would’ve been sitting on the sidelines at the US PGA Championship if not for accepting a special invitation to play.
Here’s hoping Rickie can replicate Jordan Spieth’s re-emergence and turn it around at Kiawah Island - sometimes you just need something to go your way to rediscover your mojo.
World No.1 Dustin Johnson was a little off his game at the Masters, showing he was human after all when he missed the cut.
Although he won in Saudi Arabia earlier in the year, Dusty is in somewhat of a mini-slump – he hasn’t finished inside the top 10 in his last five starts.
DJ’s deadpan demeanour gives nothing away but you know he won’t be giving him mediocre form a second thought – no-one in the game is better at shaking off adversity and moving on to the next hole.
It’s a quality that gives DJ an X-factor at major championships and it was on display when he won his first major in a farcical end to the 2016 US Open at Oakmont.
With six holes remaining, officials informed Dusty a penalty might be applied after the round due to his ball apparently moving.
It meant DJ never knew exactly what his lead was. But he blocked it out and managed to win, despite incurring a one-stroke penalty.
Kiawah Island should suit DJ, even more so if it’s soft: both his majors have come on courses that were soft rather than firm and hard. And as Paul Casey said recently: “What golf course doesn’t suit Dustin Johnson?”.
DJ finished tied for 48th at Kiawah Island in 2012 and if he brings his A-game, look out.
There are some players with an intense focus on and off the course, driven to achieve perfection in their game.
Then there are players like Aussie Cam Smith. While he’s not afraid of hard work and is determined to get the best out of his game, Smith is a bit of a laid-back larrikin.
He hit winning form at the Zurich Classic teams event in late April alongside good mate Marc Leishman, one week after he finished tied ninth at the RBC Heritage at Harbor Town where he attempted to hook a fish in one of the course’s many water hazards pre-tournament.
The trademark mullet remains despite Smith breaking a promise to his girlfriend that he would shear it off if he won. But by the look of it, he’s not going to mess with his mullet-induced form.
Smith will keep it casual at Kiawah but, crucially, he possesses a killer instinct when he’s in the hunt and has the game to back it up.
Four other Aussies will tee it up at Kiawah Island – Adam Scott, Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Matt Jones – but Smith looks the one with the most upside.
UPSETS AND UNDERDOG WINNERS
Of all the majors, the US PGA Championship has garnered a reputation for producing winners who seemingly come from nowhere.
Sure, Tiger Woods has won four times, Rory McIlroy two and Brooks Koepka went back-to-back in recent times but the event has a tendency to engrave names on the Wanamaker trophy that are a surprise.
Jimmy Walker won it in 2016 during a hot run of form but hasn’t tasted success since.
And an unheralded Keegan Bradley captured his first title at the 2011 US PGA. Ten years on he’s notched a couple more tour wins but hasn’t figured in a major since.
In 2009 it was an unknown Korean named YE Yang who shocked the world at the tournament.
Yang rewrote the script when coming from behind in the final round to beat Tiger Woods, the first time Tiger hadn’t converted a 54-hole major lead into a win.
Yang’s win marked the beginning of Tiger’s mid-career downfall - months later he would be injured in a car accident before revelations of his marital infidelity came to light.
And back in 2002 and 2003 it would be Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel, respectively, who would bob up and win the Wanamaker trophy.
Beem beat Tiger Woods but it would be his last victory while Micheel fended off Chad Campbell while ranked 196th in the world. Like Beem it would be his final career win, although he finished second to Tiger Woods at the 2006 US PGA at Medinah.
But John Daly takes the mantle as the biggest underdog to claim the US PGA Championship.
Daly was unheard of when he won at Crooked Stick in 1991. In fact, he was the ninth alternate and only got a start in the event when several players pulled out.
But he would capture the public’s imagination with his everyman persona and “grip it and rip it” approach, becoming an overnight sensation as he beat the best players in the world by three strokes.
At the 2012 US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, Rory McIlroy won by a record eight-stroke margin.
At only 23-years-old it was the Northern Irishman’s second major title and he was rightly anointed as the next big thing in golf.
Without doubt one of the most popular players in the world, Rory has amassed four majors but his last came at the 2014 US PGA Championship.
Four majors in a career is nothing to be sneezed at but for all of Rory’s talent, it seems a slight underachievement.
He’s recently been struggling with a two-way miss but has been working with a new coach, Pete Cowan, in the hope of getting the most admired swing in golf back to performing like it should.
And after missing the cut by a fair margin at the Masters Rory bounced back at the Wells Fargo tournament at Quail Hollow, where he broke through for his first win since 2019 after putting the lights out.
His swing remains a work in progress but heading back to Kiawah Island, where he shot a blistering final round 66 in 2012, could be the catalyst for Rory to claim his fifth major.
THE YOUNG GUNS
At the Masters it was Will Zalatoris who flew the flag for the young guns, his pure iron play and distance control suggesting he will contend in plenty of majors to come.
Along with Zalatoris at this year’s US PGA, look out for Sam Burns and Viktor Hovland.
Burns won the Valspar Championship in early May after firing a scintillating fourth round, finally getting across the line after two near misses this season.
And Hovland has dramatically sharpened his skills up around the green after saying last year he “sucked” at chipping.
The Norwegian chipped brilliantly at the Masters, is one of the best ball strikers in the game and finished runner-up to McIlroy at Quail Hollow. If he can drain his share of putts, he should be a big threat.
And while he’s not that young, also look out for 30-year-old Max Homa, the Californian who won at Riviera in February.
If this year’s Masters went another nine holes, it’s fair to say Jon Rahm would’ve been wearing the green jacket.
The Spanish superstar was on fire on Sunday, shooting a six-under 66 that was arguably the worst score he could’ve recorded after an epic ball-striking display.
He came from well back and was the only player to make a charge on the final day, as most of the top 10 faltered or remained steady on the way in.
Rahm’ switch to a Callaway Epic driver and Callaway Apex irons has gone smoothly and although he missed the cut at Quail Hollow, the former world no.1’s game oozes major-winning class.
It won’t be long before he wins his first major and it could very well come at Kiawah Island.
Hideki Matsuyama joined the ranks of major winners when he broke through at the Masters.
It was the first major win by a Japanese male golfer and it was widely celebrated in his homeland of Japan – echoing Adam Scott’s breakthrough for Australia in 2013.
The Japanese media’s infatuation with their leading golfers is intense – just ask former prodigy Ryo Ishikawa, who won his first tournament as an amateur as a 15-year-old and was touted as Japan’s next big thing.
But Matsuyama has managed to avoid much of the glare by playing in the US, rather than domestically, and being a media recluse in his homeland.
At the Masters, Matsuyama’s golf following the short interruption in the third round was freakish, as he plundered Augusta with his Srixon ZX5 driver and Srixon Z-forged irons to surge to a four-shot lead.
While it wasn’t quite so precise in the final round, Hideki fortunately found a way to get the job done, admittedly with a little late help from Xander Schauffele.
Hideki heads to the US PGA Championship with the freedom that comes with being a major winner.
And with a green jacket in his wardrobe, he’ll feel like he’s playing with house money.