At the moment all my thoughts are turning to my next broadcasting stint, the PGA Championship which bounds into the May section of the calendar, as opposed to the August part, next week. Seventeen majors have come and gone since Rory McIlroy added to his total and in that time only four Europeans have managed to get over the line in one of the “big ones.” So, what price a European victory at Bethpage Black next weekend?
You’d think it’s certainly time that the world No 2, Justin Rose, added to his slimline total of one major, the 2013 US Open. A third place finish last week is evidence enough that the missed cut at the Masters was an uncharacteristic aberration and I expect him to contend strongly. He must be wondering, though, just what he needs to do to double his major tally. He’s in the prime of his golfing life and he needs to take advantage of that fact, converting his form into the currency by which great golfers are judged – majors.There was also an encouraging fourth place finish for 2017 Masters Champion, Sergio Garcia, last week. The mercurial Spaniard has all the physical tools to win another major, but his frequent and repeated mental walkabouts cast a huge doubt over his ability to stay the course and, sorrowfully, I have concluded that that one major triumph is it for Sergio. Who’d have ever thought the young, effervescent, leaping Spaniard of 1999 fame would still only have one major win two decades later?
One of the European contingent currently playing the best golf is the Italian metronome Francesco Molinari. Winner of the Open Championship last July, hunter-gatherer of five points out of five at last September’s Ryder Cup and serious contender for the green jacket last month, Molinari seems to have found the answers to most of the conundrums thrown up by this sport. His work with performance coach Dave Alred has elevated his mental toughness and resilience, allowing him to produce his best under the severest pressure. He is not finished with winning majors yet and I feel 2019 will yield another for him.One name never far from the major conversation is Rory McIlroy. Such is his talent and star power that his 2019 results, which read as follows – tied 4th, tied 5th, tied 4th, 2nd, tied 6th, 1st, tied 9th, tied 21st, tied 8th – is producing, not the universal admiration you might expect, but, rather, exasperation and endless questioning of his ability to finish things off. McIlroy is stubborn – it’s part of what makes him so good – but he’s no fool. He is working tirelessly to find the missing pieces for his jigsaw and engaging in meditation and mindfulness can only be helpful to his performance. It will also be vitally important in not letting the constant undermining criticism, which is the bane of every really great player, worm its way into his consciousness. I do expect another spurt of major victories from the Irishman – I’m just not sure when they’ll arrive. Soon, I hope. And don’t forget Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Jon Rahm and Ian Poulter. None of them would be a surprise winner and, with a green-jacketed, striped Tiger back in their midst hogging all the limelight, it’d be a great time to fly under the radar and snatch the biggest prize of their lives.
Once again, I’m lucky enough to have a front row seat when a player has an opportunity to join the five who have already achieved a career grand slam – the winning of all four majors. At Augusta it was Rory’s turn to have a go; now at the PGA, it is the turn of America’s Jordan Spieth. Can he join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in this most exclusive of clubs? Current form would suggest that it isn’t going to happen this year…..but, you never know. And, of course, speaking now of American players, what price a Tiger Woods 16th major win? It’ll depend a lot on how well he has recovered from that stellar effort at Augusta and whether he will be ring rusty not having teed it up at all between majors. Then there’s the defending champion Brooks Koepka who is already up to an impressive tally of three majors, accrued from his last seven outings. Or Dustin Johnson – surely far too talented to remain stuck on a single major? And isn’t it about time Rickie Fowler ditched the “best player never to have won a major” tag?
So many interesting back stories and potential history to be made. Here’s hoping the PGA delivers at Bethpage Black.