The book is closed on the 105th USPGA Championship and history will record a fifth major victory for Brooks Koepka making him only the 20th player in history to tuck away that number of major titles. Only eight of those twenty are still alive.
The test was the picturesque, rolling Oak Hill golf course in Rochester, New York, some 90 miles or so from Niagara Falls – and, no, unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to go there. The weather was changeable, to say the least, with all four seasons presented to the players over the tournament days and, indeed, on the Saturday we had our own version of Niagara with the amount of water that fell out of the sky from dawn to dusk. The course stood up to the deluge remarkably well and a sunny, breezy Sunday saw all connected with the tournament breathe a sigh of relief when we got done and dusted on time.
That’s one of the anomalies of both loving and working in golf. Over the last year and a half, sitting at home watching the golf and listening to my friends broadcasting, I’ve always got my fingers crossed that there will be a play-off. Yet, whenever I’m there in the thick of it all that’s the last thing I want. Days are relentlessly long, a mere twelve hours if you’re lucky, and on this occasion when not at Oak Hill I was closeted in my hotel room concentrating on energy conservation so I could make it through the week. I was inhabiting a strange world; one half full of vibrancy, urgency and colour and the other half a dull, soulless hotel room that made me seriously question just why I was there and did I really want to be? And, of course, not being 100 per cent doesn’t help you look on the bright side.I got my answer on the Sunday of the Championship. After a trying, dreich Saturday which necessitated turning my room into my version of a Chinese laundry (are you still allowed to say that, nowadays?) I felt for the first time that I would, indeed, last the course. Not only was the weather due to behave on Sunday, there was an expectant buzz and anticipation of a huge sporting event reaching its climax and denouement. There’s nothing quite like it.
There was no shortage of story lines either – those of you who watched will be well aware of that. Aside from who would actually win, the most riveting without question was the story of Michael Block, a 46-year old Californian club pro who was up in the top ten and drawn to play with Rory McIlroy in the final round. Twenty club professionals from around the country earn a spot in the field through qualification tournaments and it is extremely newsworthy when any make the cut for the weekend. On four previous occasions, Michael Brock had failed to do so, but this time he was destined to take centre stage in a manner that would have been unbelievable in a movie and rejected for being too far-fetched.
He came to the 15th hole at three over par, still within the top twenty and promptly aced it to the raucous, unconfined delight of the thousands of fans who packed the grandstands and lined the ropes to catch a glimpse of one of the major headliners of the week. Who doesn’t love an underdog story after all, particularly when the hero is articulate, down-to-earth and amusing? And just the sort of guy you’d like to have as one of your pals?
I had been switched from my original pairing of Bryson DeChambeau and Corey Conners, neither of whom really got going on that final day, to Rory and our unexpected hero, Michael Block. I joined them on the 15th, seconds after Block’s tee shot had disappeared into the hole. It was absolute mayhem with joyous chanting and cheering from the thousands surrounding the hole.
It was brilliant fun to finish the round off with Block and a wonderful bonus that the story of the week was about a man who was not a member of either LIV Golf nor the PGA nor DP World Tours.
On the side of the 18th green, broadcasting duties complete, I surveyed the scene and thought, “This is why I do this.” Sporting competition at its best throws up irresistible stories now and again. Michael Block was having the greatest week of his life. Nothing can top it and he knows it.
And there I was, a wee girl from Portstewart with a front row seat, fully immersed in the greatest moment of another human being’s life.It was amazing. It was fun. It was a privilege. It was special.