clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What we learned from a dramatic finish at the PGA Championship

Jason Day can hit shots most pros dream about. Jimmy Walker is beloved by his coach and colleagues. And the PGA makes an incredibly tough call that works out perfectly.

The PGA Championship was uneven all weekend thanks to some horrendous weather that left Baltusrol drenched. But we got a fantastic final 30 minutes on an interminable Sunday, closing out the majors season with our fourth straight first-time winner.

We know how Jimmy Walker got it done, but here are a few other moments and decisions from the final round of the majors season that defined this PGA.

A 2-iron that should never be forgotten, but probably will be

Jason Day's approach shot into the 18th green is legendary. It was an astonishing laser, the one moment in this championship where your phone started buzzing with text messages, the Twitter feed became one unanimous freakout, and we got a little "oh my goodness" from Jimmy Nantz.

When Day took an iron off the 18th tee, it was deflating. There was an exasperated, "What is he doing?" This is a par-5 and he's down two shots. He's one of the longest hitters in the game, capable of driving it 350-plus yards. Pull the driver and let's go for the eagle. When you can hit a 260-yard, uphill 2-iron, however, I guess driver isn't needed on the first shot.

This was an outrageous shot that he made hold up by sinking the putt. We've still got a ways to go with the Olympics, the FedExCup and the Ryder Cup, but that shot, along with Dustin Johnson's approach into the 18th at the U.S. Open and Rory McIlroy's fairway wood from 252 yards to two feet at the Irish Open, may be the ones I remember most from this year.

We thought this thing was over, but that shot forced Walker to grind out an extremely tense par on his final hole. If Day wins in a playoff after that eagle, they're building a shrine at that spot in the middle of the fairway. I'll remember it, but because of what Jimmy Walker did behind Day, it will largely be forgotten by history.

The PGA's decision to go with preferred lies

Somewhere, some USGA official huffed at the integrity of a major championship being compromised because lift, clean, and place was used for the final round. I'd much rather have that than not knowing what the leader's score was for the final seven holes of a major.

This was a bold decision by the PGA of America that paid off and, by the end of the day, was almost universally praised. Our problem with these ruling bodies is that they overcomplicate things by being prisoners to antiquated traditions and a pretzel of a rulebook. Just do what makes sense.

Sure, no one can seem to remember preferred lies ever being in place at a major. The USGA would rather finish the U.S. Open on a Wednesday than ever put it in place. But this was the right call and provided the most fair test, eliminating mud balls, the total fluke of a player hitting a good shot into the fairway but being left with a ball covered in junk that removes all predictability of where the next shot will go. The soaked fairways also would have had players taking relief from casual water out into the rough and just a constant mess of rules and "what's the proper drop" discussions.

Golf Channel's Frank Nobilo contrasted the call with some of the ignominious and high-profile governing body screwups this year. "We had a really bad year, rulings-wise, and I think that's something we got to look at," Nobilo said. "It was a great call. Jimmy Walker got his moment today because they made a really gutsy decision." His colleague, David Duval, said he hoped it "set a precedent moving forward" to help remove luck as an overriding factor in who wins these things. It was a fascinating discussion worth watching.

It's not just suboptimal, but anathema to use lift, clean, and place for a major. It's never done, usually out of some misguided and inflexible tradition that thinks it's an embarrassment. After taking a beating for not moving tee times up on Saturday, the PGA made the hard and correct choice on Sunday, even when championship director Kerry Haigh said the night prior that going to preferred lies was "highly unlikely." It was refreshing to see and played a role in the miracle that was finishing this thing on time Sunday night.

This is not some plea to use this with regularity. Lift, clean, and place sucks and it should be avoided as much as possible. But it was an excellent example of how a little flexibility can result in a rigid old golf governing body taking a path that simply makes the most damn sense to the rest of the world.

Jimmy and Rickie

One of several things that stood out about Walker's win was just how popular it was with his colleagues on Twitter and on the grounds, with Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler waiting around an hour after their round ended to greet him with a hug as he walked off the 18th.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It's a little odd to see an "older" player and such a deadpan personality so tight with Fowler and some of the younger players, but it's a remnant of their Ryder Cup partnership two years ago. Fowler and Walker have stayed close off the course and are clearly still boys. That's extended to Spieth and others who stayed together in one big house over at The Open. Walker gushed over his relationship with the "young" guys of the Tour, calling Rickie his "pardna" and it had you ready to scream for the 12-man USA Ryder Cup team.

Jimmy and Butchie

Butch Harmon pupils have swept the two rotating American majors. Harmon became most famous for his work with Tiger Woods. But let's face it, Tiger was already a supernova talent. Butch helped him, of course, and that stretch of Tiger's career was probably the best golf ever played in the history of this here planet.

Dustin Johnson is arguably the most talented player in the world these days, but that's another case of Butch pushing him slightly to the next level and being there for reassurance and confidence. Jimmy Walker? Well, he was a talented junior that had bounced back and forth from the PGA Tour and Tour before he really started working with Butch. Now he's got six wins, including a major, in less than three years.

Butch got emotional on the 18th green re-connecting with Walker, red-eyed as they posed with the Wanamaker trophy. That is not something you see much, if ever, from arguably the greatest swing coach ever. The teachers probably get too much credit and too much blame, but this was another big win for Harmon, and probably because it didn't come from one of his star pupils like Tiger, Phil, or DJ.

* * *

It's always sad when the majors season comes to a close, but lucky for us, it's a Ryder Cup year. The Ryder Cup is, simply put, the best event in golf and now we have the Olympics, the FedExCup, and two months of roster debate over which 12 players will represent the United States at Hazeltine. We just bolted through three majors in little more than a month but we're not done yet -- this is going to be an awesome sprint to October.

* * *

Weird golf rules for weird situations