TULSA: Dave Stockton won the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills and his nostalgic return this week included the champions dinner for swapping stories of the great shots, the terrible ones and memories of career-making victories.
He was disappointed by the low turnout. Only 11 former champions who are playing this week attended. Nobody misses the Masters champions dinner, Stockton noted.
“That’s what this should be,” he said. “I don’t quite understand why because I think it’s very important for us as champions to come back.”
The other former PGA champions who were there: Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer, Padraig Harrington, Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem, Mark Brooks and Jeff Sluman.
Those who skipped: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, YE Yang, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and John Daly.
One player Stockton didn’t miss? Defending champion Phil Mickelson.
Lefty withdrew from the tournament last week as he continues a break from golf following his incendiary comments about a Saudi-funded rival league the PGA Tour opposes.
“It was a fun evening. Phil was not missed. I think Phil would have been a big distraction whether he was here,” Stockton said. “The story here this week is the PGA.”
Mickelson ordinarily would have been the host and would have picked a gift for the players. This time, the PGA of America chose the gift and kept with an outdoor theme.
So the champions received an outdoor fire pit with the PGA logo on it, quite the coincidence. The quotes that caused the most problems for Mickelson came from an excerpt from Alan Shipnuck’s unauthorized biography. It was published on a website called “The Fire Pit Collective.”
COMING TO AMERICA
Long flights, odd hours and jet lag. Lots and lots of jet lag.
Coming to America for three of the four majors can be rough on Europe-based players, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters said Wednesday ahead of the PGA Championship.
Pieters has traveled between Europe, the Middle East and and the United States to play several times already this season and the pace left him tired after the Masters, where he missed the cut.
He took several weeks off before returning for a top-10 finish at the Soudal Open last week in his native Belgium. Then he boarded a flight for Tulsa.
“I just think I haven’t performed in America as well the last couple of years just because the travel for me, it gets me. When you have to do it on your own it gets lonely. Like I said, when you go back and forth like six, seven, eight times, it takes a toll on your body,” he said.
“It’s always been last minute for me, like getting invites and playing my way into stuff,” Pieters said.
Because his body is still out of whack from the time change, Pieters said he’s grateful he drew a 9:17 am tee time for Thursday’s first round. He’s been waking up before dawn and has been exhausted by late afternoon.
“I’ll be fine by (Thursday),” he said.
Still, he doesn’t plan to move to the US
“I’ll invite you to Belgium. It’s a lovely country,” Pieters said. “My family is over there, my girlfriend, my kid, my daughter. So no, I’m not moving over here anytime soon. My life is over there.”
Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard is quick to acknowledge that he wouldn’t be playing in the PGA Championship if not for his brother, Rasmus, and the way the twins pushed each other on the golf course through the years.
Rasmus isn’t in the field this week, but he made the cut in last year’s PGA at Kiawah Island.
“He gave me some insight on what to expect getting to play a major championship here in the States,” said Nicolai, who missed the cut in his only other major, the 2018 British Open. “It’s a little different over here compared to Europe and the climate, as well — it’s so hot over here. He gave some good things that I could use this week.”
Things weren’t always so magnanimous between the 21-year-old brothers, who have combined to win five times in Europe, and last year won in back-to-back weeks.
“Back in the days we were fighting, we could get up in the fight,” Nicolai said. “We could start fighting after, if I shoot a good round and Rasmus played bad or the other way around. We’ve had conversations in the past, and also now, on how we tackle ups and downs. Someday we won’t play the same tour maybe, and how are we going to tackle that? We’ve had the conversations. That’s how golf is. That’s how life is. As long as we have each other, it’s a bonus.”
US. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson is already looking ahead to next year’s matches in Rome, for a lot more than just the golf.
Johnson is a self-described “geography nerd” and a foodie. The prospects of exploring the Italian countryside and its cuisine make him a bit giddy.
“My parents have been there two or three times, my wife has been there twice. The consensus is it’s their favorite country, outside of this great nation,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I know the makeup. I know you’ve got the Mediterranean down here, and I know that the Alps are up north and the beauty of that country is the people within it, so I’m excited to meet them.”
And eat with them. Eat a lot.
“I don’t eat to live, I live to eat,” the 46-year-old said. “It’s probably, it depends on how you look at it, not a great recipe to go over there because my guess is, I eat until I’m uncomfortable. So that’s going to happen quite a bit. That’s a good thing, actually.”