Connect with us

First on the Tee

First On The Tee: It’s the Week 2020 Gives Us Something Back

Published

on

The U.S. Open returns to Winged Foot GC for the first time in 14 years. (GETTY)

The scourge of the COVID-19 virus and its aftermath have taken many things from us over the past half year.

(Yes, it’s been six months since our society began to take mass precautionary measures. And, yes, I’ve been counting.)

Most of those opportunities and events are gone forever, simple as that. But this week, us golf fans get something back. A make good, if you will.

It might not be the height of the summer as per usual for our nation’s championship, but it really is U.S. Open week.

Unlike the upcoming autumnal Masters, you could definitely squint and pretend it’s Father’s Day weekend as you take in NBC’s coverage of the Open from Winged Foot. Even though we’re looking at temperatures in the low 70s and high 60s for the greater New York area, it’s not like the trees are changing colors yet.

And in a lot of ways, the excitement level for this Open should be even higher than usual, and not just for the absence-makes-the-heart-fonder sort of thing.

For one, the just-completed FedEx Cup playoffs established Dustin Johnson as the sport’s true alpha dog at the moment, despite his midsummer hiccups. From my perspective at least, stories are easier to tell (and sell) in an individual sport when there’s one dominant figure that the rest of the competitors are trying to track down.

You need some worthy challengers, though, and fortunately there are plenty.

Bryson DeChambeau might’ve had a lackluster playoffs, finishing near the bottom of the 30-player Tour Championship, but it was just a month ago that he put together a top-five result at the PGA Championship despite not having his ‘A’ game working. On one hand, you could argue his bash-and-slash game is ill-suited for the precise test Winged Foot will present. On the other, you could say that, if everyone’s going to miss fairways this week, you might as well be close to the green.

Then there’s Justin Thomas. Take away the staggered-start Tour Championship and he has as many wins since the COVID-19 restart (two) as Johnson. Furthermore, Thomas’ laser-like approach aptitude would be the one skill I’d hone in on if I tried to handicap a U.S. Open. From an entertainment perspective, if I could make a wish for a star-powered duel on Sunday afternoon, I think I’d pick DJ vs. JT.

Actually, take that back. What if we got Tiger vs. Phil, somehow, someway? That seems like a complete fantasy given how poorly both of golf’s Gen-X VIPs have competed since the PGA Tour restarted, but hey, Phil’s confidence might be up after smoking the seniors in his Champions Tour debut, and it wasn’t that long ago that Tiger woke up the echoes at another legendary major venue.

Let’s not forget Phil’s, uh, history at Winged Foot, either.

Six paragraphs of summary and I haven’t even mentioned Jon Rahm, who, like Thomas, also has two wins since the restart and, like Thomas, also has spent time as World No. 1 this summer. He’s the only guy to beat DJ during the FedEx Cup playoffs and his tee-to-green stats have been outstanding. That’s a good recipe at a U.S. Open course.

Geez, now that I’ve written all that out, this is shaping up as one of the most interesting Opens of the 21st century. The shame of it is that the USGA’s flagship event has never had more competition on the sporting calendar than this edition.

You don’t need me to tell you this, but we’ve got — in order of typical American audience share — football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer all competing for eyeballs this upcoming weekend. Typically at U.S. Open time, it’s just MLB and maybe the end of the NBA Finals, if the series goes the distance.

I want the sport to get more attention as much as anyone, but at the same time that’s NBC’s job to worry about, not ours.

All that matters to golf fans is that, despite it all, we got our U.S. Open, just like we’ll get our Masters. Do me a favor and enjoy our first men’s major ever in September.

In a year like this, we’ve got to embrace the weird. In this case, the task is easier than most we’ve been confronted with in 2020.

DOWN THE FAIRWAY

• Notice that I said the Open is the first men’s major in September. The LPGA was in the southern California desert over the weekend for the ANA Inspiration, the major formerly known as the Dinah Shore.

In a tourney known for the traditional post-round dip in the greenside pond for the winner and her caddie, Mirim Lee had to sweat out a three-player playoff to win her first major, birdieing the par-5 18th while 54-hole co-leaders Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson made par.

But the shot of the championship was struck on the final hole of regulation, as Lee holed a long chip shot for eagle, putting her on the verge of her first win anywhere since 2017.

After enduring a week that featured 100-plus-degree temperatures, maybe everybody deserved a Sunday swim.

The next LPGA major is the KPMG PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia, on the second weekend of October.

• A longer victory drought was ended on the PGA Tour, where 47-year-old Stewart Cink won for the first time in 11 years, at the Safeway Open in Napa Valley, California.

Needless to say, I felt much better about this Cink victory than his previous one, when he played worldwide spoiler at the 2009 Open Championship by denying a 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff.

I still haven’t forgiven you for that one, Stewart, but congrats on the family-focused win. He had his son on the bag and his wife just outside the ropes for his return to Trophy Town.

• Around these parts, we’ll have an interesting team competition on Thursday: The Palmer Cup matches at Latrobe Country Club.

It’s amateurs vs. pros in the annual showcase, with a level mix of youth and experience on the amateur side:

As for the guys who get paid, here’s the rundown from the Tri-State PGA team:

• A couple of reminders before I sign off: If you’re a high school coach, player or parent, please send me your team’s scores for our running WPIAL scoreboard! Email me at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

Also, you can plaster your golf business’ name on Pittsburgh Golf Now! Join the likes of Sunset Golf and Butler’s Golf Course as Eagle Sponsors on our directory pages. Again, email me.

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

Get PGN in your Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow PGN on Twitter