Nevius: PGA Championship in San Francisco puts pros on our turf

Tiger Woods will be in San Francisco this week. So will Rory Mcllroy, winner of multiple golfing majors.

And maybe you’ve heard of Bryson DeChambeau? A few weeks ago he hit a drive that traveled 428 yards. As they say in the clubhouse, anything that flies that far should have a flight attendant aboard.

In fact, of the 100 top-ranked golfers in the world, over 90 of them will be here for the PGA Championship, which will begin Thursday at Harding Park, on the west side of the city, near Ocean Beach.

They might as well be in Dubuque.

Amid COVID-19 precautions, the golfers will be there, but almost nobody else will.

This will be a very odd event. The PGA Championship is considered one of the four golfing majors, with the U.S. Open, British Open and Masters. So the initial expectation would have been for sky-high ticket prices, fairways jammed with spectators and roars from crowds as a 30-footer curls into the cup.

Obviously, none of that is going to happen. Coronavirus protocols are so strict that even the families of the players will not be allowed on the grounds. Golf is naturally socially distanced and played outdoors, so the players will probably not wear masks while playing, although some may.

Otherwise, it will basically be a ghost town. Even some TV commentators will be working remotely from other cities. A limited number of journalists will be allowed on site at the event, but the majority will conduct Zoom interviews and watch the golf on TV.

And wow, will there be a lot to watch on TV. In all, there will be 170 hours of live action, a PGA Championship record. There will be drones. There will be brightly colored flight paths of golf balls. CBS is announcing it will implement SwingVision, Virtual Eye, 4D Replay and Fly Cam ― whatever those are.

So plenty of access to good golf. And worth watching. We may think of the PGA as the “other” major, but I can assure you the players consider it huge. The reason? It might have something to do with $11 million in prize money, with the winner getting just under $2 million and each of the top three clearing over a million.

You are going to see some serious grinding and gritting. And maybe a couple of horrific, pressure-induced blowups that ruin a round. At last year’s PGA, Brooks Koepka had a seven-shot lead on the final day, only to start leaking oil; losing six shots on a bogey spree before righting himself and staggering home for his second consecutive win.

So it should be exciting. But that’s not the reason for us to watch.

Harding Park is a public golf course. It’s not private like the snooty Olympic Club, which has hosted more than one U. S. Open.

Harding is the home course for duffers, hackers and worm burners. It isn’t an easy course by any means, but it can be played, cheerfully, by someone who shoots in triple digits.

Harding doesn’t put on airs. More than once I’ve driven out there in the morning and asked if there was a slot for a single. Often as not there is.

Go into the Cypress Clubhouse afterwards and you are likely to see a table ― maybe two ― of ladies playing their regular game of mahjong. There’s also an older crowd, sitting at the tables by the windows, who are clearly dressed for lunch, not golf.

Yep, Tiger and Rory and Brooks and Bryson are coming to a muni.

And that’s not the best part.

There’s one really cool thing about golf that’s not true of other sports. In golf, you can stand exactly where Woods stood, sizing up an approach to the green. You can hit Tiger’s shot. Now, you’ll probably top it and roll it into the catbox, but still ...

A word of caution. If you get a chance to play Harding right after the tournament, I’d pass. We talk about PGA officials getting a course in tournament shape, and Harding has been giving us a harsh lesson in what that means.

Fairways have been shrunk 60%. For the past year, greenskeepers have been building up a thatch of rough that could swallow a small dog. The grass isn’t just tall, it’s as thick as pudding.

You can literally drop a ball into it from waist height and watch it disappear. It is so thick that, during the months they were building it up for the tournament, some golfers I knew quit playing Harding. It was too hard to dig it out of the rough.

Now we get to see the best golfers in the world try it. And yes, part of me hopes there is some complaining about how difficult it is. So I can say something like, “This is the hole where Dustin Johnson took an eight. And I parred it the other day (OK, with a mulligan).”

Also, I am available for local knowledge. For instance, No. 16 is a short par four that the pros may try to reach off the tee. But in doing so, they are going to have to contend with what we mere mortals face ― a tall Monterey Cypress on the corner of the fairway.

Just a warning. The locals call that tree Willie Mays.

Because it never drops a ball.

Good luck.

Contact C.W. Nevius at Twitter: @cwnevius

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