PGA Championship 2017: Stars start slow but remain in contention at Quail Hollow

Casual golf fans might not recognize the two golfers atop of the 99th PGA Championship leaderboard. Thorbjorn Olseen and Kevin Kisner share the lead at 4 under. They are good players, but they are not superstars, and to the fan who tunes in to only four tournaments a year, they are not recognizable faces. However, despite their co-lead, there are some monster names sitting one, two, three and even five strokes back.

The PGA Championship is the major that most often produces random, bizarre leaderboards after the first 18 holes. Let’s take a look back at a few recent ones.

The top is the 2007 PGA Championship. Some guy named Tiger Woods went on to win. The second one is the 2014 PGA Championship. Some guy named Rory McIlroy went on to win.

So yeah, there’s a long way to go. And somebody from the names that are within striking distance should probably make a move on Friday to solidify himself as the favorite. Here are the players that trail Olesen and Kisner.

  • Brooks Koepka: 3 under
  • Rickie Fowler: 2 under
  • Jason Day: 1 under
  • Dustin Johnson: 1 under
  • Hideki Matsuyama: 1 under
  • Jon Rahm: 1 under
  • Adam Scott: E
  • Jordan Spieth: 1 over
  • Rory McIlroy: 1 over

I feel confident in saying one of those guys is going to play lights out on Friday, post a score and prepare for a (really) late afternoon tee time on Saturday. Consider McIlroy’s history at this course: In his two wins and playoff loss, he has not been closer than five strokes back of the lead after the first round. That’s exactly where he sits right now.

“It’s a tough golf course,” said McIlroy, who holds the course record at Quail Hollow. “I shoot something in the 60s tomorrow, move right up there. So yeah, I’m in it.”

For his playing partner Fowler it’s about doing more of what he did on Thursday (just without the triple bogey he made on the front nine).

“I feel like we did a good job of that on the putting surfaces today,” said Fowler, who leads the PGA Tour in putting so far this season. “The big thing for me is continuing to drive it, as good as I did today, if not better. That can be tightened up a little bit. If we do that, it will be a good week.”

With all the hype around McIlroy and Spieth, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson was a bit of an afterthought coming into the week. He played quite well on Thursday, however, and often rides the hottest heaters anyone has ever seen.

“I hadn’t been swinging that good,” said Johnson, who was undone at The Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by one bad round in each event. “I definitely hadn’t had a lot of confidence in the driver. This week, I worked hard on it and I got a lot of confidence in the driver. I feel like I’m swinging it really well. Got control over it finally. The ball is kind of starting where I want it to. It’s got the right shape.”

That’s a scary proposition for the field. D.J. is starting to feel himself on a bomber’s course. Two back of Johnson and joining McIlroy at 1 over is Spieth, who (you may have heard) is vying for the career Grand Slam this week.

“Historically, I’m pretty solid with the lead,” said Spieth after Round 1. “So that was kind of the goal was to grab the lead. It’s much easier when you are on the front page of the leaderboard than it is coming from behind. Given it’s the first round, I know I’m still in it, but I know that tomorrow’s round becomes that much more important to work my way and stay in it. I’ve got to make up ground. If I’m five back at the start of the day, I’ve got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win.”

That’s the goal for everybody on this list as the field tees it up for a maybe unexpectedly tough course in Round 2. Go deep on Friday and cruise home on the weekend. Easy to talk about, tough to execute. Golf is fun when stars are trying to run down the everyman. That means the rest of this week should be a blast.

PGA Championship: Best quotes of the week from Quail Hollow

The 99th PGA Championship began this week at Quail Hollow, and Tour pros provided no shortage of witty one-liners, jokes and observations.

Jason Day, on the telescopes given out by Jimmy Walker: “Probably see Uranus from here, mate.”

Jordan Spieth reviews a local restaurant in Charlotte: “Went to Cowfish last night. That place was interesting, really good. I had no idea how to feel going in with the menu, just burgers and sushi. I needed like a 20-minute break afterward to try and figure out what I just ate (laughter), but it was good.”

Phil Mickelson, on his long relationship with Ernie Els: “It’s amazing that we’ve played together and against each other for so many years. It doesn’t seem that long ago from those days, but it sure looks a long time ago.”

Ernie Els, discussing his style at the 1989 Open at Royal Troon: “It was a pretty cool haircut, wasn’t it? Should probably hide that one.”

Rory McIlroy, on the new policy allowing shorts on practice days: “If it was sunny it would be great. Obviously it’s raining out. Still I don’t get why people are wearing shorts. I know it’s pretty warm out there.”

Jimmy Walker, on an unintended consequence of the shorts rule:  “I think the guys are having fun doing it. It’s not like we don’t see each other in shorts. But everybody is razzing each other a little bit. I think there’s some guys that look really good in shorts and some guys that don’t look really good in shorts. It’s pretty funny. I think a lot of untanned legs — you can tell those Florida boys. You know they have been down there soaking the sun up. I’ve been up in Utah and I’ve been overseas for two weeks, wet and cold, so my legs aren’t very tan right now.

Club pros enjoying the spotlight at PGA Championship 2017

Alex Beach played a practice round with Luke Donald, walked off the ninth green and signed autographs.

The club pro from New Jersey is savoring every moment of his first PGA Championship.

And deservedly so. About a year ago at this time, he was in a hospital.

“It took a long time to fight back,” Beach said Wednesday, “but to be here a year and some change later, it feels very special.”

So while Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and the rest of golf’s glamour names likely will dominate the headlines later in the week, the eve of the season’s final major championship belonged to Beach and the 19 other club professionals who scratched their way into the field at Quail Hollow.

“It’s kind of the underdog story. I think everyone likes that,” Beach said. “The PGA is such a great brand, and they do a lot for the game, and a lot of these guys wouldn’t be where they are without a PGA professional, and I’m no different.

“We all had mentors growing up, and people helping us get here,” he added. “So it’s kind of a nice thank-you to them. Obviously, it’s great being in my position where I get to actually play, but it’s something to look forward to every year. It’s something to keep us working harder at our own game and trying to achieve to get back to this level.”

Brian Gaffney in 2015 at Whistling Straits is the only club pro to make the cut in the last five years, and no club pro has finished among the top 20 since Jay Overton tied for 17th in 1988 at Oak Tree.

But they have been an integral part of the PGA Championship since its start in 1916, and perhaps even more so since the tour players broke away in 1969 to form what is now the PGA Tour. They have as much chance of winning as the aging past champions at the Masters or British Open. But the PGA of America can’t imagine having its major championship without them for the message it sends.

A club pro’s path to the PGA Championship leads through section championships and the PGA Professional National Championship, where the top 20 finishers earn invitations. Omar Uresti won it in June at Oregon’s Sunriver Resort, beating Dave McNabb in the second hole of a playoff.

“Those 20 professionals make a great statement for the game of golf in the industry,” PGA President Paul Levy said. “As you look at all these great players, they all started out working with a PGA club professional. So it’s a platform for our association and the best 20 players in our association to show the world that they play the game at a high level. We think it’s a great way to champion what the PGA of America golf professional does and the relationship with the tour.”

Beach, a 27-year-old native of Stillwater, Minnesota, who graduated from Nebraska but did not play college golf, is an assistant club pro at Baltusrol , which hosted last year’s PGA Championship.

“For me, having not played college golf, I kind of created my own journey to get here,” Beach said. “And I think I want to use that to (inspire) other people who maybe didn’t follow the typical route — anyone can get here, and it’s no different than anything else at life. Put your head down and work hard, and you can achieve it, and this is where I want to be.”

Beach qualified to play on his home course but pulled out at the last minute when a blood clot was found in his leg. In each of the previous three years, he failed to qualify by one stroke.

“The anticipation of looking forward to that after missing it for three years, making it, and then the day of, ending up in the hospital, kind of seemed a little unfair,” he said. “But it was a little adversity and I think I made the best of it.”

Beach won the New Jersey PGA Professional Championship, then finished ninth at Sunriver to earn a spot in Charlotte.

“Everyone has been so welcoming to us that we feel like we are a part of this week, even though we’re (taking) a little different route,” he said. “It’s fun. The whole experience has been incredible. And I’m looking forward to the next step.”

Jason Day hungry again after burnout, fall from number 1 ranking

Burnout and distractions led to Jason Day sliding down the rankings, but the Filipino-Australian golfer says the hunger is back at the PGA Championship 2017.

Jason Day hopes that after a year of burnout, injury, family drama and struggles with game and focus, the PGA Championship can help him regain the form that made him a major champion.

The former world number one, a Filipino-Australian from Queensland, has slid to seventh in the rankings in the past 6 months, and enters Thursday’s opening round at Quail Hollow with new confidence after a season of setbacks.

“I’m improving each and every day now and actually I’m hungry again,” Day said Wednesday. “I’m very motivated right now. Like I want to win again. So I’m excited about that.”

Day took 3 months off before the start of the year to rest his back but struggled early and lost the top ranking to American Dustin Johnson in February.

Then came cancer surgery for his mother, Dening, which pushed him to withdraw from the World Golf Championships Match Play.

“It was very difficult for me to be on the golf course and even think about actually playing,” Day said.

He returned by sharing 22nd at the Masters and managed his best result of the year by losing a playoff in May at the Byron Nelson Championship. But he missed the cut at the US Open and couldn’t crack the top 20 at the British Open or last week’s WGC Akron event.

“I’ve gone through a little bit of a plateau here, and hopefully I can change that this week, especially with the past experiences that I’ve had competing in the PGA Championship.”

‘Very poor year’

Day won his only major title at the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits and finished second to American Jimmy Walker last year at Baltusrol.

“I’m looking forward to this week because I feel like I’m starting to turn the corner with regards to this plateau,” Day said. “This has been a very poor year for me so hopefully I can turn it around and start playing some good golf here.”

It hasn’t been easy for Day to control the frustration of his fall.

“It annoys and motivates me at the same time, because I know how good I can be, because I have gotten to number one in the world,” Day said.

“But I think through the latter part of last year, I got a little bit burnt out. I was trying to do too many things, and my mind got a little bit away from what really made me good and how much I practiced.

“I was exhausted at the end of it and I didn’t have enough time to reflect on what I accomplished, but also to relax and try and replace all the energy that expelled. I think I will do that a lot differently.”

The doubts and questions have kept Day awake at night searching for answers.

“It’s frustrating to me because I’m sitting there and my game is not where it should be,” he said. “You’re not panicking or anything. You’re just wondering why. You’re up at night thinking, ‘OK, what do I need to do to get back to that winning form?’

US PGA Championship 2017 tee-off times, day one

Jordan Spieth insists he is not feeling the pressure of trying to complete the career grand slam because he has no “burning desire” to become the youngest to achieve the feat.

Spieth’s dramatic Open victory at Royal Birkdale means he needs to win the US PGA Championship to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in having won all four majors.

Woods was 24 years, seven months and 25 days old when he won the 2000 Open at St Andrews by eight shots, while Spieth celebrated his 24th birthday just four days after the Open, fittingly posting a picture on social media of a small birthday cake perched on top of the Claret Jug.

Thursday day one tee times

(USA unless stated, all times Local, -5hrs from BST):

(a) denotes amateurs

Starting at hole 1

  • 0720 Rich Berberian Jr., Grayson Murray, Peter Uihlein
  • 0730 Adam Rainaud, Tony Finau, Fabrizio Zanotti (Par)
  • 0740 Young-Han Song (Kor), Dave McNabb, Charles Howell III
  • 0750 Wesley Bryan, Sung Kang (Kor), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa)
  • 0800 Francesco Molinari (It), William McGirt, Jim Herman
  • 0810 Gary Woodland, Andy Sullivan (Eng), Kyle Stanley
  • 0820 Vijay Singh (Fij), Rich Beem, John Daly
  • 0830 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Danny Willett (Eng), J.B. Holmes
  • 0840 Thomas Pieters (Bel), Xander Schauffele, Rodney Pampling (Aus)
  • 0850 Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Brendan Steele, Hudson Swafford
  • 0900 Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Cameron Smith (Aus), Brandon Stone (Rsa)
  • 0910 Greg Gregory, K.T. Kim (Kor), James Hahn
  • 0920 Richard Sterne (Rsa), Ryan Vermeer, Chris Stroud
  • 1235 Matt Dobyns, Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Lucas Glover
  • 1245 Jason Kokrak, Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Mike Small
  • 1255 Branden Grace (Rsa), Pat Perez, Thomas Bjorn (Den)
  • 1305 Adam Scott (Aus), Luke Donald (Eng), Webb Simpson
  • 1315 Billy Horschel, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Si Woo Kim (Kor)
  • 1325 Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker
  • 1335 Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm (Spa)
  • 1345 Matt Kuchar, Chris Kirk, Justin Rose (Eng)
  • 1355 Daniel Berger, Jim Furyk, Kevin Kisner
  • 1405 Ross Fisher (Eng), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Ryan Moore
  • 1415 Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Smith (Eng), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven)
  • 1425 Alex Beach, Kevin Na, Sean O’Hair
  • 1435 Chris Moody (Eng), Jamie Lovemark, Luke List

Starting at hole 10

  • 0725 Shane Lowry (Irl), Stuart Deane, Pablo Larrazabal (Spa)
  • 0735 Scott Hebert, Alex Noren (Swe), Russell Knox (Sco)
  • 0745 Ernie Els (Rsa), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Ian Poulter (Eng)
  • 0755 Daniel Summerhays, Robert Streb, Chris Wood (Eng)
  • 0805 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed
  • 0815 Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Paul Casey (Eng)
  • 0825 Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia (Spa), Jordan Spieth
  • 0835 Dustin Johnson, Jason Day (Aus), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
  • 0845 Padraig Harrington (Irl), Keegan Bradley, Davis Love III
  • 0855 Zach Johnson, Lee Westwood (Eng), Charley Hoffman
  • 0905 David Lingmerth (Swe), Scott Brown, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel)
  • 0915 Scott Hend (Aus), Kenny Pigman, Andrew Johnston (Eng)
  • 0925 Brian Smock, Patrick Rodgers, Kelly Kraft
  • 1230 David Muttitt, Bud Cauley, Graham DeLaet (Can)
  • 1240 Rod Perry, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Yuta Ikeda (Jpn)
  • 1250 Joost Luiten (Ned), Paul Claxton, Russell Henley
  • 1300 Patrick Cantlay, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Soren Kjeldsen (Den)
  • 1310 Y.E. Yang (Kor), Shaun Micheel, Omar Uresti
  • 1320 Danny Lee (Nzl), Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Marc Leishman (Aus)
  • 1330 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Kevin Chappell, Mackenzie Hughes (Can)
  • 1340 Steve Stricker, Brian Harman, Jonas Blixt (Swe)
  • 1350 Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Adam Hadwin (Can), D.A. Points
  • 1400 Bill Haas, Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Martin Laird (Sco)
  • 1410 Jeunghun Wang (Kor), Alexander Levy (Fra), Jamie Broce
  • 1420 JJ Wood, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Haotong Li (Chn)
  • 1430 Cody Gribble, Jaysen Hansen, Chez Reavie