We’ve not seen a run-up to a major like this one. The three-day circus in the press tent at Whistling Straits leading into last week’s PGA Championship was weird even by recent news standards.
We had Golf Channel reporter Jim Gray and Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin going mano-a-mano over who said what about Tiger Woods being picked for the U.S. team if he didn’t qualify on points. Out of nowhere, Phil Mickelson dropped a health scare bombshell about a nasty chronic condition of arthritis he’s enduring. And commentator David Feherty, a fervent defender in print of Woods’ privacy and savagely critical of how the golf media has handled that, opened up a can of worms without being provoked when he referred to a previously unpublicized effort by European Ryder Cup team captain Colin Montgomerie to squash publication in Great Britain of potentially compromising photos of himself.
On fact, all year, it’s a strange, unpredictable season of golf news. The paparazzi and unconventional media lead the way with a barrage of coverage about Woods. And even after his return to play, coverage focused on how far his game had strayed. After the Bridgestone Invitational, he was given up for nearly dead; when he rebounded with an opening round 1-under 71 at the PGA, it was left to the staid Wall Street Journal to show how far the mainstream print world had wandered into the territory of sensationalism staked out by the new on-line media. “The Corpse Sits Up in Its Coffin,” declared a story in its Friday edition.
A year ago, 2010 looked like the perfect alignment of major sites for Woods perhaps surpassing Jack Nicklaus in professional major titles. To be sure, the line-up of courses was itself newsworthy for their curb appeal: Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits. And after Mickelson won his third green jacket in April there was serious talk of him taking over the No. 1 spot. But has he faltered in successive attempts to take over the top spot, it became clear that the real story of the year – beyond a stunning pair of 59s on Tour – was the deep and strength of international players on Tour and the ability of the 20-something crowd to challenge week after week.
So after three days of soap opera, we got ourselves a real tournament. It was good to be back outside, free from scandal du jour – until it turned out the latest scandal of sorts was trying to figure out what was and was not a proper bunker.
In winning, Martin Kaymer doubly confirmed the dominant story lines of the year. He’s 25 and he’s distinctly international (German). As with so much else in golf, no one could have predicted it – not at the beginning of the week. Certainly not at the beginning of the year.