PGA notes: Whirlwind week for Piercy
JOHN’S CREEK, Ga. – Whirlwinds can sometimes be difficult, but Scott Piercy isn’t complaining about the one he’s been caught up in.
Hey, a week ago he wasn’t sure which PGA Tour tournament he’d play next, if any. Now? He’s not only in his first major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open, he’s got a dance card jammed-pack for the next month or two.
2011 PGA Championship: Practice rounds
Take a look at photos from the 2011 PGA Championship practice rounds
“I’ve gone from not knowing when I’d play to knowing I can play almost every week. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground,” said the 32-year-old Piercy. He was not complaining, however. In fact, he wore a smile as he stood in the lobby of the Atlanta Athletic Club’s locker room, accepting congratulations from a steady stream of players – Camilo Villegas, Brian Davis, John Rollins, and Jim Furyk among them.
There was good reason for the good cheer. Having finished 136th on the money list in 2010, Piercy wasn’t fully exempt this year, so he had been limited to just 14 starts before last week when he hit the jackpot in Reno, though it had nothing to do with a casino and everything with the way he played at Montreaux Golf & CC. With a stretch of eight straight birdies in a third-round 61, Piercy rode explosive momentum to his first PGA Tour win.
Given the uncertainty with his schedule, Piercy first and foremost appreciates the security of knowing what’s available to him the rest of 2010. He’s jumped from 137th to 80th in the FedEx Cup standings, so Piercy can count on the Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW is easily within reach.
But before all of that, Piercy finds himself in pulsating heat having received the berth that had been set aside for the Reno-Tahoe Open winner.
Thrilled to be here, Piercy doesn’t deny that it wasn’t his first thought when he clinched the win. Instead, “it was more like pure relief,” Piercy said, reference to the security factor. He concedes that he thought about the PGA Championship, but wasn’t sure he got a spot, though hours later, when he knew he was in and could plan on a coast-to-coast trip, the stepped-up pace to his life didn’t ruffle him at all.
“I said, ‘Let’s go with the flow and see where this stops.”
Having finished 60th on the PGA Tour money list as a rookie in 2009, Piercy slipped back a year ago and has battled through a number of issues – on and off the course – to regain confidence. He’s worked with Chris O’Connell of Dallas and Jim Hardy of Houston and Piercy said the switch back to Titleist clubs has paid off handsomely.
“I’ve been going all season not knowing where I’d play,” Piercy said. “It’s been tough. I didn’t know if I’d be the last one in or if I’d get in at all.”
This week, he was the last one in – of the exempted players, that is – although this was one time when that situation was gladly accepted.
A busy week: This week’s PGA Championship marks 10 years in the making for Ken Mangum, Atlanta Athletic Club’s director of golf courses and grounds. He’ll have been at the club for 23 years on Sept. 6, and knows the drill of making sure every blade of grass is just right in preparation for a major. He was in the same role when David Toms captured the PGA in 2001, and the conditioning of his Highlands Course this week has drawn rave reviews from players.
So it’s a busy week for Mangum, but a gratifying one, too. Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, who once played a pro-am round with Mangum at the John Deere Classic, invited him to play a practice round (Mangum passed; he was busy). What meant the most to him was a gathering Tuesday evening of his grounds staff and some 40-50 volunteers – roughly 100 people, total – who are assisting him on the golf course this week. Mangum looked around the room, and 95 percent of the group had either worked for or interned for him at AAC.
The PGA Championship in the 2000s
Check out photos of The PGA Championship in the 2000s
“It was heartwarming, to say the least,” Mangum said. “I was moved. I really depend on these guys a lot; I’m a big delegator. You know, this is a tough business – I’ve got to hire people who are going to be stars in 4-6 years.”
Eyes on China: Matt Kuchar was following the scenario closely, knowing he had a good shot at getting into the World Golf Championship’s World Cup in China (Nov. 24-27). The process begins with a country’s top-ranked player getting the invite and before the cutoff date arrived in late July, Kuchar ranked behind Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson.
But he knew both those players would turn down the opportunity, so Kuchar was optimistic. Then Dustin Johnson had a solid British Open and leapfrogged Kuchar as America’s third-ranked player. That was a bit of letdown, only things worked in Kuchar’s favor when Johnson turned down the chance for two reasons - one, it ran into Thanksgiving; and two, it would have meant missing the Clemson-South Carolina football game.
“I’m very excited,” said Kuchar, who got the invite when Johnson turned it down. “It’s a great honor to represent your country. I think it’s one of those things where I’ll look back at my career and consider it a thrill.”
What comes with the invite, however, is a bit of pressure. Kuchar is free to choose his teammate and that opens up a multitude of possibilities. Given that the previous week, Kuchar would be with the Americans at the Presidents Cup in Australia, it would seem natural to pick someone from the Presidents Cup team, but Kuchar wasn’t tipping his hand.
Nor was he being overwhelmed with kindness here at the PGA Championship.
“No one has yet come up to try and bribe me,” Kuchar said, laughing.
All in good fun: Who said there’s a lack of humor out here on the pro golf stage. Two t-shirts that have been shown around prove that the guys can laugh things off.
Mangum showed off a white t-shirt that is emblazoned with: “Stimpmeter readings $100.”
Pretty funny, given that one of the burning storylines here are the green speeds at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
“That’s all they’ve been asking,” Mangum said. “People think they’re getting a stock tip. Members, media. It was the same way in ‘01. Our answer is the same one – championship speed.”
Another funny t-shirt was being carried around by Butch Harmon. It’s available on Dustin Johnson’s website (dustinjohnson.com) and shows that he’s not haunted at all by the miscue at the 72nd hole of last year’s PGA Championship, when he was cited for grounding his club in a bunker, penalized, and kept out of a playoff.
“What bunker?” is what it reads on the back of the Johnson t-shirt.