Valhalla's stories aren't old, but they're rich

Tiger Woods won the PGA Championship in 2000 at Valhalla in a playoff.
Tiger Woods won the PGA Championship in 2000 at Valhalla in a playoff. ( Associated Press )

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – We are here at the final stop aboard the 2014 major championship express. After memorable rides through storied venues Augusta National, Pinehurst No. 2, and Royal Liverpool, let’s disembark at Valhalla Golf Club.

Valhalla? Where in the world is Valhalla. Better still, what is Valhalla?

If you’re into Scandinavian mythology (that’s you, Thorbjorn Olesen, or perhaps you, Robert Karlsson), it means one thing. But if you’re into golf at the major level, Valhalla represents the new kid on the block. While the Merions and Muirfields and Winged Foots and Pebble Beaches of the world can regale you stories from Vardon to Woods and remember when hickory and the feathery were on the tee, Valhalla offers a history compilation that is measured not in chapters but in pages.

Whereas Royal Liverpool, our most recent stop on the major championship express, dates back to 1869, Valhalla opened in 1986. (As an aside, it means that in 1986 Jack Nicklaus won the Masters and finished Valhalla Golf Club.)

OK, so you have broken tees in your golf bag that are older than Valhalla. And, fine, they don’t sit around the grill room here talking of the day that Hagen and Jones stopped by for a match (maybe Pitino and Calipari, though). But that’s not to say that the place hasn’t provided some memorable moments, because it has.

To wit:

• • •

This is where Boo Weekley galloped onto the highlight reel at the 2008 Ryder Cup.

Having done considerable work to push the Americans into a commanding lead, Weekley played Oliver Wilson in singles. After hitting his first tee shot, Weekley turned his driver into a make-believe horse and rode it for a few strides, much to the fans’ delight.

Any chance of that at this PGA Championship? “I just might. Have to see how I’m feeling,” Weekley said.

Told that he played beautifully six years ago, Weekley laughed. “Yeah, but I was 100 percent (healthy) back then.”

• • •

This is where Tiger Woods was . . . well, Tiger Woods.

Final hole of the 2000 PGA Championship and when Bob May slam-dunked an 18-foot putt for birdie, the place erupted. May was one ahead of the unbeatable Woods, then trying to nail down his third straight major title.

As Woods stalked his 6-foot putt that could tie, his caddie, Steve Williams, shook May’s hand. Congratulations? Not at all. Williams told May, “good luck in the playoff.”

Hold the criticism of Williams. It wasn’t a sign of ignorance, arrogance, or cockiness. It was 2000, remember. Woods made every putt of importance in those days and sure enough, he slipped home that game-tying roll, too.

Woods' timetable uncertain; caddie at Valhalla

Asked his thoughts as he stood over that putt, one of the greatest ones he made in those incomparable days, to tell the truth, Woods once revealed that he reminded himself that it was just 6 feet, a little left-to-right, and that “I’m Tiger Woods.”

He was, too.

Back then.

• • •

This is where caddies revolted.

To celebrate its 10th birthday, Valhalla was granted the 1996 PGA Championship and no surprise to anyone who has been in this part of the country in August, but it was hot. Insufferable heat. Furnace-like, in fact.

With that year’s major winners paired together, caddies for Tom Lehman (Andy Martinez) and Steve Jones (Scott Jones) knew that they would be treated differently than Nick Faldo’s (Fanny Sunesson). She would be permitted to wear culottes, they couldn’t don shorts.

Martinez and Scott Jones drew a line and made a statment. They wore shorts. Officials warned them on the practice range, but neither man relented. They were warned on the first tee, but they stood their ground. Finally, with disqualifications threatened, Martinez and Scott Jones stood on the second tee, removed their shorts, and put on trousers that they carried in the golf bag.

Ah, the puritan days of golf. Soon thereafter, cooler heads prevailed. It was agreed that not only could caddies wear shorts, but players like John Daly could wear Loudmouth.

• • •

This is where “good, good” wasn’t good, good.

Oh, for the brash and buoyant days of Anthony Kim. Having begged captain Paul Azinger for a piece of Sergio Garcia in the 2008 Ryder Cup singles, he got his wish – and it took a mere four shots to set the tone.

Garcia’s approach at the first was stuffed inside of 3 feet. So, too, was Kim’s.

“Good, good,” Garcia suggested.

“Let’s putt them,” Kim replied.

Fans howled and it mattered not a bit that each player converted for birdie. Kim was in the lead. By the sixth, Garcia was reeling, Kim was 8 feet tall, and when the Spaniard’s ball came to rest in tall grass and offered an impossible lie, a long discussion unfolded with official John Paramor.

Skeptical, Kim watched and shook his head. When Garcia tried to explain what he was doing, Kim briskly replied, “You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” and marched off.

Kim won the hole, then the match, 5 and 4, and said, “I had chills up my spine the whole day.”

• • •

This is where Kenny Perry auditioned for a future job in TV.

He was the local hero and he was on the cusp of winning the PGA Championship in his backyard. Only after finishing with 68 for an 11-under total, Perry went to celebrate with Ken Venturi up in the CBS booth.

No range. No putting green. No keeping warm.

Just headphones and chuckles with the CBS crew, which is where Perry watched Mark Brooks birdie the 72nd hole to also get to 11 under.

Minutes later, Perry chopped up the 18th hole and lost in the playoff to Brooks.

• • •

This is where Jack bid farewell to the PGA.

At 60, Jack Nicklaus in 2000 chose to play in his final PGA Championship and officials seized the moment. They paired him Thursday and Friday with Tiger Woods.

The game’s greatest with his likely heir, it opened poorly, for Nicklaus shot 77. But somehow, someway, Nicklaus dug deep and when he came to the par-5 18th he needed eagle to make the cut. By inches, he missed, the Golden Bear having nearly holed his short wedge.

Though he tapped in for birdie and shot 71, his record for this major championship – including five wins, three seconds, and three thirds – was closed.

But the book on Valhalla, Nicklaus would tell you, is wide open. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.