In last call before PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth will be tested at Byron Nelson

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

In last call before PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth will be tested at Byron Nelson

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In last call before PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth will be tested at Byron Nelson

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It’s last call for PGA Championship prep this week at the Byron Nelson.

Many of the game’s biggest stars including Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy will spend it on their own time, preferring to hone in from the comfort of home rather than squeeze in one last tournament.

Others like Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth will be teeing it up at Trinity Forest ahead of the festivities at Bethpage Black.

A lot of players talk about peaking four times a year and they all go about it differently, even if some aren’t exactly sure what that even means.

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“If anyone comes up with a formula, I would love to hear it,” McIlroy said. “I would rather just have my game at a high level for much of the year as I possibly can. If you’re playing good enough, you’re going to get yourself into contention more times than not and you just hope that some of those weeks are the bigger weeks.”

Unlike any course on Tour

The Byron Nelson isn’t a major, as you might know, but over the past year it’s become an especially big week for the golf architecture enthusiasts.

Trinity Forest ain’t Bethpage Black, and it’s definitely not Quail Hollow. It’s unlike any course on the PGA Tour, one that totally embodies the ‘firm and fast’ mantra you often hear players talk about but rarely see quite like this stateside.

The links-style layout is a massive expanse with no water and no trees, despite its name. The holes and shots required aren’t ‘right out in front of you,’ leaving players to figure out those nuances and undulations on their own.  There are tricky slopes, even a shared green, and it all adds up to a totally different style of low-frills golf that embodies the minimalist movement.

Trinity Forest hosted the Byron Nelson for the first time in 2018 and while Aaron Wise made it look easy, earning his debut victory at 23 under, the wind was tame and the setup slower than usual in what seemed like a move to get players acclimated to a different style of play in its first year.

“It’s very different golf to what you normally find in America,” Wise said. “It plays really firm, really fast, and honestly because of that it plays quite tricky. Last year the greens were soft and the scores were out there and we were able to take it deep, but if they firm them up a little bit that course can play really difficult. It’s a really cool design, they did a great job with it. … If they get the wind that place can play tough.”

This is all to say that the actual golf is a far cry from what players will see at big, brawny Bethpage Black the following week when the PGA Championship settles into its new spot.

One last tune-up

That’s likely a big reason Koepka has added it to his slate for 2019. He skipped the Byron Nelson last year after playing three consecutive weeks culminating with the Players Championship. This year it’s a chance to get back to his routine ahead of the PGA Championship, where he’ll be going for his fourth career major and looking to make it three of the last five. It’s also worth noting he’s played the week before each of his three major wins.

Spieth, the hometown kid, is hoping to improve on a T-21 Byron Nelson finish last year and get back to contending in major championships. The course figures to suit the 2017 British Open champ’s game, and he sounded optimistic at Augusta National that things will soon turn in his favor. Doing so at Bethpage Black would mean completing the Career Grand Slam, but he hasn’t finished inside the top 5 at any tournament since a solo third at the 2018 Masters.

With Spieth’s Slam outlook, Koepka’s continued major tear and a totally unique style of golf to break up the usual Tour routine, consider this week’s Byron Nelson an intriguing buildup to the major fun in New York.

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