I need to find the screenwriter who wrote the script for the final round of the PGA Championship. The guy’s a genius.
First of all, he places the story on a golf course that had its share of naysayers. Even though Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, had already hosted two PGAs and a Ryder Cup, it really wasn’t up to the task anymore. Too plain vanilla. Not the best among many great choices.
Then the guy makes it rain, turning a fiery, hard-and-fast track into a slog. The fairways were not just filled with divots, they were filled the pock marks of all the towering drives that hit and stopped. So the par-5s that had been converted to par-4s for the tournament became beasts. Most players were going in with 3-woods or 3-irons. For one player, the yardage was beyond his 3-wood. Nice little plot device to add still more tension.
And so he gathered a great cast of characters. There was the affable “Irish Lad” who came out of nowhere a couple of years ago, had come of age and garnered 3 majors to his credit. He was there for his 4th and the prestige of winning two in a row. There were scant few who didn’t think he could do it. So then the screenwriter made him even more epic: he made him the No. 1 player in the world.
He added an Austrian who had never made a cut in a major to the mix. He had won two European Tour events earlier in the year and whatever that did for his confidence was on full display for the first three rounds. Improbably he began the final round in solo 2nd, a quirky addition to the cast that provided just enough drama in the final group without overshadowing the hero.
Then he trotted out the “New Kid,” a flashy ex-motocross biker who came to his senses for a safer life in golf. His branded image included bright orange outfits, flat brim golf hats worn backwards and shaggy hair splaying out from underneath. He made him a phenom who could play great but didn’t quite have it yet. He gave the kid drive and ambition enough to seek out the Master Coach, who not only did wonders for his swing, he did wonders for the kid’s maturity. Gone was the hair and the flash in favor of an evolved, serious practitioner of golf at its highest level. Three top 5s in the year’s majors coming in. Everyone loves coming-of-age stories.
Then came the “Veteran Magician” whose short game was second to none, primarily because his swing wasn’t always reliable. He was no hack, he was in the Hall of Fame, but he was at the end of a very disappointing year by his standards (wins, 0; top 10s, 1) and in need of solace and a sign that his career was not prematurely over at 44. Even though he had made over two million dollars, men such as him measure themselves by victories, not money. The writer had him oozing with destiny as Saturday night came to a close.
The writer kept using tantalizing devices to keep us guessing. For his final stroke of casting genius, he plucked a tall Swede who had once been the No. 1 player in the world — after winning two huge year end tournaments, the Tour Championship and the FedExCup — and dropped him into the mix. He had suffered through putting woes, but his putting had finally caught up to his excellent ball striking. His character had a sense of renewal.
And so, with that cast of characters assembled — there were others who possessed the requisite talent to win, but they turned out to be false clues to how it would all turn out — the writer began the tale with a bleak Sunday morning and a second inch of rain that drew the tale out by an hour and fifty minute rain delay. There were shots of the fairways and greens turned silver by all the standing water. Those scenes alone added to the dramatic tension; it was quite probable that there would be no golf on this highly anticipated day. That’s what Mondays are for, he seemed to be suggesting to us.
But it would have been too contrived to bring us to that moment and then not relieve the tension with the start of golf. The silvery water scenes were replaced by men with squeegees pushing the water away. We never seemed to find out where, just that green grass began to appear again. It was the magic of the cinema, the suspension of disbelief. It doesn’t matter where the water went. Just go with it. Soon the range opened and sooner still, play resumed so quickly CBS missed the cue. That never would have happened.
The day progressed with the Swede making the first moves. Beginning with the 1st hole, he birdied every other hole until he shot 5-under, 30 on the front. His was a seemingly incessant drumbeat to the top and before long he was tied for the lead.
The Kid and the Magician were paired together despite the differences in their ages. The backstory was that they were actually quite good friends, teaming up in the Tuesday gambling games to keep their competitive instincts sharp and their victims looking for a chance to get even.
The Magician made the first move with a birdie on the 1st…and then 3…and 7…and then 9. That 31 tied him for the lead.
The Kid got off to a rockier start with a bogey on 2…followed by four birdies in a row. And he was tied for the lead. A little heavy handed on the drama by the writer, but the characters were all written as great players, so it was plausible…barely.
Going for another barely plausible plot twist, the writer had the Irish Lad stumble on the front nine with two bogeys on 3 and 6. He just couldn’t seem to get it going. But come on! The Lad was supposed to be the best player in the world. How likely was that to have happened? He kept us in the story by letting the Lad make a bounce back birdie on 7, but his otherwise lackluster play was really out of character. Plus, he fell to three shots behind!
On the back nine, the Swede looked for all the world like the dark horse winner coming home when he made birdie on 13. But that was followed by an immediate bogey where he remained stuck until the end of the story.
The Kid made another birdie on 10 and everything about him suddenly seemed viable and serious. This was really happening. Until a bogey on 14 raised some doubt. Really well crafted from a dramatic point of view. But then he wrote this ridiculous sequence on the 16th hole where the Kid hits his drive over the tree line into the rough of the contiguous hole. The only way to get back on the 16h hole is to play a big high hook back over the trees, which he does, and preposterously winds up on the front of the green 101 feet from the hole. Not 100, but 101. And then he two putts! Hits the first putt to 5 feet. Come on!
The Magician continued his roll on the back nine with a birdie on 11. But then he had a series of just-missed putts for birdie until he finally made a momentum-stopping bogey at 16. He was left with a chance, but meanwhile, the Irish Lad was coming around.
It began with an eagle three on the par-5 10th that got him right back into the mix a shot back. And with all of the ebb and flow of it, with a birdie on 13 and then 17, suddenly he was back with a two-shot lead. The logic of it was that it was the Magician’s bogey on 16 and the Irish Lad’s birdie on 17 that did it, but it still seemed a little contrived for the hero to come back to his glorious fate right at the end.
And speaking of the end, that’s another thing. While all of this was unfolding, the writer used a well-worn dramatic device, the ticking clock. With the rain delay and still heavy cloud cover, it was entirely possible that at least two groups wouldn’t be able to finish and the tournament would have to be finished Monday morning. To plant the seeds of that little twist, it was announced that play would resume at 9am, if necessary.
So then — now get this — to circumvent running out of daylight sufficient to see the breaks on the green, he has the last two groups conspire to play the last hole together. The first group of the Kid and the Magician tee off, and then invite the Irish Lad and the Austrian to hit their tee shots too. The writer did have some sense of the rules of golf because he knew that if the last group hit their tee shots, they would be permitted to complete the hole, even if the horn blew suspending play. But then he went off the rails by letting the first group hit their approach shots and then after they got to the green, wave the last group up to hit their approach shots without waiting for the hole to completed. That would never happen.
In the final scenes, the Magician came within inches of one-hopping his 71-foot pitch shot in for an eagle 3. Not 70 feet, 71 feet. A little too much detail to be true. And then the Irish Lad, who was in the greenside bunker 95 feet away (there’s that detail again), tactically decides to just gouge the shot out and onto the green because it was so dark, he didn’t have any depth perception in the bunker and didn’t want to blade it over the green. From there and with scant light left, he two putts for the one-shot win over the Magician. The Swede and the Kid finish another shot back. End of story.
As the credits rolled, I had to admit what a thrilling story Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Phil Michelson and Henrik Stenson brought to life, however contrived. And like all good movies, I can’t wait for the sequel. We already know that it will be in April in Augusta, Georgia. We just have no idea how that one will end either.
Hopefully the writer won’t think us too gullible.