Bring the PGA back to Valhalla in 2021

By Brian Rickerd Published:

 LOUISVILLE — Leftovers from a classic PGA Championship:
The next PGA championship up for bid, so to speak, is 2021, and I can’t imagine the event not coming back to Valhalla at that point.
It’s true that Valhalla does not have the sheer beauty of an Augusta National, or the cow pasture look favored by many of the European golfers, or the ridiculous, X-Games difficulty seen so often at the U.S. Open.
But this is what Valhalla has:
1. Valhalla is a perfectly fair test of golf. It rewards good shot making, and is tough enough to penalize poor shot making. And the course has grown more beautiful as the years pass and the trees grow.
Valhalla has drawn some criticism through the years for what some see as a lack of difficulty, but I see Rory McIlroy’s, winning, 16-under-par, score merely as a reflection of just how good this generation of golfers is.
2. The fan base from Louisville and surrounding areas have provided outstanding support all three times this course has hosted the PGA — in 1996, 2000 and this year.
Not to mention the over-the-top hoopla that raised the profile of the Ryder Cup in the United States in 2008.
Not great in person
All that said, as an aside, it’s my belief that seeing a major golf tournament like this in person is a bit overrated.
For example, I followed the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson pairing Thursday for some five holes, and saw, maybe, three shots from contact to end result. Simply because the crowds around the most popular pros are so massive, I’d suggest that no more than 50 percent of the people see more than sky and heads in front of them.
Though here’s the flip side: One of the three shots I saw (and heard) was Woods’ astonishing chip-in from off the 16th green. That drew an explosion of thunderous applause that gave me goose bumps. It was a transcendent moment in my life as a sports fan, a God-I’m-Glad-To-Be-Alive kind of deal.
On Sunday, I was able to set up on a balcony outside the massive PGA merchandise tent, allowing me to see the 13th green and all of the par 3, 14th hole.
So after the two lead groups went through, I headed back towards the clubhouse/media tent that took me by the 18th hole. I briefly thought about trying to set up there and see the leaders close out their rounds, but the crowds were already so massive, I’d have needed a ladder (not permitted) and/or a telescope to see anything.
And then there’s the massive amounts of rain on Sunday, followed by oppressive heat and humidity throughout the afternoon.
So, truth be told, I spent much of my time Sunday at Valhalla watching the same CBS broadcast that many of you saw, on a big screen TV in the gloriously air-conditioned media center.
Remarkable McIlroy
I’d be remiss without closing with a few thoughts on McIlroy, the remarkable 25-year-old, four-time major winner.
This PGA came on the heels of a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational a week earlier and a win at the British Open immediately before that.
This run of golf has revised talk in a big way that McIlroy could be the ‘next Tiger.’
McIlroy understands his world is a different place now.
“It’s something I’m just going to have to come to terms with,” McIlroy said of his celebrity status. “I was happy being a two-time major championship winner coming into this year, and all of a sudden, I’m a four-time major winner and going for the career grand slam at Augusta in 292 days, 291 days or whatever it is. Not that I’m counting.”
I couldn’t imagine a better ambassador for the game of golf than McIlroy. And that’s not easy for me to say, given that Mickelson is, arguably, not only my favorite golfer of all-time, but probably in my top five, all-time list of favorite athletes.
It was Mickelson who McIlroy edged by a stroke on Sunday.
I understand that it’s easy for people to come across well when things are going good, as they are for McIlroy, but I’d be stunned if there’s a significant dark side to this guy.
At one point late Sunday, a reporter from McIlroy’s home country of Northern Ireland noted that a lot of kids there are taking up golf, inspired by what McIlroy is doing.
“I understand the responsibility of being a role model,” McIlroy said. “I see a big change when I go back home to Northern Ireland and go to local golf clubs and see how many kids are on the courses and on the putting greens.
“To have some sort of involvement or role in that feels very special. I remember when I was their age and looking up to Darren Clarke, who was the big guy from Northern Ireland, and Padraig Harrington, and obviously Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. I still remember how I felt when I met those guys, and so whenever they (kids) meet me, I always try to be as nice as I can and be some sort of good influence on their lives.”

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