SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Farewell, Baltusrol and the 98th PGA Championship. Next stop: Hazeltine National Golf Club and the Ryder Cup.
To be sure, many of the game’s greatest golfers have a few engagements — the forthcoming Olympics for a relative few, the four-week FedEx playoffs for everyone after that — in between.
But the PGA of America on Monday began breaking down the season’s last major championship and packing up the grandstands, leaderboards, even ropes and stakes, many of them bound for Hazeltine National in Chaska for the biennial showdown between the United States and Europe.
The best from both sides already are thinking about that last week in September, even as American anchors Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, among others, head toward an uncommon, extended summertime break these next three weeks.
“A lot of rest,” Spieth said, looking ahead after Sunday’s 13th-place finish to an August and September expected to include a scouting trip to Hazeltine. “Really excited about the playoffs and the Ryder Cup at the end, with emphasis on the Ryder Cup. … That’s going to feel like a major to me.”
Veteran tour pro Jimmy Walker’s wire-to-wire victory at Baltusrol and young gun Brooks Koepka’s fourth-place finish reshaped the U.S. team’s points standings.
Walker’s first major title and double Ryder Cup points thrust him from 29th place all the way to fourth. Barring some mathematical miracle, he’s practically guaranteed a return trip to a Ryder Cup he said he never wanted to miss out on again after playing in his first two years ago in Scotland.
Koepka moved from ninth — just outside the top eight who will receive automatic invitations a month less than a month from now — to fifth. In doing so, Bubba Watson dropped out of the top eight to ninth and Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler all still find themselves on the outside looking in. At least until U.S. captain Davis Love III later decides his four wild-card picks.
Walker played well his first time around at the Ryder Cup, halving three matches and losing one the first two days with Fowler as his partner before beating Lee Westwood in a Sunday singles match. He credited playing under that kind of pressure to his PGA victory, a championship he led from start to finish and beat defending champ Jason Day by one shot.
“I do think it helped,” Walker said. “I felt like I learned a lot two years ago. I learned that I am not into every golf shot I hit week in and week out on the tour. That week, every shot I hit, I was 100 percent committed. It taught me you can do that. I played great that week. I really did.”
Even as he sat next to the PGA trophy, Walker hadn’t yet processed the difference 3,600 Ryder Cup points make as he talked in the past rather than the present.
“I haven’t played as well as I would have liked to,” said the Texas-based Walker, who won three times in 2014 and twice in 2015. “I’m not on the list, I’m not even close. I saw Davis this week and I told him, ‘Man, I’d love to be on your team.’ I haven’t played that well this year, but I feel like there’s still time for me to play good at the end of the year to have a chance to get on the team.”
Fowler, Reed and Kuchar now all are bound for Brazil and golf’s return to the Olympics. Mickelson and Spieth, among others, are headed for a needed break. Mickelson said he hasn’t had three weeks off in summertime in more than 20 years and intends to use it to rest and prepare for all four FedEx events and the Ryder Cup.
“I’m third in qualifying points,” Mickelson said. “I think I’m going to have to play some really good golf the week of the Ryder Cup if we’re going to do well.”
Love wants to get some of his players to Hazeltine for more than a day before Ryder Cup week arrives. Last week, he specifically mentioned Spieth and Johnson, although Johnson said before the PGA began that he has played Hazeltine twice — the 2006 U.S. Amateur and the 2009 PGA — and doesn’t intend to visit before both teams arrive Monday that week.
“There is a plan,” Spieth said, mentioning an off week in mid-September two weeks before the Ryder Cup. “I’ve never been.”
Love said he doesn’t have to worry about Mickelson, who has played three majors at Hazeltine, and his preparation. But Mickelson said he’d like to see Hazeltine in advance.
“That’s going to be important, to get an idea how to play certain holes,” Mickelson said. “That’s going to make a difference who you want to partner with. Davis has already got to be thinking about that. He has been thinking about that. Those are the type of details you want to have set before you go into the Ryder Cup. This is the most pressure-packed event we play in. The last thing you want is uncertainty.
“Uncertainty leads to more pressure. We want to try to diminish that as much as we can and put players in an opportunity to succeed as best we can.”