By Pete Wofford for The Island Eye News
How often in the movie industry does the sequel top the original, or even the prequel?
Who would write a script that featured 50-year-old Phil Mickelson, ranked 115th in the world, gambling odds of 200-to-1, to best the strongest field in major golf? Well if professional golf could be a movie then the cast and crew of the 103rd PGA Championship recently held on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort made a blockbuster, to the joy of all Lowcountry residents and prospective visitors for years to come. The original movie, held in the heat, and storms of August 2012, produced a winner in soonto-be Hall of Famer Rory McIlroy, setting the record for largest margin of victory in a golf major championship. The Pete and Alice Dyedesigned course, had its prequel movie in September 1991 when hosting the Ryder Cup Matches, that brings emotions of fear and tears to contestants that can recount the drama. The setting for 2021 was ideal weather. Seven days of sunshine and seasonal winds kept the temperatures comfortable. From the player’s perspective the lack of Mayweather rain made the course firm and fast, essentially eliminating pre-tournament concerns that the PGA of America was going to stretch the course to a record length of 7,876 yards. Players were routinely recording wind-aided drives of 330-yards or more, and playing the undulating bounces with short irons instead of forced long game. The ambience, such as access, ease for spectators to navigate the ankle-twisting sandy paths was better produced than the original, largely due to pre-tournament announcement of limiting tickets to 10,000, nearly half as many nine years ago.
The reduced gallery was a result of anticipated COVID security, which in reality was ignored as one could count on one hand how many people were wearing face mask coverings.
While, the PGA will not likely release actual ticket numbers, industry veterans figured the crowds closer to the 20,000 number. The under-selling of attendance created a sense of urgency at the PGA Gift Shop, and by Sunday the inventory was sold out. The hosts, PGA of America and Kiawah Island Golf Resort, were better prepared in directing traffic and logistics, this time requiring virtually all unnecessary traffic to park at Freshfield Village and encouraging the media to stay at the resort’s multiple star Sanctuary hotel. Hundreds of Greyhound-size busses endlessly shuttled the gallery back and forth in 30-minute rides to the Ocean Course front entrance. Finally, the plot for 2021 was a better script with suspense, and one that will have thousands of people stating they were there when a nearly 51-year-old Phil Mickelson beat the best golfers, setting a record for oldest major champion. Mickelson captured the world’s attention and elevated the status of the PGA Championship as one of the premier majors (especially since a Championship as one of the premier majors (especially since a move to May dates, after the Masters and before the U.S. Open). Mickelson’s victory will make even a greater demand for play on the $500-green-fee Ocean Course. Millions of television viewers were exposed to 100-hours of coverage, making Charleston a golf destination. “For years Charleston and the Lowcountry have been internationally recognized for historical values and fine dining,” said Doug Warner, Vice President of Media and Innovation with the Charleston Visitors Bureau.
“Once again, the PGA of America, Kiawah Island and now Phil Mickelson have put Charleston on the golf map and we will enjoy the rewards of this success for years to come.” For the record, Mickelson stood on the 18th green and held the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time, collecting $2.16 million, twice what he won in 2005. “It’s been a while,” smiled Mickelson, whose final-round 73 across the windswept course and 72- hole total of 6-under-par 282 making him the champion. His first PGA title was 16 years ago, 2005 at Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J. “Although I believed it,” he added, “until I actually did it, there was a lot of doubt, I’m sure.” Finishing second, two strokes back at 4-under, were playing partner Brooks Koepka (final round 74) and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen (73). Irishmen Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington and American Harry Higgs tied for fourth, four shots back. It was Mickelson’s sixth major championship, becoming the 14th player in history to capture six or more majors.
Koepka, a four-time major winner and two-time PGA Champion, started the final round trailing by one stroke, but within minutes of the first hole held the lead, as he birdied number 1 and Mickelson bogeyed. The two would trade leads back and forth, making the final round the most unpredictable. With nine holes to play Mickelson was at 7-under, Koepka 5-under, Oosthuizen 5-under. A birdie by Mickelson on the par 4 10th and bogeys by both Koepka and Oosthuizen and the lead was four. Neither challenger would get closer than two strokes of Mickelson. After the round Mickelson would tell of the turning point that occurred after departing the 6th green, when his younger brother, Tim, also his caddie, pulled him aside for a pep talk. “If you’re going to win this thing, you’re going to make committed swings,” Tim told Phil, as they were tied with Koepka at 6-under. “It hit me in the head, and one of my best drives of the day was on the 7th,” Mickelson added. His birdie on the par 5 7th and Koepka’s bogey provided another two-stroke swing, and a cushion that never narrowed. By the 18th hole the chants of “Phil, Phil, Phil,” clearly defined the lefthander as the gallery’s choice. Mickelson’s sheepish grin, Arnold Palmerlike thumbs up to his fans created a chaotic close to what was an otherwise perfect Championship. A Mickelson 9-iron approach to the final green and unfortunately hundreds of spectators engulfed the fairway. Koepka, had yet to play his second shot also from the fairway despite the commotion, in what he would call disappointing. “I’m happy for Phil, his wife Amy, brother Tim, it’s pretty cool to see,” Koepka said. “But, I am disappointed in myself, never really feeling comfortable with my putts. It was a little skittish surrounded by the gallery.” A quick look at Koepka’s scorecard and he played the four par 5s, usually his strength, three-over-par in the final round. “I hope I’m playing at 50, but to be able to come out and compete and actually win, that’s a whole other thing,” Koepka added.
Mickelson, who turns 51 in June, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis roughly 10 years ago, and his career came into question. Today, he works out, plays, practices more than ever and credits a better diet that includes periods of fasting as decluttering the mind. “Just the ability to kind of quiet my mind and get rid of all the exterior noise,” Mickelson added. “That’s kind of been the biggest change, and I don’t want to get all spiritual but that’s kind of big thing for me.”
With 99 of the top 100 players competing at the Ocean Course, veteran Padraig Harrington led the chorus of praise for the PGA. His comments echoed by many elevated the PGA Championship as being a “perfect tournament.” He included compliments on the course conditioning, the challenge of playing fair, and even the logistics of negotiating travel on the Island. “I’d have to say, this was probably the best major setup I’ve ever seen,” said Harrington, a three-time major winner, who at the age of 49 will be the European Captain for the September Ryder Cup Matches in Kohler, Wisconsin.
Could there be another Championship for Kiawah Island Golf Resort? If so it would be very difficult to top the 2021 version, as this one was historical in a state where American history began.