Welcome to “Seen & Heard at Southern Hills”, a daily compilation of insights and observations from our PGA Championship coverage team which is available exclusively to InsideGOLF members. Check this space daily – or your inbox, where we’ll also be sharing these dispatches with members as a newsletter – for inside scoops on the second major championship of the year.
Hidden History in Southern Hills
by Sean Zack
This week’s show will explain that Gil Hanse’s Southern Hills renovation is a step back in time. The real history lesson, however, is inside, hidden from all but players and event staff. It’s called the story room.
The space is exactly as it looks: a room of history. The whole history of this 86-year-old country club. There is an article about the 1942 World War II benefit organized by Bing Crosby. There are photos from the 2014 Trans-Mississippi Am signed by an 18-year-old named Scheffler. There’s a special section devoted to Babe Zaharias and her 1946 women’s amateur win. On the other side are the juicy quotes about Tiger Woods in the 2000s.
“He knows he’s going to win. What’s scary is just that maybe he knows you know he’s going to win. —Aaron Oberholser
“It’s just like Nicklaus used to do. When Jack stepped off the tee, everyone’s knees started shaking. —Stephen Ames
“How do you get tired of watching Secretariat?” —Roger Maltbie
Three years before turning professional, Jack Nicklaus played Southern Hills at the 1958 US Open. The $200 he lost as an amateur that week is memorialized in History Hall, as is the $8,000 won the same week by champion Tommy Bolt. Bolt’s driver and putter are there, behind glass, as is a 4 wood by a certain Hogan.
Name a golf legend, and they’re on the walls of the Southern Hills clubhouse. The only problem is that it’s largely banned this week. The clubhouse is closed for everyone except competitors, caddies and event staff like my new friend Gary, who is standing at the entrance to the History Hall 14 hours a day this week. Its role is simple: to prevent players from crossing the gate unexpectedly towards the 1st tee. Dustin Johnson did his best to get through Monday, with those languid steps, but Gary chased him away.
Gary’s gig is the ultimate tease. He can crane his neck to catch a glimpse of the action on TV or lean against a window to see golfers’ backs spinning during tee shots. That’s it. His real treat, besides reading golf history at 6 a.m., was seeing Tiger Woods on Monday afternoon. Gary greeted Woods with six words: “I love eating at your restaurant.”
The history of golf on the walls, and in the flesh!
It must be the shoes!
by Dylan Dethier
Most weeks on the PGA Tour we talk about yards. This week? We are more focused on the feet. *Drum roll * Ba Dum Tss*
That’s right, friends. You may have seen that Tiger Woods always wears FootJoy shoes. He has a slightly updated version of the white shoes he wore at the Masters but it’s still the same basic idea: these shoes allow him the structure and support needed to play 18 holes on a demanding golf course.
It’s clear that new shoes are still being developed; he interrupted his training session on Tuesday to adjust a small pad under the toe of his shoe insert. But he is clearly attached to this model, despite having been the face of the Nike golf brand for more than two decades. But he is not the only one. Jon Rahm, who was born with a clubfoot, was asked why he thinks he hits the ball so well this year. He quoted his new shoes. This year’s kicks, which are TravisMathew’s Cuater, are a game-changer, according to Rahm. Either he’s a great seller or he’s a big deal.
“I shouldn’t wear flats like that because I end up in pain,” he said, recalling last year’s substandard shoes, which had the added bonus of propelling him to the rank of number one in the world. But he said he feels like he can stay more stable this season and maintain consistent ball speed numbers for four straight days. His ball-striking numbers bear that out, especially in his last start, when he won at the Mexican Open.
“I think what a lot of players do behind doors is overlooked,” he added. It was a reminder that behind every swing we see on TV — or even on the pitch in Southern Hills — there’s a whole host of behind-the-scenes decisions that led to this moment. Professional golf is a results-driven business. We are obsessed with releases. But there are so many different entries.
As to why shoes are so important? “For any athlete, the only point of contact we have with the ground is our feet,” Rahm said. “So I think that should be the most important thing.”
Where players find their rhythm
by Luke Kerr-Dineen
The greens are small at Southern Hills, and the washouts around them have occupied players’ thoughts for days.
“It’s kind of like Winged Foot,” Bryson DeChambeau said of Southern Hills on Tuesday. “With a bit of Shinnecock slope on the greens.”
But unlike Shinnecock, the course is set up so Bermuda roughly cuts through the runoff areas. This means that when players miss greens, putting will not be an option.
“It forces you to chip,” says Rory McIlroy. “It requires you to have a corner in your hands.” Preparing for this eventuality, players spent the first part of their weeks testing for the 2022 PGA Championship and refining their corner setups.
Wedge maestro Bob Vokey was busy touring the range at the start of the week, stopping at one point to chat with Patrick Cantlay, who, with the help of a Trackman, was testing 14 different wedges . Fourteen. These were all variations of grinds, finishes, and rebounds for each of his 46, 52, 56, and 61 degree models.
Cantlay, on this occasion, was looking for the sweet spot in his spin numbers and, importantly, how the wedge interacts with the turf – especially important on those grainy Bermuda grass lies. This week’s winner will be the player who excels at the nice margins, and on Tuesday at the PGA Championship, Cantlay was deep in the small stuff.