The captivating final stages of the PGA Championship served as a reminder to us all that the game’s the thing.
No matter what may be going on behind the scenes, for the players who play and the viewers who watch, nothing overshadows the competition on the field of play.
Who will survive, who will make the plays, who won’t?
That’s really what counts.
When Justin Thomas completed a three-hole playoff victory over Will Zalatoris at Southern Hills in Tulsa, no one was thinking of what has become a rancorous battle involving the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
The finish to the second major of the season was a thriller, with a bushel-load of story lines.
The main contenders entering the final round were hardly household names who had never won on this kind of stage before.
Leading the way was 27-year old, Mito Pereira from Chile, who came out of nowhere in this pressure-packed tournament, warding off challenge after challenge. Looking to become his first countryman to win a major title, Pereira entered the final round with a three-stroke lead at 9-under.
You could throw a blanket around the contenders who would be biting at his heels. None of them were the known stars of the sport.
The closest one was Justin Thomas, but he was seven behind going into Sunday’s play.
Pereira saw his lead shrink, but then regain that three-stroke edge and reached the 18th hole leading by one, needing only par to make history.
Just don’t do anything crazy.
But his tee shot went off to the right and finally landed in the water. His swing was awkward with practically no follow through, and, as it looked, could be termed crazy.
His double bogey knocked him out of the lead, as well as out of a playoff, which now became a Thomas-Zalatoris duel.
Zalatoris vs Thomas
It was a three-hole battle with the lowest aggregate score being the winner. If it was all even after the three, the playoff would revert to sudden-death until a golfer won a hole.
Thomas took a one shot lead over Zalatoris, who is destined to be heard from, after birdies on the first two, and his par on the third, wrapped it up.
It was a super comeback for Thomas who became only the third champion of a major to rally from seven shots down in the final round to win.
It was also his second major triumph, repeating his PGA Championship title five years ago.
Until he did, the final round was an entertaining, riveting skirmish involving non-heavyweights of the sport.
It was truly, a fight of survival of the fittest.
And it was packed with drama.
The biggest was the bid by Pereira, a rookie on the tour to outlast the field.
It appeared he was going to do just that.
Until he didn’t, on that drive at 18.
Pereira’s tee shot on 18
And then, the experienced guy prevailed.
Thomas holding the Wanamaker Trophy
One footnote to the PGA Championship.
Tiger Woods tried to give it a go once again.
The hopes that he would improve physically from his Masters appearance, following his near-fatal car crash last year, were dashed early.
It was apparent Tiger was laboring as he walked the course during the first two rounds.
But he still was able to make the cut.
But in the third round, Woods carded seven bogeys and one double-bogey before his only birdie on the 15th.
He was 12-over par before he decided to withdraw after the third round.
Tiger has been a game and hopeful competitor since returning to the golfing wars.
But you have to wonder whether he’ll ever be the same again?
The other story surrounding professional golf is the ongoing controversy , in what has become an ugly fight that has drawn lines in the sand, and could possibly end up in a court of law.
The rival to the PGA tour has planned to launch a global golf league offering huge sums of money, primarily backed by Saudi Arabian-interests, and led by legendary champion Greg Norman.
Human rights atrocities in Saudi Arabia cast a shadow on the whole enterprise, but as we’ve seen with the NBA and its close ties to China, as well as the recent Olympics in China, money, not human rights, prevails.
There has been interest from the likes of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
The biggest U.S. name is Phil Mickelson, who accused the PGA Tour of “obnoxious greed” that has led to players looking for other opportunities. He is an out-front supporter of the what the new venture represents.
It includes monetary rights for players as sports figures that go beyond the fees gained for commercial endorsements.
The list goes on and on, and no one is claiming there could be improvements in that regard by the PGA Tour.
Mickelson, by the way has been missing in action.
He’s not competed on the tour, including defending his PGA Championship of 2021.
By not playing, the only person Phil Mickelson, one of the most popular players, is hurting, is himself.
I’ve been thinking about this complicated “labor” fight, and have come to the conclusion that the rank and file of tour golf professionals are not really interested in breaking with the PGA Tour, even with its imperfections.
Unlike the NFL and MLB where player strikes and owner lockouts actually remove the game from the sports panorama, golfers perform as individuals. The tournaments are about individuals. And those individuals will still compete.
The background may be awash with charges, counter-charges, threats, and lawsuits.
But they’ll all be in the background.
The players will be involved with the issues, but they’ll still play.
And viewers will still watch.
And we’ll never forget.
The game’s the thing.