The top 70 players on the PGA Tour are in Indianapolis this week for the BMW Championship at Pete Dye’s Crooked Stick Golf Club. It’s another chapter in the history of the local golf club that has more on its resume than any Hoosier golf venue.
Highlighting Crooked Stick’s accomplishments are the 1991 PGA Championship, the 2005 Solheim Cup (the LPGA version of the Ryder Cup) and the 2009 U.S. Senior Open. Every event hosted by Crooked Stick has surpassed expectations from a financial and attendance standpoint. This year’s BMW Championship should follow the pattern as officials expect around 150,000 fans for the week.
In 1991, CBS first televised the PGA Championship. Network and PGA of America officials will candidly tell you that this was the year that the PGA Championship raised its status among the elite tournaments in golf. The story line behind little known John Daly, this unknown long-baller from Arkansas who led pretty much wire to wire, shocked the golf world.
If you go to the Indiana Golf Office in Franklin, you will find the original player’s scroll signed by all of the ’91 PGA Championship participants — except Daly, who was a last-minute replacement for Nick Price. Somebody decided that the scroll was more conversational without Daly’s signature, so to this day it has never been added.
I have been to Crooked Stick several times this summer. A few weeks ago when I turned off 106th Street onto Crooked Stick Lane, the gigantic BMW hospitality areas on the 14th hole were clearly visible. It’s an impressive site. This year’s Crooked Stick event will rank in the top three on the PGA Tour in terms of ticket sales and corporate hospitality. That speaks well of Indianapolis, particularly in a Super Bowl year.
Last summer Crooked Stick installed a new irrigation system. It was a brilliant move, given the drought that Indiana suffered throughout this summer. Course conditions are pristine, and with this week’s rain, the rough will be thick and dense. That is what Crooked Stick officials are looking for. Anything that will make the course play tougher. After Fred Funk shot 20-under par in the U.S. Senior Open, club officials are worried that future events such as another major championship will be in jeopardy if players slash it up in the BMW.
The fact of the matter is, Crooked Stick would be better suited as a par 70 for championship tour events. This can be easily done by making the 9th hole and one of the two par fives on the back nine into par fours. The USGA and the PGA Tour elected not to do this, much to the dismay of Crooked Stick. Par is only a number, and the total score wins championships. But if par were 70 during the Senior Open, Funk’s total would have been minus 12. That’s much more digestible for the folks at The Stick.
This will be the week that the FedEx Cup trims its field to 30 players for the Tour Championship slated for West Lake in Atlanta. It’s also the week after the Ryder Cup team has been set following Captain Davis Love’s four picks in New York this week. Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson got the nod from Love.
I was with Love when the picks were discussed and released Tuesday morning at NASDAQ on Times Square. Stricker, Johnson and Snedeker were probably obvious picks after last week. The choice of Furyk left Hunter Mahan, a two-time winner in 2012, and the popular Rickie Fowler, on the outside looking in. Furyk has the second worst all-time career Ryder Cup record at 8-15-4 (.370). He has only won 10 points in 27 matches.
In fairness to Love, he has four rookies on his team. Furyk brings an element of much-needed veteran leadership to the U.S. team. He is popular among his peers, and Love played on five Ryder Cups with Furyk. It will be Furyk’s eighth Ryder Cup experience in two weeks at Medinah. Mahan and Fowler needed to play better during the past month.
Two years ago, the PGA of America decided to increase the Ryder Cup captain’s picks from two to four. The idea was to allow the U.S. to have the hottest players on the Ryder Cup team, and that is truly what Love was attempting to do this year.
Love flew from New York to Indianapolis on Wednesday. He actually hosted his team at dinner at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse. It was Love’s first face to face meeting with the entire squad.
In a sense, the U.S. road to the Ryder Cup begins this week in Indianapolis with the captain’s presence and that dinner Wednesday night. Over the season, most golf fans have felt that the Americans looked good on paper, and it has been a good year for U.S. players. Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson won three straight majors dating back to last year.
However, consider this: The combined Ryder Cup record of the United States roster is 41-60-16 while the European’s is 60-31-18. The Euros have won four of the past five Ryder Cups. Love knows all of this, and he has had a lot of sleepless nights lately.
So once again, Indianapolis finds itself right in the middle of another major sporting event. These players at the BMW will be playing for the $10 million FedEx Cup winner’s prize. Stricker, Furyk, Snedeker and Johnson will be relaxed after making the Ryder Cup team, and it will be interesting to see how they play this week.
Others like Mahan, Fowler, Bo Van Pelt and Nick Watney probably feel like they have a lot to prove.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see Hunter, Rickie, Bo or Nick win at Crooked Stick, and certainly a couple of them could win the FedEx Cup,” Love said this week. “I hope they do. There’s a lot of good players on our side out there right now. I wish all of those guys the best.”
So here we go again, fans. It’s another great sporting moment in our city’s history. Take it in. Enjoy it. We are truly blessed to be living here in central Indiana.
Ted Bishop is PGA of America vice president and director of golf and general manager of The Legends Golf Club. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.