Armchair Golf Pro: PGA Championship, Dustin, Kaymer, Bubba, Whistling Straits

The 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. had one of the wildest, weirdest finishes ever, and some good lessons for the weekend warrior.

3 players ended up tied at -12 under. No, wait! Dustin Johnson grounded his club in the sand on his approach shot on 18 and had to assess himself a two-shot penalty! What’s this? Was he in the bunker or not? More on the sand controversy in a moment.

After 30 minutes of deliberation only two players headed to 16 for the 3-hole playoff: Big-hitting Bubba Watson and steady Martin Kaymer of Germany. Bubba nearly drove the green on the 360 yard par 4, made birdie, and it looked like he was going to put the hammer down. But Kaymer rolled in a 12-foot putt for birdie on the 17th, squaring up the playoff. Then came the 500-yard par 4 18th hole, nicknamed “dyeabolical” because there is so much trouble. I’ve seen an aerial of the hole and there are more sand traps than a mangy dog has fleas. Plus Seven Mile Creek guards the front of the green.

Both players hit their drives into the right rough. Bubba hit first, and that’s when he made a major strategic course management mistake. I wrote about one of the key philosophies of good course management in “Golf’s 3 keys to Scoring” which is this: pit your strengths against the course’s weakness, and avoid pitting your weakness against the course’s strength. (PS – I’ll share this awesome report on course management with you as a free bonus when you sign up for my newsletter).

From the rough with a long 225 yard carry – a position of weakness – Bubba had to go against the hole’s strength: ravines, bunkers, water, and the rough. His other option would have been to pitch out. Pitching out would have left him 175 yards to the hole, but in the fairway with a flat lie. That position would have played to Bubba’s strength – his distance – which would have matched up better against the hole’s strengths.

Bubba elected instead to try the Hero Shot and go for the green. But all he found was the water. Then he had to drop in long grass and pitch to a narrow landing area on the green. He wound up long in the bunker behind the hole. He almost pulled off another Hero Shot when his bunker shot hit the pin and almost went in. That would have been an amazing recovery. But he wound up with a double bogey instead, and that cost him the tournament.

Kaymer, meanwhile, elected the safer strategy and pitched out of the rough to the fairway. He hit his approach shot to 15 feet, and by the time Bubba was through all he had to do was two-putt for the win.

Granted, Kaymer’s strategic decision was easy knowing Bubba was in the water. But the lesson we can take away from this: to avoid big numbers make good strategic decisions by practicing good course management and game management. Take your lumps when you have to, and put yourself in a position where you are pitting your strengths against the hole’s weaknesses. Avoid the Hero Shot when you are in trouble by getting out of trouble first. Save the heroics for your approach shot or your putt on the green.

Do you have a good course management philosophy you’d like to share?