PGA Championship 2024: Forget politics and focus on golf as big-hitter tipped to come out on top at Valhalla

Major weeks are timely reminders about how special and exciting the game can be

Let’s forget the politics as Tiger Woods is right about fans being “tired” by that talk. Yes, of course, it’s vital that golf sorts itself out, but it’s weeks like this one that should remind everyone that it can be a special and exciting product because majors get those juices flowing and rightly so.

“That stuff's very important,” admitted Justin Thomas, the home-town player in the 106th PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, where the action starts on Thursday of ongoing talks between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund, “but, to me, it's not as important as winning major championships and winning tournaments.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hence why this preview for the season’s second men’s major of the 2024 season is going to be about, well, golf in a bid to set the scene for where it really matters and that, of course, is a group of players and a chunk of land in the north of Kentucky and close, in fact, to the Indiana border.

Tiger Woods, the 2000 winner, plays an approach shot on the 18th hole during a practice round prior to the 106th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Picture: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.Tiger Woods, the 2000 winner, plays an approach shot on the 18th hole during a practice round prior to the 106th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Picture: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.
Tiger Woods, the 2000 winner, plays an approach shot on the 18th hole during a practice round prior to the 106th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Picture: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

This is the fourth time that Valhalla has hosted the PGA of America event, Mark Brooks winning its inaugural staging there in 1996 before Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy lifted the Wanamaker Trophy in 2000 and 2014 respectively, doing so at a time when they held the position of world No 1.

We’ll get round to looking at why that could be hugely significant again this week, but it’s the golf course that will determine this winner over the next four days and, based on what the players have had to say, the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout is probably going to see a big-hitter come out on top.

“It's big. It's very long,” declared Max Homa in delivering his verdict on a par-71 course that will play to its full length of 7609 yards following some heavy rain on Tuesday and maybe more to come on Wednesday. Even Woods, who is no slouch off the tee at the age of 48, echoed that view. “It’s gotten bigger,” he said of six new tees having been added since 2014.

Lots of people, of course, will remember this venue from the 2008 Ryder Cup, though not necessarily in fond terms from a European perspective as a side led by Nick Faldo suffered a 16.5-11.5 defeat as his counterpart, Paul Azinger, introduced a ‘pod system’ that came up trumps for the Americans. “It seems like a really good fair test of golf,” observed Scottie Scheffler, the main aiming to join Woods and McIlroy in winning here as the game’s top-ranked player. “Par-3s seem pretty difficult. There's a couple par-5s you can get after, and then there's some par-4s that are the same way, but then there's also a couple par-4s that are pretty challenging.”

Cameron Smith, the 2022 Open champion, described the rough as “really dense”, hence why Jordan Spieth reckons the key will be hitting fairways, which, of course, should always be the case but even more so in majors. “The greens are small and there's not really a lot of areas to run shots up,” he observed. “So, if you do miss the fairway in the rough, you're kind of playing to where the easiest up and down is versus really trying to hit the green.”

Having landed four wins, including a second Masters in three years, in his last five starts, Scheffler is undoubtedly the man to beat, but, at the same time, we’ll find out just how much he might be distracted by being a new dad after the birth of son Bennett last week.

Brooks Koepka is ahead of Scheffler when it comes to parenthood and he’s lifted that Wanamaker Trophy three times in the last six years, including a hard-earned win at Oak Hill 12 months ago. He’s developed a knack of playing his best golf in these events, so don’t be surprised if that major tally is up to six on Sunday night.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s incredible to think that McIlroy, having claimed his fourth one here a decade ago, is still stuck on that number and news that he’s just launched divorce proceedings came as a real shock to most people in the golf world. That, though, didn’t stop him from covering eight holes in eight under par on Sunday en route to winning the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow and, if he’s been able to bottle some of that for this week, then the world No 2 has every chance of kick-starting his major career.

Though never really analysed nearly as much as McIlroy needing to win The Masters to do the trick, Spieth, of course, is bidding to complete a career grand slam by winning this event. “It would be pretty incredible to work my way into contention and have a chance this week and see if I can try to make that history,” said the Texan. “I've had a number of chances since having the other three and come close a couple times, but never quite close enough to really have a chance.”

It will be fascinating to see if Ludvig Aberg can back up his second-place finish behind Scheffler on his major debut in The Masters while two-time winner Thomas will have an army of fellow Kentuckians willing him to win. “I’m going to try to use the energy, the support to try to kind of get me going and push me along as the week goes,” he said of that home-town advantage, having been a spectator himself as a seven-year-old when Woods landed his win in 2000 and remembering how the energy in the crowd that week had been “crazy”.

Bob MacIntyre, who has 1991 winner John Daly for company in the opening two rounds, is the sole Scot in a 156-strong field, which includes 21 PGA professionals, led by Michael Block, who had a fairytale week in last year’s event and is excited about the opportunity to have another “magical carpet ride” on one of the game’s biggest stages.

Yes, this is definitely a week when we’re reminded what golf is actually about at the top level.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.