David Howell: Strange choices for Major venues

So there we have it, the four Major winners have been decided: Sergio Garcia at The Masters pouring out all that emotion; Brooks Koepka at the US Open with his blistering last nine holes to finally show his true class; Jordan Spieth amazing everyone with one of the all-time great surges to victory at Royal Birkdale and, finally, Justin Thomas pulverising the ball around Quail Hollow on his way to his first Major at the US PGA Championship.

Four great winners, undoubtedly, but for me the US Open and the US PGA lacked a little something this year in terms of venue. Quail Hollow is a superb golf course with an enthusiastic crowd to boot, but taking a regular Tour venue and then rebadging it as a Major venue just didn’t work all that well. It didn’t get me excited.

I missed the traditional war of attrition that the US Open usually presents to the players. Erin Hills looked like a US PGA venue, strangely, a bold new course for sure on which Koepka’s 16-under-par total tied the US Open scoring record. This should have been a PGA venue, it certainly had US PGA scoring. Don’t get me wrong it produced a really strong champion but it strayed from its roots as the toughest of the four Majors.

Erin Hills played at 7,800 yards long and the cut was one over. In 2013 at Merion, Justin Rose won at one over par on a course that measured under 7,000 yards and the cut was +8. Spot the difference – short and narrow versus long and wide. Merion, in my opinion, is a US Open course. Absolutely brutal rough, a course so hard that every single par seems like a triumph.

‘The toughest test in golf’

Every tee shot that finds the fairway is over half a shot gained, and every score in the 60s is something to write home about. When it’s like that you know you are at the US Open, the toughest test in golf. I played at Merion, and I made the cut. I ended the week 22 over par and it was miserable. But do you know what? That’s what it’s supposed to be, in my eyes. I missed the fairway far too often, I didn’t play brilliant golf, my iron play was certainly not superb, my patience levels weren’t high enough.

So I suffered, just like so many others out there. Justin did all those things better than anyone else for all 72 holes and he scored +1. The course beat him, but he beat everyone else.

When I look back in history at all the US PGA Championships that have gone to new, up-and-coming venues, generally big courses with scoring in the mid-teens, like normal events only bigger and better, showcasing the game in a completely different way from the other three Majors, I wonder why it felt the need to go to a regular Tour stop. By doing that, it lost something of its flavour, which was a shame. Justin Thomas was an accident waiting to happen in terms of winning a Major. He’s a brutal driver of the ball, the epitome of the modern golfer in many ways and a deserved top-quality champion, but I hope they find a way to return to its modus operandi of new exciting venues in the future.

‘An eternity to enjoy the moment’

In 2019 the US PGA is moving to May, which will feel strange to say the least. With all four Majors played within four months – April to July – I’m happy that The Open Championship will be in last spot, with a whole eight months to go before another Major. The Open winner will feel like he has an eternity to enjoy the moment, just how the R&A will be feeling, I would imagine. It will mean our BMW PGA Championship will move to September and a date with a higher probability of good weather. It also has the potential to attract the strongest-ever field at Wentworth. This could well be a very positive reshuffle for our Tour’s biggest event, not that it has needed much help in recent years with bumper crowds each and every year.

Ready Golf is on the way in 2019, along with a change in the rules which should make rounds slightly quicker, which is no bad thing. But I always say golf is not a race. We have to understand that it takes around four hours to play 18 holes. That’s OK, four hours of fun can be better than three hours, but golf isn’t always fun. Sometimes it’s just frustrating and annoying and when it’s like that, getting a move on is no bad thing.

With that in mind, how about a change in the ‘honour’ system. Instead of the player with the lowest score having the honour to tee off first, how about 1st in the hole having the honour, 2nd in goes 2nd and so forth. On Tour this would shave minutes off our rounds. It would fit in well with the Ready Golf mantra and might just create a little bit of needle amongst some players when you find someone marking from 6 inches to lose the honour on purpose. This is the only downside I can see. If we are going to continue moaning about slow play then we need to admit that the old ‘honour’ system is way out of date.