Every year since 2014, the golf media – especially the British and Irish golf media – gets excited about the prospect of Rory McIlroy going to the Masters and completing the career Grand Slam. He won the US Open in 2011, the USPGA Championship in 2012 (and 2014) and the Open Championship in 2014. We still await a triumph at Augusta. Maybe it will be that way forever?
At the USPGA Championship next week, Jordan Spieth will be in that equivalent situation. Spieth won the Masters and US Open in 2015 and the Open in 2017. (He had been within a shot of making the playoff for the Open in 2015, so he’d come that close to heading to the USPGA at Whistling Straits with a chance to complete the career Grand Slam in the same calendar year.) After winning that Open at Royal Birkdale, Spieth had been winless – he had recurring problems with a chipped bone in his left hand – until he won the Valero Texas Open at the beginning of last month. He followed up that victory with a tie for third in the Masters the week after. That was his sixth top-10 finish in his last eight starts on the PGA Tour. He didn’t play after that until this week at the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament.
This year’s USPGA Championship will be held over the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. The last time it was staged there was nine years ago, when McIlroy reigned supreme – he romped home by eight shots from an unheralded Englishman, David Lynn. McIlroy fired 67-66 on the weekend and, this being four years after Tiger Woods had last won a major championship, his win ended a streak of 16 majors with 16 different winners. After his resurrection at Quail Hollow last weekend, I’m sure Rory will quite fancy his chances of a repeat. He is pictured on the home page with the spoils from that triumph.
When the course was in its infancy, Kiawah Island staged one of the most dramatic, and controversial, Ryder Cup matches, 30 years ago this year. It became known as the ‘War on the Shore’, and that was before two American players, Corey Pavin and Steve Pate, wore camouflage baseball hats to stir fervent patriotic support from the fans, as if the Europeans had been the enemy in the Gulf War that had been fought earlier in the year. There was a particularly feisty foursomes match involving Seve Ballesteros and Paul Azinger – “cheating and breaking the rules are two different things,” Seve reminded his opponent at one point – and some incredulity from a European perspective in the final singles on Sunday when Hale Irwin’s drive on the 18th went into the crowd on the left only to emerge on to the fairway a few seconds later. Ultimately, it came down to Bernhard Langer, who had holed three medium-length putts on three consecutive holes before he faced a five-footer on the 18th that would beat Irwin and enable Europe to retain the Cup in a tie. As you will know, it didn’t go in.
Just as Jordan Spieth was close to being in a position to be hoping to make history at Whistling Straits in 2015, one of two Ryder Cup teams will be leaving there in September with their success established in the record books. We all relish the fearsome rivalry, although something a little less fiery than Kiawah 1991 would be good.