There’s a tremendous story being written at Valhalla Golf Club this weekend, one that all of Louisville will give “legend status” to if it follows the script to its logical conclusion. There’s no doubt that people, all over the globe, will be focused on golf on Sunday, even if some folks here in town aren’t.
Rory McIlory is the kind of champion locals want
This week many local media watchers were focused on the hubbub at the city’s alternative newspaper — LEO Weekly, and the new owner’s decision to drop a planned cover story on the West End in favor of a column about a golfer, Tiger Woods. It was the first issue of the paper under the leadership of Aaron Yarmuth, who happens to be the son of a Congressman well-known for his love of the game.
Yarmuth absorbed plenty of shots for his decision, but it’s hard to think a local media organization could NOT consider the PGA at Valhalla front-page news.
But let’s get back to the golf tournament, where corporations paid up to $250,000 to entertain clients in tents along the fairways. The cost of weeklong passes approached $1,000, and locals wanted to impress the organization holding the event so much that they bought more tickets than at any other event in history. All this, despite the inconveniences levied upon spectators — like being forced to park more than 20 miles away and ride shuttles to the event.
Or being subject to shaming and the threat of cell phone confiscation for using a mobile device on the property. I saw this take place on the 10th fairway.
And then there’s the weather. Rain delayed the tournament for about an hour Friday, and spectators endured Saturday morning rain showers. All that made walking around the course a muddy, slippery experience that caused additional inconvenience for some when parking areas became unusable.
And it’s not easy to watch a golf tournament in person anyway. Whether you follow a particular player, or stay in one spot and watch the field pass through, it’s hard to follow the flight of the ball. You’re always jockeying for a better view. And the best thing that can happen is if an errant shot lands near where you are standing and you get really close to the action. And unlike watching on TV, it’s really hard to keep track of who’s doing what on other parts of the golf course. There’s no P.A. here, and fans are constantly being told to shut up so the players can focus on their shots.
Certainly many locals citizens don’t know or care about all this golf business, all the money involved, and how mind-boggling it is how good the best golfers in the world hit the ball.
But it’s all taking place right here, off Shelbyville Road. The weather gods, or golf gods if you prefer, saw fit Saturday to have the sun shine on the best of the best, Rory McIlory, as he finished with a birdie on 18 just after 7 o’clock, giving him a one-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round.
Media coverage is as international as the field. Going into Sunday, the world’s #1, McIlory, who hails from Northern Ireland, leads a relative unknown from Austria by a stroke. There are a couple of Americans, and the Top 10 includes an Australian, South African, a Swede and a Fin. Phil Mickelson, perhaps the next most popular draw in the tournament, had a great Saturday and lurks just three shots behind. One TV analyst proclaimed a win by “Lefty” would prompt a new nickname for the city — PhilVille.
Then there’s Rickie Fowler, he of the colorful, outlandish yet fashionable Puma attire, an American whose presence at the PGA prompted dozens of 7-year-olds to beg their parents for orange outfits to wear to Valhalla. Fowler is just two shots behind McIlory.
It’s really competitive. At one point Saturday, five players were tied for the lead, with four more a stroke behind. Even though Tiger, who won this event the last time it was here 14 years ago, missed the cut, the tournament is shaping up for a fantastic finish. A win by McIlory, who is considered the game’s next superstar, would lift Louisville and Valhalla to an elevated place in golf history.
Last year, the PGA took place in Rochester, N.Y., and was won by an unheralded and pudgy pro named Jason Dufner. Since he was the defending champ, Dufner was honored here Derby Week and even participated in a publicity stunt hitting a golf ball at the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.
But Dufner, who left Louisville early with an injury, has nowhere near the star power of the fit and muscular McIlory. Golf fans around here expect Valhalla to deliver a formidable and popular champion who can boast of Louisville’s role in building his superstar aura, much as Tiger did in 2000. Bernd Wiesberger, the Austrian unknown who goes to sleep Saturday in 2nd place and will play with McIlory Sunday, just wouldn’t be the kind of champion locals would adopt as ours.
Nothing against Wiesberger, but he’d be sort of a California Chrome, this year’s Derby winner who will be remembered as the horse whose ownership group had the nerve to complain about the hospitality at the track. No one expects Wiesberger to use Louisville as a launchpad to a superstar career.
For us, Rory would be a story for the ages.