The PGA Championship returns to Oak Hill for the fourth time, and first since 2013, with four Irish teeing it up hoping their dreams will come true in Rochester, New York.
Doom and gloom surrounded Rory McIlroy after his ninth bid for the career Grand Slam failed to get off the ground as he missed the cut with a whimper at the Masters in April.
McIlroy can move level with Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead in joint third place on the PGA Championship winners’ list if he can lift his third Wanamaker Trophy, and in many ways a return to Rochester will aid that mission. McIlroy’s wife Erica Stoll is from New York and with the course conditions set to play into his wheelhouse, the Holywood star looks to be arriving at the ideal golf course to end his nine-year Major drought.
McIlroy finished in a share of eighth place here ten years ago, seven shy of Jason Dufner, but he has found Oak Hill to his liking and is expecting another tough test this week.
“Discipline, I think. You’ve got to keep it out of those fairway bunkers. They’re very, very penal. What Andrew Green has done with the green complexes and sort of spread them out and you see all these extra sections, back rights and back lefts, I think it’s going to be really — if someone can keep their discipline and not start firing at those pins and know that middles of the greens is a pretty good leave on most holes, I think that’s the — it’s a long golf course, and par and length is going to be an advantage.
“But I think even more of an advantage is making sure that you’re hitting into these greens from the fairways. It’s a combination of everything, but I think discipline is going to be a huge factor this week.
“You need to do everything well. You’ve got to drive the ball well. You’ve got small, small greens, small targets to hit into. You’ve got to control every single aspect of your game. You can’t fake it around Oak Hill.”
Shane Lowry made just his second PGA Championship appearance in 2013 when he finished in a share of 57th place at Oak Hill.
The PGA Championship is where Lowry has found his most consistent Major form, missing just two cuts and picking up top-8 finishes in two of his last four appearances. The Clara man has become a Major player and now boasts top-4 finishes in all four Major championships, including lifting the Claret Jug in 2019.
The Rochester venue will provide a supreme tee-to-green test and Lowry ranks 27th in that strokes gained category this season. He also enjoyed a decent putting week at Augusta, ranking 45th in putting on the undulating greens. Sloping and tiered green complexes await him in New York which might free him up on the putting surfaces as he looks to finally ditch his flat stick woes which see him rank 189th on the PGA TOUR.
There is no doubt that the Offaly man doesn’t get the silverware that his ball striking warrants but if he can put all four facets of his game together he may reap the fruits of his hard work in the Big Apple.
“Look, I’d love to win, obviously I’d love to win more majors”, he said. “But I don’t think that’s a given. I think that’s just kind of something that you need to go out and work towards, and if it comes your way, you need to take it. It’s one of those where you get four of them a year.
“It’s hard to peak your game for those weeks. It’s hard to peak your mental attitude for those weeks. You just need everything to be in the right place to win those tournaments because it’s so hard to win out here in regular events, let alone majors.
“My expectations for the rest of my career? If I was to finish with no more majors, would I be okay with that? Yeah. But I do want more. I am very driven and a very competitive guy. I know I want to win more majors, and I want to win more tournaments.
“But would I be happy when I’m finished with what I have now? Yeah, I suppose I would. But that doesn’t make me any less driven”.
Also proving to be a dab hand at Major assignments is Séamus Power who was thoroughly impressive on his PGA Championship debut last year, culminating in his first Major championship top-10.Power’s journey from the mini tours to the top table of professional golf has been a turbulent one but he has found instant comfort in the Major championships and a second successive made cut at the Masters leaves him in good shape heading to Oak Hill.
“Any time you’re going to be in a Major, you’re going to be excited about it. I saw my game hold up really well last summer. I feel like I can win a major. Obviously depending on the courses and that sort of stuff, but I feel like if I can get myself in a good spot, I should have at least an opportunity to win on Sunday.
“I haven’t really experienced that in a major yet so who knows, but that’s definitely the goal – to get there, as people say, give yourself a chance with nine holes to go and see what happens.”
Speaking of belief, Pádraig Harrington will carry no shortage of confidence with him to Rochester. The Dubliner thrilled the nation when he took down Sergio Garcia at the PGA Championship in 2008. The three-time Major champion missed the cut at Oak Hill in 2013 and was T29 in 2003 when Shaun Micheel completed a surprise victory. Harrington has been in impressive form recently and picked up his first top-10 on the PGA Tour since the 2021 PGA Championship at the Valero Texas Open.
He arrives at Oak Hill in fine form and nothing would get more Irish bums on seats in front of the TV on Sunday night than Harrington competing to win a fourth Major at the age of 51.
“Going from three to four Majors, oh, I dream of it,” Harrington says. “Who cares about reality? What gets me up in the morning is another Major. What gets me out practicing, the reason I work so hard at this game is another Major.
“The chance of winning a Major is everything. You know, that’s what gives me a buzz, and to be honest, there’s not many things that would change my resume when it comes to golf. There’s not something that would really change what I’ve done. Even winning another Major isn’t that big a deal, from three to four. But it’s something I dream about.”
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