In the first round of the year’s last golf major, Jordan Spieth couldn’t make a putt until he absolutely had to. U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka was troubled by the greens but still managed to break par. Jim Herman, who was a pro for one of Donald Trump’s courses, briefly was the leader. But it was Thorbjorn Olesen, a very good Dane if not a great one, and Kevin Kisner who shared the lead.
By the time this 99th PGA Championship comes to a close — that would be Sunday, barring a thunderstorm or two — one of the pros will be receiving the Wanamaker Trophy, but the winner most likely will be the course, Quail Hollow Club.
While it may not be Augusta National, Quail Hollow was reconstructed before the tournament, some of the holes lengthened, and the greens replanted with a new version of Bermuda that given the number of three-putts seemed more glass than grass.
“With some of the pin locations, these greens are the fastest I’ve ever played,” Koepka said. “You never felt the ball was ever going to stop.”
Unless it was in the bottom of the cup, where Koepka had it often enough Thursday, with five birdies, to shoot a three-under par 68.
It put him one shot behind Olesen and Kisner, who birdied 18 to tie. Also a shot back were Grayson Murray—who grew up in Raleigh, a three-hour drive from Charlotte — Gary Woodland, Chris Stroud, and D.A. Points.
When Herman in April 2016 won the Shell Houston Open, his first victory in 106 starts, his former boss, Trump, then the Republican candidate, declared he would consider him for a cabinet post.
Rory McIlroy isn’t thinking of getting into politics, just the winner’s circle, from which he’s been absent in 2017, McIlroy shot 72, as did Spieth, five behind Olesen and Kisner.
Spieth wasn’t in the top 30 and yet felt grateful compared to what might have been. He had consecutive three-putts at the fifth and sixth holes, which were his 14th and 15th. Then three over, Spieth birdied seven and eight.
“If I had finished par-par-par, I might have thrown myself out of the tournament,” Spieth said.
“Easier holes,” he said of seven and eight. “Two or three of the four easiest holes on the golf course, as long as you hit your tee shot in the right place. Good tee shots, which is important, but from there I hit two difficult but extremely solid shots that led to short birdies.”
Spieth, looking to complete the career Grand Slam, took 32 putts and didn’t sink anything longer than six feet.
“It was just the putter,” Spieth said. “Everything else was fine.”
Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps, a competent golfer, was in Spieth’s large gallery. “It was great, he’s followed us before.” Spieth said.
Olesen, 27, born in Fureso, Denmark, is a member of the European Tou, but has played in the United States now and then, including last weekend’s Bridgestone, where he tied for 10th. This is his fifth PGA Championship.
“I’ve had a couple of top 10s in majors,” Olesen said. “I’ve learned a lot.”
What others have learned is that Thorbjorn is Olesen’s middle name.
“In school, when I started, there were three Jacobs, my first name, so everybody called me Thorbjorn, and then it just hanged on from there. I thought, why not? I’ll still use it as a professional golfer.”