In 2019, the USPGA was moved from August to a new May date, becoming the second major of the year.
However, the rescheduling of golf’s calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant it returned to an August slot in 2020 although on that occasion it was played as the opening major of the season – and without fans.
Thankfully, with the schedule returning to normal, the May date returns. Fans, although limited in number, are also back while the tournament takes place at a familiar venue which is always a boost for fans of course form.
Kiawah Island is best known for its staging of the 1991 Ryder Cup – the infamous ‘War on the Shore’ when the United States won back the trophy after Bernhard Langer missed a six-foot putt on the final green to secure a tie.
Langer being Langer won the week after while more history was created at Kiawah Island nine years ago when it staged the 2012 USPGA.
That tournament was won by a rampant Rory McIlory, who powered to an eight-shot victory.
2021 USPGA Championship facts
When: May 20-23
Where: Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina
The Course: Ocean Course, Par 72, 7,848 yards
Total Prize Money: $11 million
Winner Prize Money: $1.980 million
How to watch: All four days on Sky Sports. South Carolina time is five hours behind UK
The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island
This is what the official website says: “Strong breezes from the Atlantic, a links-style layout, Paspalum grasses, and jaw-dropping ocean views create a remarkable playing experience. Pete Dye designed the course in 1991 for that year’s Ryder Cup event. Originally designed to sit behind the sand dunes, it was Pete Dye’s wife, Alice, who recommended raising the course’s level. This way, ocean views could be enjoyed from every hole.”
Paspalum is one of the standout words there. It’s also used at the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon, the Corales Puntacana in the Dominican Republic and the Puerto Rico Open.
That’s good news for Viktor Hovland. The Norwegian’s two PGA Tour wins came in 2020 at Mayakoba and Puerto Rico.
Some recent form from those Paspalum events is worth a look:
2021 Corales Puntacana: -12 Joel Dahmen, -11 Sam Ryder, Rafael Campos, -10 Graeme McDowell, Michael Gligic, -9 Hudson Swafford, Emiliano Grillo, -8 Danny Willett
2021 Puerto Rico Open: -19 Branden Grace, -18 Jhonattan Vegas, -16 Grayson Murray, Rafael Campos, -15 Brice Garnett, Andrew Putnam, -14 Rob Oppenheim, Brandon Wu, Ted Potter, Jr, Cameron Percy
2020 Mayakoba: -20 Viktor Hovland, -19 Aaron Wise, -17 Adam Long, Tom Hoge, -16 Harris English, Billy Horschel, Lucas Glover, -15 Brendon Todd, Tony Finau, Carlos Ortiz, Emiliano Grillo
2012 USPGA at Kiawah Island
While Rory dominated the 2012 USPGA, the other big takeaway when looking at the final leaderboard was how well the European contingent performed: and not just the leading ones.
-13 Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)
-5 David Lynn (England)
-4 Keegan Bradley (USA), Carl Pettersson (Sweden), Ian Poulter (England), Justin Rose (England)
-3 Blake Adams (USA), Jamie Donaldson (Wales), Peter Hanson (Sweden), Steve Stricker (USA)
The breakdown of those 10 players is seven players from Northern Europe and three from the United States.
Okay, it’s one year of evidence but do the cooler, coastal, linksy conditions suit those from Northern Europe?
Perhaps against that is looking at who fared best at the 1991 Ryder Cup.
1991 Ryder Cup – Top European scorers
4.5pts Seve Ballesteros
3.5pts Jose Maria Olazabal
2pts Paul Broadhurst, Mark James
Okay, the two Spaniards were great anywhere a Ryder Cup was played. Two Open types in James and Broadhurst performing strongly perhaps adds to the idea that English players in particular do well there.
Kiawah Island – What They Say
Collin Morikawa: (after the USPGA Media Day last month) “I think it’s definitely a ball striker’s course. You have to be able to control your ball. You have to be able to flight different shots, work it left to right, right to left, and that kind of suits me. Greens are pretty small, but man, talk about that back nine, starting from hole 9 and on, it’s a very good finishing stretch of golf, especially with the wind, the way it picked up. You’re going to be tested on every shot.
“I was hitting a bunch of 6-, 5-, 4-irons into greens, even had a couple 5-woods. Yeah, you really can’t get lazy on any of these shots. You can’t take anything for granted because it’ll bite you in the butt for sure.”
Quotes from the 2012 PGA Championship
Justin Rose: “I think this course suits playing smart. I think the greens are flatter in the middle than they are around the edges.”
Graeme McDowell: “I really was good on the greens today. I read them well. They’re a beautiful surface. This paspalum is beautiful to hit your irons off of, beautiful to chip on. The par‑3s play strong on this golf course. That’s really one of the big keys to this golf course is playing the par‑5s aggressively and playing the par‑3s well. There really is kind of a nice balance of par‑4s, some tough ones and some easy ones. The 3s and the 5s are key.”
Rory McIlroy: “The Ocean Course here at Kiawah plays so much different to any links course back home, just because the type of grass it is and the conditions we had this week. Obviously if it was firm, it would have been a completely different test. But because it was so soft and different grass, paspalum greens, the whole thing just played a little differently. But scenery‑wise, it’s very similar with the ocean and the sand, the beach and the dunes and everything. Maybe reminded me a little bit of home in some ways.”
Current betting and storylines
There’s a feeling that this year’s event is completely wide open.
World No.1 Dustin Johnson continues to search for his best form and was a modest tied 48th here in 2012, finishing at 5-over. He remains favourite at 15.014/1, as only joint.
Justin Thomas is other joint favourite at 15.014/1 but looks to be suffering a slight Masters hangover after two rounds of the current Valspar Championship.
Jon Rahm finished fast at Augusta and is now enjoying being a Dad for the first time. The Spaniard has plenty of good performances by the coast and is 16.015/1 to land his first major.
Rory McIlroy will hope to summon up some of the magic from 2012. He went into that event as the World No.3 and coming off a T5 in the WGC-Bridgestone. He’s 23.022/1 for a repeat, a reflection of his poor recent form which resulted in a missed cut at Augusta.
As for the defending champion, Collin Morikawa, he’s 36.035/1 to follow up his win at Harding Park. Brooks Koepka, currently 30.029/1 won back-to-back USPGAs in 2018 and 2019 so there is a very recent historical precedent. Tiger Woods won in consecutive years twice (1999/2000 and 2006/2007).
Monster-hitting Bryson DeChambeau is 18.017/1 to win his second major while Paspalum specialist Viktor Hovland is bound to attract interest at 44.043/1.
I’ll have a bet at those odds.
Back Viktor Hovland at 44.043/1