2024 PGA Championship firm, fast test compromised by recent rains
16 May,2024 Credit : Maddy Meyer - Getty Images

By Tim Liotta


2024 PGA Championship firm, fast test compromised by recent rains

The yardage numbers may be imposing, with changes made since the last PGA Championship in 2014 designed to maximize the demand of controlling the golf ball. However, rains have softened things up, and the test offered by the Valhalla Golf Club course for the 2024 PGA Championship remains to be determined. 

"It's big. It's very long," said Max Homa of Valhalla, a 7,609-yard track across a 485-acre property in Louisville, KY. "Need to drive the ball well and hit your mid to long irons really good."

Heavy rains last week (dropping more than 2 inches) and thunderstorms on Tuesday (another half-inch) could undermine the intended fast-and-firm challenge built into Valhalla since it hosted the 2014 PGA Championship. 

Bentgrass fairways were replaced with a zoysiagrass, which plays faster and firmer when dry, making hitting fairways paramount. Strips of rough leading to fairway bunkers were removed so more golf balls would keep rolling into those bunkers. 

"Obviously a premium on hitting it in the fairway," said Jordan Spieth. "The greens are small and there's not really a lot of areas to run shots up on to the green. So if you do miss the fairway in the rough, you're kind of playing to where the easiest up-and-down is versus really trying to hit the green."

Five par-4s stretched to 484 yards or longer, with two 500 yards and beyond, not to mention a par-3 measuring at 254 yards included in the test for 156 professionals, including 20 PGA of America club pros. Narrow fairways with heavy rough stand out on this Jack Nicklaus-designed course opened in 1986.  

"It's actually kind of the old model of the U.S. Open, but a bit easier," said Max Homa. "Typically hasn't been super firm. But from tee to green it's incredibly similar to what the old U.S. Opens were, maybe a little bit more forgiving fairways, but really thick rough, a lot of drivers, need to be in the fairway it feels like to score.

"The biggest difference is it feels like at PGA's in you're in the fairway you can score; you can go pretty low. The U.S. Open's gone to a slightly different model, which I like. It's a lot more -- they have kind of leaned into the firm, so a lot more fairway grass, a lot more strategy.

"I feel like the PGA's don't in a way don't have as much strategy but it tests skill a lot, like in a different way. You really need to strike the ball well."

Max Homa's Major Championship Record

Justin Thomas agreed, saying: "There's not a lot of different ways to play the golf course. For the most part you know if it's a par-4 or -5 you're just grabbing a driver when you get to the tee and you're just hoping you hit the fairway, and then you're probably going to hit somewhere between a 5- and an 8-iron into the green."

Brooks Koepka, who has won three PGA Championships and a pair of U.S. Opens, said the setup at Valhalla reminds him of Bethpage Black, where he won the 2019 PGA. 

"It's a major championship. You've got to put the ball in the fairway," Koepka said. "I think that's the big thing, you look at those two. Here and Bethpage, if you miss a fairway, if you have a 5-iron in, I think there's a good chance you're not reaching the green. Maybe you can if you catch a great lie, but odds are you're not.

The first three PGA Championships played at Valhalla produced a winner by a single shot, and two others after a playoff. 

Rory McIlroy posted a 16-under-par score over Valhalla in 2014 to beat Phil Mickelson by a shot. Tiger Woods won in a playoff over Bob May after the two tied at 18-under-par. Mark Brooks needed a playoff to beat Kenny Perry after the two tied at 16-under-par in 1996. 

"I think when you give all of us very similar places to play from, you have the opportunity for more a bunched leaderboards, " said Thomas. "... But history has kind of proven at this tournament that they have been pretty bunched leaderboards and it's been very close coming down the stretch. ... I think the fact that this course is played very similarly by everybody could have something to do with it. That's my guess.

Justin Thomas's Major Championship Record

Scottie Scheffler, Number One in the Official World Golf Rankings, comes into the second major of 2024 off back-to-back victories, including the Masters, and four in his last five tournaments. Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 2, also has won the last two events he's played in.

Asked what he sees when watching Scheffler and McIlroy play, Tiger Woods said: "Well, two very different styles. Obviously with Scottie, what he does through the golf ball and with his footwork, or you have Rory who has arguably the best finish of a swing in golf. It looks like a statue, right? They're two totally different players.

"The commonality is I think the focus and when you're on the range and watching them hit golf balls or listening, more so listening to them hit golf balls, there's a different sound to it because they just don't miss the middle of the face. 

"I think obviously Scottie's not as long as Rory and can't probably separate himself on a golf course like that with pure length, but his ball striking, the amount of greens he hits, he just wears you out that way. And then he has an amazing pair of hands around the greens. If he putts awful, then he finishes in top 10. If he putts decent, he wins. He putts great, he runs away. So, he's just that good a ball-striker and that good an all-around player. 

"Rory, just the way he's able to take over a golf course and just overpower it, I kind of remember that back when I was younger, but it's been awhile."

Scheffler comes into the PGA off a three-week break at home with his wife, Meredith, for the birth of their first child, a boy who has been named Bennett. He is not expecting any dropoff in the precision he's played with recently. 

"I don't really feel like any rust has accumulated," Scheffler said. "I was able to practice and play a lot at home. I'm able to do stuff at home to simulate tournament golf, especially on the greens, competing and gambling with my buddies, I don't really want to lose to them, either, so I was able to simulate a little bit of competition at home."

Scottie Scheffler's Major Championship Record

McIlroy arrived at Valhalla, the site of his last major championship victory ten years ago, off his most impressive performance of 2024, a five-shot win in the Wells Fargo Championship. 

"The golf course is a little different than it was ten years ago, a little longer," McIlroy said. "A couple little minor changes but for the most part pretty much the same that I can remember from ten years ago.

"But yeah, look, game feels good coming off the back of two wins, a fun one in New Orleans with Shane, and then a really good performance last week.

"Just trying to keep the momentum going."

Rory McIlroy's Major Championship Record

Koepka, a favorite at any major but especially at a venue like Valhalla, put in a lot of work after a disappointing Masters performance last month. He won the most recent LIV event. 

"I just apologized (after the Masters)," Koepka said. "Everybody put in a lot of hard work. Dedicated a lot of time and effort and then for me to go out and play like that is not what I expect of myself, I don't think what they expect of me.

"So yeah, just we had a good talk and just kind of put our nose down and kept grinding. You know, had some difficult punishment workouts. It was long hours on the range. Just worked with everybody and really tried to go back to the fundamentals, and I think that was the important thing."

Brooks Koepka's Major Championship Record