SCHUTTENHELM ON GOLF:   Lots to talk about on the links


There’s been no lack of interesting stories emanating from the PGA Tour so far this season.

At the Masters, Sergio Garcia finally won the major he’d been chasing for so many years. Two months later at the U.S. Open, another firsttimer, Floridian Brooks Koepka, took home the hardware with a final score of 16-under par. More on that and the controversial venue, Erin Hills, in a moment.

Jordan Spieth went wire-to-wire at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, joining an impressive list of Birkdale Open winners that includes Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, and Johnny Miller. Spieth also led wire-to-wire in his previous start at the Travelers Championship. Not a bad stretch of golf.

For Spieth, it was his 11th PGA Tour win and third major, all before his 24th birthday. That achievement places the young man from Dallas squarely alongside a couple other decent ball strikers, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. At the PGA Championship later this month, held at Quail Hollow in North Carolina, Spieth will have a chance to become the youngest player ever to win all four majors, a feat known as the career grand slam.

Spieth, about as nice a guy that you’ll find in pro sports, never fails to heap praise upon caddy Michael Greller after a win, a pretty rare occurrence on the PGA Tour, and you have to love that about the kid.

Also making news at Royal Birkdale was South African Branden Grace, who shot the first ever 62 in a major championship, a day which featured low scores galore. Not to take anything away from the round, but for two reasons, I think that record should carry an asterisk with it. One, Birkdale is a par 70 course; and two, it was set up particularly short on Saturday, playing right around 7,000 yards.

And that brings me to Wisconsin and this years U.S. Open venue, Erin Hills. Why even hold an Open there? Traditionally, the U.S. Open is the one tournament each season which allows us duffers to watch the best players in the world struggle. Where a final score above par can often win the tournament. Where narrow fairways and deep rough punish wayward drives. Where greens, cut short and starved of water, won’t even hold short iron approaches.

Erin Hills is a mostly treeless, links style course with wide fairways which needs, at the very least, lots of wind to present a challenge to these players. With no bad weather to be had on that June weekend in Wisconsin, the U.S. Open was no more than a glorified tour event. Give me Bethpage Black, Oakmont, Baltusrol, Shinnecock, Winged Foot, Pinehurst, etc., any day of the week.

Finally, the biggest shocker of the season to date has to be the breakup of Phil Mickelson and longtime caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay. This unlikely split may turn out to be a boon for golf fans, as Mackay has taken a position on NBC’s golf telecast team, apparently deciding that holding a microphone is easier than lugging a tour bag around on his back. And as you might expect from an experienced caddy, “Bones” provided valuable insights during NBC’s coverage of the British Open.

Sun sports contributor Mark

Schuttenhelm can be reached at