Column: Pure golf at the PGA, something everyone understands

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The paspalum is, indeed, amazing, and that’s coming from a guy who has seen a lot of grass. The laminar flow of the wind seems to be optimum, too, which should make calculations easier for Bryson DeChambeau.

As for the golf this week on Kiawah Island? Well, that might be one thing we can all understand at the PGA Championship.

No one is tearing apart the Ocean Course, which has more than stood up to the world’s best players through two rounds. But no one is bashing it either, including a certain 50-year-old who threw a tantrum when things got too tough for him at the U.S. Open a few years ago.

Listen carefully and the sound you hear is the wind whistling, not the players whining. And that might be the best thing about a tournament that never seems to get the respect golf fans give the other three majors.

“It’s very fair,”’ the 50-year-old said, pausing to make his point. “Even though it’s very tough.”

Forgive Phil Mickelson for a bit of understatement, even if you can’t forgive him for making a mockery of the Open by purposely hitting a putt while it was still moving at Shinnecock Hills in 2018. He’s defied expectations and defied odds (250-1 pre-tournament to win) to somehow share the lead at the longest golf course in major championship history.

The odds are still against Mickelson, if only because no one has ever won a major at his age. The 4-footers have so far gone in for him, but the nerves tend to fray with the years and the weekend ahead will be everything even a player of Mickelson’s pedigree can handle.

But the way the PGA has set up the course — at least so far — means he’s got more than just a fighting chance going into the weekend.

The finishing holes, though brutal, were shortened in the first two rounds so that making par on them is feasible, even if birdies are in short supply. The greens are fast but they’re also soft, and shots that might bounce wildly over the green in a U.S. Open setup are staying near where they land.

Disaster still lurks on nearly every shot, but somehow the world’s best golfers are finding a way to deal with adversity.

“It’s fun in a kind of sick way,” Ian Poulter said.

Fun to watch, too, especially when players take off headcovers to hit their approach shots on some of the finishing holes. Golf on the PGA Tour has become mostly a driving and putting contest, but the real shot makers shine when fairway woods and hybrids come into play.

Not quite as much fun to play, but this was never set up as weekend outing with buddies and beer.

“It’s kind of very stressful and there’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of nerves and a lot of tension out there," British Open champion Shane Lowry said after making it to the weekend at even par. "But you just have to get on with it and try and hit the best shots you can."

That’s golf at its most basic, and that should be the goal of those setting up every major championship. Make players use all the clubs in their bag and test them at every opportunity, but give them a chance at posting a respectable score.

It doesn’t happen often at the U.S. Open, where the rough is generally so penal that only a bulked-up brute like DeChambeau can hack his way through it. But the PGA mostly seems to get it right, and now that the championship is in May instead of August it has more chances on the best courses in the country to show it off.

That may be the identity the PGA has always been seeking for a major that in the past was known mostly for being the last one of the year. The field is always the strongest of the majors — excluding a few club pros, that is — and the courses are among golf’s elite, but the tournament has always been treated like a wayward stepchild when the majors are discussed.

Now we’ve got arguably golf’s most popular personality in contention going into the weekend. We’ve got a ton of players bunched within a handful of shots behind him, waiting for the inevitable hiccup and all that comes with it.

Not only that but we’ve learned two new words. The paspalum, which Gary Woodland called amazing, turns out to be the variety of grass used on the greens at Kiawah Island.

And laminar apparently means something about the smoothness of fluid, or in this case wind.

If you really need to know, just ask DeChambeau.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national spors columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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