Fridays Are Hard
The cut and the leaderboard—that’s all that mattered during the second round as Oak Hill provided a brutal test
By Michael Bamberger
May 19, 2023
PITTSFORD, N.Y.—Friday was a grind. Fridays are always a grind. If you’re playing good, you’re grinding it out, trying to stay right there. If you’re playing bad, you’re trying to make the cut. If you’re playing late, you’re trying to finish. Golf courses have never been longer and golf has never been slower. Oak Hill measured 7,277 yards on Friday, and its hills were wet, going up and especially going down.
Kazuki Higa of Japan, the 99th-best player in the world if you have blind faith in the Official World Golf Ranking list (but you don’t, do you?) came to 18 at 4 over par through 35 holes. Eighteen is an uphill 500-yard hole that is a par-4 in name only. With a par, he would make the cut for sure, in the third major of his life, for the first time. With a bogey, he had better than a fighting chance. He drove it in a fairway bunker.
The rain was off and on all afternoon. The players had long blades of wet grass stuck to the soles of their shoes after playing shots from the clingy rough. All that fresh excitement that Thursday represented—we’re at Oak Hill!—was gone.
Higa was playing with Trey Mullinax and Josh Speight. Of the three, he was the only one with a chance to make the cut. Mullinax is one of the biggest players in the field, along with Jon Rahm. Higa has to be the smallest, a fire hydrant, a foot or more shorter than Mullinax. He spoke Japanese with his caddie and not at all with his playing partners. Higa does not speak English and Mullinax and Speight do not speak Japanese. There were no distractions for him.
A far more glamorous threesome, the trio of Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler and Gary Woodland, were five groups behind Higa and Co. Scheffler made a birdie on the elegant par-4 14th hole with its table-top green, and made another birdie on the pitch-shot par-3 15th. Scottie being Scottie. Contending again. Koepka was picking up where he left off at Augusta, without the obvious rules infraction. Woodland was scuffling. Kind of hard for Scheffler to watch. As a kid coming up in the game at Royal Oaks in Dallas, Scheffler watched Woodland hit 10,000 shots on the range there.
The 1st and the 14th share a tee box. There is bound to be some waiting. In a practice move, Harold Varner III used a green boom-mic wire to check his ball position at address, about an inch inside his left heel. A lot of guys ran to the players-only loo. A caddie hustled into the clubhouse to get a fresh towel. Scott Stallings took an earbud from a marshal on the 14th tee, put it in his left pocket, smashed his driver, then put the earbud in his left ear and offered some live TV commentary while making a 300-yard walk, downhill then up, toward the green, a camera operator, guided by an assistant, walking alongside him all the while.
Friday at the 105th PGA Championship.
Some caddies wore black ribbons on their hats, in memory of Lance Ten Broeck, the former Tour player and Tour caddie, who died on April 30. On Friday, there was a get-together at the public North Palm Beach Country Club to celebrate his life. Lance was 67 and he ran hard. You’re tempted to say the Tour that Lance came up on as a player is dead and gone, and it mostly is, but Fridays are still Fridays. The cut and the leaderboard, the cut and the leaderboard.
Playing in his first PGA, Higa (above) made his 5. He advanced his ball out a screwy lie, pitched it on, two-putted, talked to eight or more Japanese reporters for 20 or 25 minutes. They bowed when he arrived and he bowed back. A few hugged him. There was a lot of smiling and some laughing. Everybody seemed relieved.
Higa’s translator and manager is Maiko Enomoto. Her mentor is Bob Turner, who manages Hideki Matsuyama, winner of the 2021 Masters. Higa’s mentor is Hideki. He has watched Hideki hit 10,000 shots on driving ranges across Japan.
I asked Higa about how he played his final hole.
“Once I hit it in the bunker, I knew 5 would be a good score,” he said through Enomoto. “But I knew 5 would make the cut. I made sure I got that second shot in a place where I could play my third.”
Smart golf. Friday afternoon is no time for heroics. Scheffler bogeyed the final hole, too. But Koepka made a birdie on 18. He made a birdie on 17, too. He shot 66 and came home in 31. He was moving on up.
There was an older gent outside the scorer’s tent whose job was to collect the caddie bibs. If the caddie’s player made the cut, the name stayed on the back of the bib. If it didn’t, the name came off in an explosion of Velcro release.
“Did you make the cut?” he asked one caddie after another.
The caddies, all of them, answered good naturedly, whether they did or didn’t.
He had two and only two responses.
“Sorry to hear that.”
Koepka signed for his 66 and Scheffler signed for his 68 and Woodland signed for his 75. He was 8 over. His week was done. His agent, Mark Steinberg, was waiting on him. That’s one of Steinberg’s things: Show up, in good times and bad.
Koepka came out of the tent with a fresh piece of gum in one hand and a bottle of blue Gatorade in the other. He dropped the gum, said, “Oh, fuck,” picked it up, put it in his mouth, then killed whatever germs might have jumped on it with a swig of the blue.
Scheffler was at 135 for the two rounds. As Friday ended, nobody was lower and only two others had matched him.
The co-leader was asked about the guy in the group who didn’t make the cut.
“Gary is a good buddy of mine, one of the guys I grew up learning from at Royal Oaks,” Scheffler said. For these 36 holes at Oak Hill, Woodland needed 13 more shots than Scheffler. “He used to take from my coach, Randy Smith, and I used to sit there and watch him hit balls for a very long time and he was always very kind and let me hang around him and learn from him.”
Tour players don’t say “take lessons.” They just say take, period.
“Sometimes you don’t have it, and sometimes you do,” Scheffler said. “Gary is a very talented player and a major champion. It’s strange when you see a guy like that struggle, but it’s part of the sport. You see the ebbs and flows of guys over their careers.”
And then, the clincher of all clinchers:
“It’s just a difficult game.”
Thursdays at majors are fun. Sundays at majors are stressful. Saturdays at majors are exciting.
Fridays are hard.
This Friday was no exception. Not for Scheffler. Not for Higa. Not for Woodland. Not for anybody.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]
Michael Bamberger was briefly a caddie on the PGA and European Tours, invented a golf club (the E-Club) that Lee Trevino used in his final British Open, spent 22 years as a writer at Sports Illustrated and joined the Firepit Collective in May 2022.
email: [email protected]