BMW Championship 2022

Just What We Needed

The grandeur aside, the BMW Championship was testament to what is right about the game

By Michael Bamberger

WILMINGTON, Del. — I wasn’t planning on attending FedEx II, even though it was a home game. From my house in Philadelphia to the front gate of the Wilmington Country Club is an hour in the usual traffic. (Insert electronic voice: You are still on the fastest route.) But we had been away on a family vacation—an August vacation with grown children, that rare summer flower—and I got home as the BMW Championship was wrapping up its third round. It was the Saturday night BMW leaderboard that sent me to Wilmington on Sunday morn.

You know: Scottie Scheffler and Scott Stallings; Adam Scott and Aaron Wise; Collin Morikawa and Corey Conners. In other words, players we know from their wins in majors, and players we’re getting to know. Plus proven winners like Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Appealing players like Max Homa and Harold Varner III. A deep field. Sunday came, and off I went.

Note to self: You need the regular events to see who gets into the majors, and you need the majors to identify the game’s stars. Golf’s balancing act.  

I parked in a farm field maybe a mile from the clubhouse, a temple of suburban wealth. On my way in, I saw some sparkly BMWs on display, and some sparkly tour guides beside them. Everywhere you looked, there was the American Dream.

The PGA Tour sells the American Dream, and it is the American Dream. For starters, there’s this: Do you want to play on the PGA Tour? Shoot the scores. That’s it. You’ll be in and somebody else will be out. It’s a brutal system, but it’s fair. You earn your way in, you play your way off. That’s why they say every shot makes somebody happy.

As for the rest of us, we can usually find a way to snag a tournament ticket, and subject ourselves to the symphony of marketing efforts. For insurance and banking and phone services. (The basic food groups of American capitalism.) Plus, cars and credit cards and gasoline. (All that freedom.) I see on CarMax a 2018 BMW 430 Gran Coupe for $35,000. Can you handle the monthly payments? Consider the joy. You, in a BMW.

People were streaming in with me by the score.

As for the Wilmington Country Club, it, too, is part of the American Dream. Or some version of it. A bastion of wealth and super-wealth. Thus, 20 tennis courts, four of them grass; a big pool and a kiddie pool; two 18-hole courses. Bars and dining rooms and banquet halls for every mood and occasion. A home away from home for innumerable DuPont executives, corporation lawyers and leaders in the entrenched medical community.

For FedEx II, the BMW Championship, the club opened its doors so a thousand young men could yell “Patty ice!” on a warm later-summer Sunday afternoon. I was interviewing Scott as the tournament was concluding. Scott, in that never-flustered way of his, asked if Cantlay had won the tournament. He had. Scott nodded. Earlier, he had wrapped himself in the flag of the International team of the Presidents Cup, for a photo op. He’s on the team.

By virtue of his T-5 here, Scott, 42, played his way into this week’s Tour Championship. He’s talking about how his game is in good shape for the 2023 season. It was in 2013 when he won the Masters. He sounds like he’s happy with where he is, an Aussie who lives in the Bahamas and has made some life for himself playing golf around the world and most particularly in these United States.

It was beautiful, in its way, the whole thing. Cantlay’s win, Scott’s ease with reporters, Scheffler’s nonchalance after missing a late three-footer. Homa, tall, slender bearded Jewish golfer, and Varner, short, roundish Black golfer with a shaved head, playing fast Sunday golf, joking and laughing as they waited on tees and walked fairways together.

That was the true us, on Sunday at the BMW at the Wilmington Country Club. Representatives of a vast and stable middle-class, tens of thousands of law-abiding people willing to obediently park their shiny cars in remote parking lots, climb onto shuttle buses to be transported to the course where we stand in a muggy air with a cold beer in hand for the privilege of shouting encouragement to a group of men insanely good at an essentially meaningless activity.

Believe me, I’m not knocking it. I’ve devoted a good portion of my adult life to this scene, and to playing this game. There’s a lot to like, and I do.

Maybe this is what the members of the House of Saud want, and LIV Golf would be part of it. Not for themselves. Their vast, incomprehensible wealth comes at the intersection of the Lucky Sperm Club and the Price of Crude. Maybe the plan is to spread the wealth, keep the peace, appear more Western, attract more tourists. It’s smart, because 100 years from now, the price of a barrel of crude might be closer to $1 than $100. Yes, their wealth is dynastic. But what works for your 401(k) works for Saudi billionaires too: diversification.

Joe Biden, son of a used-car salesman, went to a Catholic high school 12 miles from here, became a lawyer and eventually was successful enough to join the Wilmington Country Club. A common-enough dream, when you get right down to it. A common-enough dream, that is, in this country.

Tiger Woods came to the Wilmington Country Club on Tuesday to meet with other players. “I’m not talking about what happened in the room,” Homa told me, but he was happy to talk about Tiger’s intelligence, Tiger’s charisma and Tiger’s devotion to the system that made him, the PGA Tour. I asked Homa if Woods had given him a hard time about his elaborate AimPoint putting routine, when they played together in the first two rounds of the British Open at the Old Course last month. “No, he didn’t—but I was putting better than he was,” he said good naturedly. Homa grew up in Los Angeles. He won at Riviera. Woods gave him the trophy. Homa will have that for the rest of his life. One of his pet phrases is, “You can’t buy my dreams.” He’s living his.

Golf has brought me to Delaware often over the years. In 1987, I caddied for Betsy King in the pro-am of the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at the DuPont Country Club, built by a forward-thinking company for the benefit of its employees. Last year I played the Bidermann golf course for the first time. It is charming, beautiful and elite. I’ve never played the Porky Oliver public course. Porky was born and raised and died in Wilmington, and he was Greg Norman before Greg Norman made his first swing, with second-place finishes in the ’46 PGA, the ’52 U.S. Open and the ’53 Masters, along with eight Tour wins. Porky helped pave the way for Arnold and Jack and Tiger—and Homa and Varner and Wise.

I saw Arnold Palmer a few times in Wilmington over the years. We had a mutual friend, Howdy Giles, who was Arnold’s dentist and an owner of a sports-bar restaurant. Stanley’s Tavern was Arnold’s kind of place, and the Wilmington Airport was Arnold’s kind of airport. (Casual and quiet.) Arnold and Howdy were examples of opposites attracting, as Howdy is gregarious and he comes at you with a torrent of words. Arnold liked to size things up. Howdy made a ball marker out of one of Arnold’s old gold fillings.

Tiger’s trip to Wilmington brought to mind for me when Arnold flew from Latrobe, Pa., to Atlantic City, N.J., in 1968, for a meeting at the Atlantic City Country Club, then owned by Leo Fraser and family. Fraser was the president of the PGA of America. It was at that meeting, attended by Arnold and Jack Nicklaus and Gardner Dickinson and others, where the touring pros broke off from the PGA of America and founded what is today the PGA Tour. Arnold was on the fence all the while. (My sources are the late Bob Goalby and the late Doug Ford.) He flew, in his own plane, with a PGA of America official. After the rancorous meeting, with Arnold voting for the breakaway, he flew home alone.

And here was Tiger, flying up from Florida with Rickie Fowler to the little Wilmington Airport, getting behind the wheel of a Nissan SUV and driving off to meet with his fellow touring pros. I would say that Woods is the most powerful figure in golf today, by a mile. Let’s say the Saudis said to Woods, “We will pay you $2 billion to become our global ambassador for golf. The term will expire when you do. You will build courses and hotels beside them, be the host of our top tournaments, extol the virtues of our golf properties.” Let’s say Woods said yes. The PGA Tour as we know it would no longer exist. The floodgates would be open.

But that would never happen. For one thing, how would $2 billion improve Tiger’s life? It wouldn’t happen because Tiger, at his core, is a traditionalist, just as Arnold was. The system was working for them. But that doesn’t mean the system can’t be improved. What happened in ’68 is not as radical as what is happening today. In ’94, Norman was trying to get a world golf tour off the ground. Davis Love III told this story the other day, on a Fire Pit Collective podcast. Thirty or so of the top players, Norman among them, were ushered into Palmer’s smallish second-floor office at his Bay Hill Club. Love’s job was to get Norman there. Arnold’s message was blunt: This whole World Golf Tour is over.

Maybe it was a great idea. But it was bad for Arnold and bad for the PGA Tour. Tim Finchem, with Arnold’s help, killed it, just as Arnold’s reluctant vote helped create the modern PGA Tour. But in another sense, the modern PGA Tour began with Arnold in the late 1950s, when the emphasis on the four modern major championships began in earnest. I asked Scott about the relationship between regular Tour events and the majors, the very thing that made the BMW Championship leaderboard so appealing.

“I think it’s quite a conundrum,” Scott said. “The majors are the star-making events. That’s a little harsh, but you know what I mean. It’s a conundrum for the Tour to play second fiddle. But the majors are the pinnacle of the game and have been since the late 1950s.”

In other words, since the emergence of Arnold Palmer.

“What the majors must keep doing is make sure they have the best players in the game,” Scott added. “If they don’t have the best players, then you can start arguing, Are these the best events? You’re not able to argue that at the moment because it’s been satisfactory, with the qualifying marks and the qualifying tournaments. With the landscape somewhat changing in golf, that’s going to be challenging.”

I asked Scott if he had made eye contact with Woods this week. He had.

“I’m pleased to see Tiger in these other capacities, doing something other than kicking my ass on the golf course,” Scott said. “I’m pleased to see how much he cares. It’s really interesting to see. If his influence is put to good use, there will be good outcomes.”

That sounds like Arnold in 1968. Arnold in 1994 is harder to say. It’s an odd and tumultuous time in the game, but the BMW Championship at the Wilmington Country Club, concluding on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, was a good time.

I walked back to my car, over a heaving farm field, and drove home. The PGA Tour, for a night, was in a good place. A good night, and a good run.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

14 thoughts on “BMW Championship: Just What We Needed”

  1. Lots to think about here.

    “Golf is essentially a meaningless activity.” Okay, but name some meaningful activities. There’s giving birth, raising children, earning a living, going to the worship service of your choice, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and burying the dead. Your definition of “meaningful” might vary. But that begs the question can a “meaningless” activity like golf actually reveal meanings about your self…your character, your integrity, your work ethic, your sense of joy? So…does all that actually make golf a meaningful activity. Is golf, in a sense, just another word for life? Is life meaningful???

    Next point to chew on in this essay – “How would 2 billion dollars improve Tiger’s life?” How much does an excessive amount of money improve the life of any one who is already excessively wealthy? Doesn’t that get to the core of the LIV dilemma in a nutshell? How much money is enough? Or, more interestingly, how much money is too much? At what point on the wealth continuum do you lose your soul or your humanity? The Max Homa “I have a dream” quote is relevant here.

    Finally, something struck me after reading this essay that I hadn’t considered before. The unique thing about golf as a professional spectator sport here in the early 21st century is that it MUST be played outdoors in the light of day. The dreary reality of the World Series being played in indoor stadiums late at night will never happen to the Masters. Unless you are in your late 60s or older you will never experience the joy and anticipation of running home after school to catch the last four innings of game seven of the World Series.

    1. Thank you for your insight. Your comment might be the most thoughtful and deep thinking comment about an internet article that I come across. It makes one think. It has been said, that when a man is given everything, at that very moment everything is no longer everything. Every pro has dream of playing professional on the PGATour. Competing against the best and trying to improve their own games. And enjoying the multitude of perks. Many of the pros, like Charles Howell III, have kids that are dreaming of playing the tour. My question is which tour. The Tour that Charles and the other LIV members are trying to burn to the ground.

      1. Mike, I will never forget the heartbreak of the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah. I watched that tournament from start to finish and will never forget the way you battled all the great stars of the day. You were an inspiration to all golfers. It’s just a crying shame that your par putt on #18 didn’t go in. It looked like you were certain that it would drop, but unfortunately the golf gods were on the side of Hale Irwin that day. I will never forget the look on your mother’s face when that ball just slid by the hole. Tragic. Oh well….I hope you’ve had a great life.

  2. Damnation Michael you write beautifully and always with great insights. Your love of the crazy game of golf seeps through your prose as if it writes itself (which I know is far from the truth as what you write is craftsmanship at a high level). I love reading your articles every time and your books as well. The Firepit Collective is the ideal medium for you to write how you wish to an audience which has selected this website as their golfing information source. An ideal match!

    1. Michael Bamberger

      A broad thank-you to you, Robert, and to the many other readers who have made me feeling so welcome, here at FPC. I feel like I’m home. With gratitude, Michael Bamberger

  3. I had the same feeling watching yesterday, after getting sucked into an afternoon I didn’t think I wanted to watch. There is so much to criticize the PGA tour for. But it doesn’t make any sense unless you have the guys coming up 18 on a Sunday one after the other. The slow build of tension. The hooked drive, the recovery, the lag putt. There’s no comparison. I can see why the older guys will take the cash. But if you are a young gun, how do you prepare yourself for Sunday at a major after a shotgun start and with your guaranteed stash in your pocket after a 54 hole hit and giggle? In the global scheme of things, no one really cares who wins the BMW, or the Wyndham or that one with the snake pit — though Riviera, and Bay Hill and Memorial still have the aura. But sometimes you tune in for an advertising fest and a genuine, high level, sporting event breaks out and it’s compelling. And it has the internal integrity that true sporting events need. And it probably still will have even if some bland country club kids are playing. 72 holes. Thursday to Sunday. With a cut. It’s like opera. You might not like it but you know where to find it. 40 weeks a year.
    Thanks for Firepit. Lovely writing. It’s been a real pleasure to read you and Shipnuck this season.

  4. Lovely article and superbly written Michael. BTW I’m the Aussie guy who approached you in Princes Street, Edinburgh the Saturday afternoon after The Open a few weeks ago. Love your stuff, but would add – as someone who lived in the Gulf countries (Bahrain and UAE) for 18 years – my view of LIV is much more nuanced than what is perpetuated in the golf media. Sending you by e mail an article from a non golf journalist, Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times, that is pause for thought. Important that we don’t live in echo chambers. All best, Peter Boland

  5. great to hear from the very thoughtful and sincere Mike Donald! An accomplished tour professional who won the Anheuser-Busch Classic in 1989. Fans of a certain vintage will also recall his outstanding playoff with Hale Irwin in at the 1990 US Open. I had the pleasure of playing with Mike and a friend in Florida around 1995. Mike represents what us fans want in the pros we route for: hard work, talent, humility, and class. I have been thinking much the same…how much money do these guys need versus want?! Thanks to Mike Donald for elevating the chat!

  6. Wow. Awesome to see Mike Donald post on here. I’m a staunch advocate of the 18-hole US Open playoff. It’s a shame we’ll no longer get to experience that unique duel. Cheers to you, Pro!

  7. Shipnuck wishes he could write as well as you, Michael. He’s not worthy of carrying your jock strap. Keep up the great work you do.

  8. Great writing as usual Michael. In a game that values sportsmanship, honesty and camaraderie, we should all have hope for the future. And to add to the other remarks, awesome seeing Mike Donald post here. Please post often sir!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Sign up for our newsletter!

Never miss a story, new podcast, special event or merch drop.

Sign up today and receive a discount code for 10% your next purchase from the Pit Shop!

Scroll to Top