How These Four Past PGA Champions Prepared for Southern Hills
There’s plenty that unites but perhaps even more that differentiates the PGA Champions who are in the field at Southern Hills Country Club. Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods are amongst the champions competing in the 104th PGA Championship, each of whom took quite different routes to preparing for the second major of 2022.
It comes as no surprise that Woods, a 15-time major champion, took a more intense preparation to the PGA Championship than his counterparts.
In April, the four-time PGA Champion played a practice round with the Director of Golf at Southern Hills, Cory Cozby, on his bag. The scouting trip was two fold: an opportunity for Woods to observe the historic restoration made to the venue since his victory there in 2007, and a chance Woods, who suffered multiple leg injuries and a near amputation after a car accident in February 2021, to evaluate his ability to maneuver physically around the venue. Satisfied with the result, Woods returned Sunday to play another practice round at the course.
“It's better than the last time I played a tournament, which is good,” Woods said about his physical improvement since playing the Masters Tournament. “I'm having more days which are better, more positive. Able to practice a little bit longer.”
Unlike Woods, McIlroy was unable to play a practice round at Southern Hills Country Club ahead of the major championship. Instead, the Irishman jumped online to begin doing some research. He watched a video by The Fried Egg about the course renovation by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner and then checked out several flyover videos on Golf Digest’s website. Based on what he saw, McIlroy practiced his iron play, short game and putting before arriving on-site for the PGA Championship.
McIlroy arrives in Oklahoma playing some of his best golf of the year. The four-time major champion finished runner-up at the Masters Tournament in April and followed that up with a fifth place showing at the Wells Fargo Championship, where he made his last start on the PGA Tour. In each of those starts, McIlroy led the Tour in Greens in Regulation, which has made him feel quite confident coming to Southern Hills where there’s a premium on accuracy.
“For me, I'll take execution over preparation any day. If you're executing the shots and you're hitting the ball well and the ball is looking where you're going, that's more than half the battle,” McIlroy said about his prep work. “Sometimes not knowing where the trouble is, ignorance is bliss in some ways.”
Like McIlroy, Koepka took to YouTube to begin his preparation for the PGA Championship. Unhappy with the way he putted during the Masters Tournament, where he failed to make the cut, he began watching videos from each of his four major championship victories. He was particularly focused on the way he was putting and did pick up a few elements of his setup and stroke that were out of touch at Augusta National Golf Club.
“Everything just didn't quite feel right,” Koepka said about his putting stroke. “But it's getting back to what I feel it was, and it looks quite similar to what it was in years past.”
That feel will be tested at Southern Hills Country Club, which Koepka saw for the first time on Sunday. Over the weekend he played four holes and played the front nine on Monday. By mid-day Tuesday he was still getting a grasp on which holes he’d be able to hit driver and where he’d should leave the ball on the approach around the sloping greens.
“You figure out whatever your game plan might be and then go from there. Usually it starts with hitting the fairway,” Koepka said about his preparation. “I'm pretty sure at Bethpage you're not winging it around the place. You've got to hit fairways, leave yourself in good spots, and hit a lot of greens. I think that's major championship golf.”
For Morikawa, a two-time major champion, he’s learned over the early part of the season how to dial back his preparation. Morikawa says he was trying to do too much work Monday through Wednesday of regular, week-to-week Tour events. Since the Masters Tournament in April, where Morikawa was fifth for the week, he realized he needed to simplify his routine, which he’s continued at the PGA Championship.
“I was just doing too much, and that's not me. I like to be in and out. I like to come here, do my quick practice, get out and call it a day,” Morikawa explained. “I'd rather sit on my couch at home and relax with the cat and the dog and caddie. That's what I've kind of realized since the Masters is just stick to being me.”
Morikawa, McIlroy, Koepka and Woods each found their own way to winning their respective PGA Championships. After all, there’s more than one way of winning a major championship, and there’s certainly more than one way to prepare for it.